Is Sega's Olympics video game worth buying?

As the Olympics get into full swing, you may find yourself having an urge to pick up Sega's Vancouver 2010 and do a little Olympics video gaming. Before you buy, here's a quick look at what the game has to offer.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
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David Carnoy
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Ski jumping is one of 14 events featured in Vancouver 2010. Sega

With the Winter Olympics finally kicking off, it's time to take a quick look at Vancouver 2010, the "official" video game of the 2010 Winter Games. The title's been out for a couple of weeks, but I finally got around to playing it a bit and in typical Olympics video game fashion, it has just enough positives to frustrate you into thinking about how much fun you might be having had the developer had the time, money, or vision to take the gameplay to the next level.

For starters, as you can see by the screenshots below, Vancouver 2010, which is playable on the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, looks pretty good. And individually, the events themselves (there are 14 of them) are engaging and keep you interested--at least initially. (Critics have said that this game's an improvement over Beijing 2008, which Sega also produced).

But then you start to notice that many of the events have similar mechanics. For instance, the skiing, bobsledding, and snowboarding events have you pointed down a mountain, trying to steer your way to the fastest line. The ski jump and aerials have button-timing controls to master and short-track speed-skating has you button-mashing to maintain top speed and cornering with the left trigger (on an Xbox 360 anyway).

Sega's Vancouver 2010 (screenshots)

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As I said, it's all pretty fun at first and you'll certainly get a kick out of trying out each event and improving your performance to the point where you earn a medal. But what's ultimately lacking is a greater goal and bigger payoffs for victory. There's no way to create a custom player (you have 24 countries to choose from), no career mode to speak of, and you really have to go online to get any sense of playing against a larger field of competitors. (In single-player mode, when you do an event, you only go up against a handful of CPU Olympians). Everythng feels a little too stripped down, and as some reviews have noted, the mini games--or "challenges" as they're called--are the most fun aspect because they involve passing a test and unlocking other tests.

Not to be too cynical, but anybody who cares about these sorts of games knows why they fall short. The perception is that there's only a small window in which to sell Olympic video games (about six to eight weeks) and developers only sink just enough time and money into these titles to hopefully eke out a profit (yes, you have to cough up some serious dough to get an official Olympics license). On such tight budgets and schedules, developers are happy to end up with something that's half decent--which is what Vancouver 2010 is--but greatness probably isn't a realistic goal.

That's fine, but when you have two years between games (and the Olympics really don't change), you'd think someone could come up with a gameplay formula that was more compelling and offered much better replay value. Somehow game companies are making 99-cent sports games on the iPhone that are very addicting. Why can't they do it for a $50 game?