Torino 2006 is like a country trying to participate in the Olympics on the cheap. There are only eight major competition categories available divided into fifteen events because of the variations in each one. Many of the events are geared towards either bobsled/luge, downhill skiing, cross country skiing and speed skating.
In modeling the Winter Olympics, there isn’t as large a diversity as there is for summer games simply because fewer events are available. So it comes as a surprise that 2K Sports would skip out on covering every sport available including some notable ones like ice hockey, figure skating and if they were only going for passive titles why not curling? It’s clear from the very generic audio commentary that even within these events there is no shining star.
Sports games come in various forms but the most venerable type of sports title is the button masher. You know - the one where you have to press one or two buttons very quickly together to try to get ahead. I’m not really sure who invented this gameplay or what it really has to do with the sport on the screen but it’s an old gimmick that has been used time and time again including here in Torino 2006. Many of the races involve pressing a few buttons or balancing some sort of meter.
Take for example the cross country skiing, you are pressing a forward button until you reach your optimal endurance level. To sprint, you can push yourself to the maximum limit but your whole strength reservoir then shrinks if you don’t let yourself glide downhill to recover (kind of like a fast version of lactic acid buildup). The whole cross country skiing is simply an exercise in managing that meter. Biathlon is simply what’s said above mixed in with some target shooting which on the PC is fairly easy for anyone who has played a first person shooter.
Ski jumping simply challenges you to get off to a good start (with yet another moving meter reflex exercise) and then using the left and right buttons to balance yourself while hitting the down button for a landing. The same goes for bobsled and luge, where you’re balancing yourself so you don’t hit the boundaries rather than trying to score a landing. Finally, speed skating takes two exercises and puts them together. The start includes some left and right button mashing, but afterwards you have to find some sort of rhythm driven balance between two buttons.
That’s it. That’s Torino 2006 in a nutshell. It’s essentially a simple exercise of your eye and hand co-ordination. The problem is, while the graphics look fairly decent in motion, in action there is a profound lack of speed. The Super-G feel the same whether you’re at 100km/hr or 130km/hr. You never feel like the skiers who are almost out of control going down the hill. The bobsled mode pretty much plays by itself as long as you can avoid hitting the rails. The most challenging event was the cross country skiing, which tested you a little on strategy; when you should use your sprint and when you can recover but otherwise, it became pretty easy to beat your opponents after you’ve mastered the unchanging course.
Besides the limitations in gameplay and the absence of some key events, there is a total disregard for what the Olympics are about. You don’t even see a medal or podium in this game. What kind of Olympics are we in? There are no athlete names included for any of the countries. I understand some of them are celebrities and could not stand for their name to be used but at the very least they could be called something other than Computer 1. While you can enter high scores and compete in a long chain of tournaments (i.e. play all the events in order), there are no ties to the outside world. You can’t compete online. You can’t compete or compare your achievements against what’s really happening in Turin.
Ultimately, it feels more like the game was developed while waiting for the Torino license and when the publisher got it, they simply slapped it on. It’s also incredibly strange that 2K Sports, the makers of great games like Amped 3 and NHL 2K6 can’t seem to fit in a reduced version of snowboarding or hockey into its Olympics suite. A real pity because that would have easily been the suite’s saving grace.
In the last Winter Olympics, I recalled a game making the attempt to emulate figure skating through the use of DDR style rhythm gameplay. That didn’t really have a lot to do with the sport of figure skating but at least it was some challenge that you could somehow link to what figure skaters do. And it was creative and fun too. Somehow between Konami’s winter games for Salt Lake and 2K Sports’ Torino 2006, things have actually regressed.
Torino 2006 is really a novel souvenir. It’s something you’ll play for a little while but you’ll soon realize that watching the real thing is far more exciting. It sounds better. It feels faster. And you’ll get to see the podium and hear the anthem of the victor’s nation. I hear China is working feverishly before the spotlight shines on Beijing in 2008. I’d recommend they do their own Olympic videogame with homegrown talent if this is all we can muster between 2002 and 2006.