Snowbound sports of speed and skill make up the challenges in this Official Video Game of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Sixteen international teams compete in six cold-weather challenges. Be first to the bottom of the hill in the Men's Downhill or the Women's Slalom. Ski jump for distance or glory in the K120 or Freestyle. The Snowboard Giant Slalom puts a more contemporary spin on the downhill action and the two-man bobsled competition is designed to instill a sense of the potent velocity of the real thing. Each event can be played on its own or as part of a progressive series of contests.
Winter Olympics consist of around 15 sports, with each sport having anywhere between two and ten events. So why does Salt Lake 2002 only have six events? Figure Skating, Luge, Biathlon, Skeleton, Nordic Combine, Speed Skating, Curling, Short Track, and all of the variations therein are completely absent and unaccounted for. What Salt Lake 2002 does pathetically scrounge up in their place is an entirely unacceptable selection of six specific events.
The brightest of the six feeble stars would have to be Men's Alpine Skiing Downhill. In it, two buttons are used to move left and right and another to crouch for speed. A proper start off is critical to success, as is finding a quick line down the slope and managing the crouch with often close turns. Like the rest of the events, this one still ultimately offers far too little the way of variation once acclimated to. What it does manage to do is craft and deliver an often times exhilarating and assumedly accurate sense of speed, only present in the surprisingly workable first-person perspective. What it doesn't do is last. As mentioned, after only a few quick plays, enough will become enough.
Ladies Alpine Skiing Slalom, and Men's Snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom are both nearly identical to the first, in that they both require moving left and right between things, but neither feels as polished as the Men's Alpine Skiing Downhill before it.
Snowboarding is twitchy and far too loose and slow for comfort. While, on the other hand, the girly slalom (I can say that because it's true) is very erratic, and difficult to master, often jarring play to painful restarts, which are in and of themselves plagued by endless popup windows intended to show current standings, but merely aggravating with their slowness and inherent delays.
That's three down. Men's Two-Man Bobsleigh is perhaps the best of the remainder, speedy and demanding as it is. There's little in the way of control, but minor taps to alter direction following the feverish button stamp at the onset are all that's required to expedite your trek down the course. Again, with the tiresome pitch: the second time you finish this in first place standing is the last time you'll play it.
Next come the two aerial events: Women's Freestyle Skiing Aerials, and Men's Ski Jumping K120 Individuals. The women's bit only requires that you press buttons when prompted. In honesty, it's actually kind of enjoyable. Instructions speedily traverse the screen (dependent on what level of trick you're attempting) and you punch in what appears to pull off your maneuver, Left + A, Down + B, etc. The sad part is that you'll be too busy reading to enjoy the outcome. The men's ski jump also greatly emphasizes timing. Start in good wind position, lift off, position the skis by repeatedly tapping directions, and then press a button to land. It's just as boring as it reads. I was scoring gold medals on both airborne events the third time I played them.
This game doesn't even have all the countries or any of the actual athletes. Wow, I get to play as one of 16 nations... How hard is it to add more flags and colors? This game cannot even call itself the Olympics. Authenticity doesn't necessarily prelude to their being half-hour looks into the meaningless but "inspiring" lives of our athletes. Like every other sane person on the face of the planet, I couldn't care less about how Apollo's father beat him and locked him in a cabin when he was a small boy, forcing him to be the triumphant speed skater he knew he could be. Nor do I care how some ass always wanted to be a bobsledder since he was a youth. How, while other kids with aspirations of doctoring and lawyering were dating and playing, he'd be held up in his room focusing intently on developing the mental discipline required to jump in the back of a speedy sled and hold onto another man's crotch for dear life. No, none of that matters. What would have been nice, however, is the inclusion of a few real names and faces. But no, I suppose expecting a game sporting the official Olympic license to actually have a few real athletes is far too much to hope for. Stupid me. Really, how much work would it have taken to get the names of broke Russians who toil in coal mines during the day and aerial jump at night? But hey, at least all the technically sound character models look freakish, so they got that going for them. Huh, huh?
Goody, now I get to talk about the audio. I heard stuff. That is all. Actually, some of the effects are pretty good (the huffing and puffing in Men's Alpine Skiing Downhill first-person mode), but the rest of it is pretty badly sad. There's this terrible, omnipresent horrific car honking that drowns out everything else. I don't know that it's something that actually exists in Olympic sport, but I can't see how constantly hearing, WAAAAAAAAAAAAA, WAA, WAA, WAAAA... WAAAAAAAAAA could be beneficial to an athlete's performance. In fairness, it does get mixed up some. There will come times when a player might hear WaaaaaaaAAAAAAAA and then WwwwwwwwAAAAAAAAAA. Good stuff.
Believe it or not there's actually commentary behind all this wailing; terrible, absolutely useless commentary. I could have easily done better play-by-play.
A saving grace, a silver lining! Can it be? Yup, the graphics are actually good. Draw distance is far enough off. The events are populated and lined with all kinds of spectators, buildings and such, and the character models themselves are glossy and nicely detailed, albeit artistically freakish. Animation can be a bit stiff, and particle effects go largely undeveloped, but watching a good player make his way all the way down a run without so much as a hitch is eye-catching until the game crashes your computer.
I liken this game's production value to that movie Cube. Yeah, it's this terrible place that traps and tortures people, but it's also this headless entity that somewhere along the way lost all meaning, purpose and direction. You have a whole bunch of people working on it, with each person keeping his or her eye squarely on the comparatively miniscule task in front of them, never seeing how the whole thing is going to come together. Pretty soon there's this crazy ass thing that barely works, has no real meaning, and no one even knows what the hell it's all about or why it came to be.
Salt Lake 2002 is an aggravating, poor, highly unenjoyable game that barely qualifies as rubbish. This stupid, stupid title's sheer lack of everything is plain baffling. The only authenticity and ties to the Olympics it has are the confounding scoring systems and cold white stuff that usually rests under your feet, or on the tops of trees and buildings.
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