Late last year, 49Games and Conspiracy Entertainment released Winter Sports 2008: The Ultimate Challenge, a title based off of Winter Olympic events. It presented some enjoyable moments across the nine events presented in that title and attempted to stretch out the repetitive play with Campaign and Career modes. A little less than a year later, the follow-up to the title, Winter Sports 2: The Next Challenge, has been released and is attempting to capitalize on the gameplay itself. Unfortunately, while there have been a few elements added to the game, the overall title itself is such a repackaging of the old game that it's pretty hard to recommend this one to anyone but the most hardcore winter sports and Olympic fans.
The gameplay for Winter Sports 2 is derived from many of the sports that you'd expect to see on a broadcast of the Olympics or other winter competitions, such as figure skating, ski jumping and bobsledding. Ten separate event types are present within Winter Sports 2, with some mild variations to spread out the gameplay to 16 separate events, such as two-women or four-man bobsled competitions or downhill skiing versus slalom. Added to the mix this year is a new snowboard half-pipe, where players are allowed to grab some sky by pulling off a number of intricate maneuvers before time (or the halfpipe) runs out. Depending on when you approach the edge of the halfpipe, you'll either be allowed to perform a tail or nosegrab, or you'll be presented with a number of quick time events in the form of onscreen controls. Perform the moves in the proper order and you have more of a chance to land the trick; hesitate or make a mistake and prepare to eat some powder. Snowboarding isn't the only change that's been made to pre-existing gameplay elements; cross country skiing has been replaced by the biathlon and the figure skating has been changed from hitting face buttons at the right time to using the left and right analog sticks in time as they approach a marker at the bottom of the screen.
Check out video of Winter Sports 2 here.
However, the controls are a definite stumbling block that you'll run into with some of the events in Winter Sports 2. While some are extremely easy, such as the button presses that you'll need to launch yourself off the ski jump, others can be quite hard if not impossible to get your timing down. For instance, the analog sticks do help as far as inputting your moves, but performing a half circle with an analog stick and making the game recognize what you want to do and when is rather tricky.
Even worse, regardless of whether you're feeling the rhythm of your Speed Skater and how they move across the ice, it's almost impossible to perform the button presses you need to gain, create or sustain momentum as you race. Even stranger, it can be extremely difficult to tell exactly which mistake that you made that causes an athlete to fall down. In figure skating, you can blow a number of arrows, then land a string of them properly and still watch your skater fall to the ice. With snowboarding, you'll enter a precanned animation and land one particular way and be fine; line up the exact same way the next time and you'll crash and burn.
Control mechanics like this on some of the sports makes some of them less than appealing, and while you'll be presented with five, nine or sixteen event competitions to perform in and attempt to gain medals, you'll probably opt more for the virtual competition that allows you to pick and choose what events you want to compete in to avoid certain sports. Once you get tired of that, you'll probably move onto the deeper Career and Campaign modes, which is where the true depth of the game lies. Career mode lets you choose a nation to represent through one of fifteen cups comprised of a varying number of events. By getting your athletes to finish first overall in the standings for each cup, you'll unlock new venues and new cups that you can compete in. Although Career mode essentially creates competitions of varying lengths (making the length of play feel a bit fresher), the larger selling point is the acquisition of experience points for podium place finishers, which can be applied to boost a character's performance in an event.
The largest problem is that these experience points, like the previous game in the series, do absolutely nothing to influence the performance of your athlete. You can max out a character's stat for a particular sport at 100 experience points (which is rather easy to do considering that winning a cup provides twenty additional bonus points on top of whatever you've received by winning events), but it won't make them faster or more stable in an event. This is useless, and something that should've been changed from one version of the game to another.
At least the Campaign mode, once again, has more substance, such as providing challenges for players to attempt to complete in particular events. Some of these are grabbing a certain amount of coins, while others are landing a curling stone perfectly in the center of the target on the ice or completing a ski course in some incredibly short amount of time. While it starts off slow, the forty two challenges that you'll face will quickly become very tough and give you a test of your skills. The problem is that the shift between the easy and the hard is so fast that you'd have to be a dedicated Winter Sports fan to put in the hard work to unlock all of them, which also includes some of the technical issues for the game.
The previous title had some decent menus for the presentation that were good for the price of the game. That seems to have been stripped away in favor of a bland menu presentation and icons set on a blue background with traced outlines of figures performing sporting events. There's a large amount of loading that occurs between menus (including when you first start the game) so you can expect to waste a lot of time staring at a loading bar. Once you're in a game, action is rather brisk and at a decent framerate, although there are a few drops that wind up happening if you're playing split screen with a friend. Oddly, the game and the manual don't mention that if you choose not to play a multiplayer splitscreen game, you're going to be passing the controller around with your friends, which was a definite surprise when we played in the office and wondered why the game wasn't detecting player two's controller. Couple this with an extremely stiff animated crowd and athlete animations, as well as characters that look like blatant clones of each other (with perhaps a hairstyle change to differentiate them) and you'll be rather disappointed, especially because you have no control over what your athletes look like. This is particularly troublesome on events like the Luge, where your athletes will sometimes appear to wear the exact same bodysuit, making it hard to distinguish between them during multiplayer matches.
The commentary in the game is also somewhat disappointing, particularly because they infrequently wind up talking about what's happening with the onscreen action. It's possible to go through segments of the game without hearing a single peep from them, and when they do chime in, they quickly get sidetracked by a random comment. This is so useless to the gameplay that it makes the commentators seem ashamed to be associated with the game. Sound effects are pretty good, but the music seems stuck on a constant loop of bass beats that incessantly play for most events (figure skating notwithstanding).
©2008-12-02, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved