Pant your way to victory. (computer games based on the Summer Olympics) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Paul C. Schuytema
Experience the rush of victory as you streak past the finish line or outshoot, outski, and outjump the best Olympic athletes.
When I think of the Olympics, the sports that excite me are the individual ones like pole vaulting and the javelin throw.
On my PC, I have the opportunity to play superathlete, trained in a variety of Olympic sports and honed to take on the best. Summer Challenge (Accolade; 800-245-7744; $54.95) gives me the chance to be the track-and-field athlete I've always wanted to be. It encompasses a wide array of sports, including pole vaulting, throwing the javelin, kayaking, cycling, and hurdling. You can even try your abilities in archery, the high jump, and an equestrian jumping event. control is simple--you use the joystick, mouse, or keyboard or a combination of the three. In cycling, for example, you can use your fingers to tap the Enter key for pedaling while steering with the joystick. For a high-speed sprint, you'll want to switch hands midpedal, since bashing the Enter key is remarkably exhausting.
In the kayaking event, you paddle by pushing the joy-stick forward and turn by moving the stick left and right. The graphics are smoothly scrolling 3-D polygons.
The Carl Lewis Challenge (Psygnosis; 617-731-3553; $49.99) is another take on the Summer Olympic events. In it, you control not only the actions of the athlete but also the rigorous prematch training. You play coach to a team of athletes, and training can vary from isometrics and circuit training to several methods of stretching. The individual training activities aren't controlled; instead, you assign workouts with varying levels of intensity and time spent on each method of training. The goal is to produce a team of perfectly trained athletes, either all generalists or specialists trained in specific events.
Once trained, the athletes compete in sprints, hurdles, javelin, high jump, and long jump. Performance depends not only on how well you control the athletes but also on how well you've trained them.
The graphics consists of a scrolling side view and feature fluidly animated competitors. As a departure from the typical stab-the-keys-as-fast-as-you-can approach, Psygnosis offers three control options. One is the typical key-bashing (which is nice since it simulates exhaustion so well); the others are rhythm control and gearing control. Rhythm control challenges you to tap the Ctrl key as a pendulum passes the center of its path. The more accurate your control, the faster the athlete. In gearing control, you tap the Ctrl key as the athlete reaches certain strides; hitting the strides right increases the speed.
When I long for the snows of winter, I dive into Winter Challenge (Accolade; $54.95), which is easily the most addictive of all the Olympic games I've played. Players compete in the luge, the downhill, cross-country, giant slalom, two-man bobsled, and the biathlon. You can also compete at speed skating and ski jumping. The wide array of wildly different sports makes play exciting, and there are so many different types of controls that my hands don't cramp up on me.
The downhill, with its breath-taking background and fast polygon graphics, conveys the illusion of superspeed. As I whip down the course, I have visions of Franz Klammer's brilliant, out-of-control gold-medal run in the 1976 Innsbruck games. Fortunately, Accolade's games feature a VCR which allows you to relive your brilliant runs.
Probably my favorite Winter Challenge event is the expertly modeled biathlon, that curious marriage of cross-country skiing and marksmanship. Smooth graphics give the illusion of skiing through the European countryside, and as you control every stroke, you must watch the stamina meter, which shows a combination of breath and heart rate. When your skier reaches the shooting range, the steadiness of the aim is determined by how exhausted your skier is; if your skier is frazzled, the aiming reticle bounces up and down with every labored breath.
These games are great for parties. Four players can compete in The Carl Lewis Challenge, while ten can go head-to-head in Accolade's games.
Sports games aren't limited to baseball, football, and golf. Go beyond the standard fare and see if you have what it takes to be an Olympian.