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It's an all too common argument. It's not a game's graphics that matter, but the gameplay, a line of thinking that's usually followed by half an hour of self-indulgent ranting about the good old days of the Spectrum, and how its wire-frame graphics never mattered that much because the games were so much fun. For those of you who remember the basic visuals but fun gameplay of Daley Thompson's Decathlon from about ten years ago, and the mass of copycat spin-offs that we've been subjected to ever since, Sydney 2000 will seem all too familiar.
If you hadn't already guessed, what we have here is yet another keyboard-bashing track and field game, with a few novelty events thrown in for good measure, and, of course, some 3D accelerated graphics. Our hopes that it would at least make a token attempt to move away from the onedimensional gameplay we've grown so accustomed to were put to rest about seven minutes after we'd loaded it up. Of the 12 events on offer, we discovered that eight consist of little more than frantic button hammering, the type of which gives barely pubescent boys and male loners everywhere a huge advantage over the rest of the human race.
If you're thinking you can play S2000 successfully with a keyboard, then think again. For the best results, you'll need to use a joypad, as it's a far easier way of trying out a whole range of key-tapping styles. There's the two fingers on one hand technique (crap), the one finger on each hand technique (requires the knee as a base for the pad) and, of course, the thumb-jab method (hold the pad on either side with two hands), which we found to be the most effective. No matter which one you go for, you're going to need forearms like iron and leather-like fingertips if you want to play for more than 15 minutes at a time.
The best way of practising your technique is with the 100m sprint, as there's little more to the event than said action, apart from the ingenious idea that you have to press the action button to dip for the line. The 110m hurdles is a cunning variation on the 100m flat race. Instead of just pummelling away, you have to press the action key when you reach a hurdle (clever), attempting to lead with the correct leg as you do so. Most of you though, will probably find it's quicker to just wade straight through the barriers.
The 100m swim requires about the same level of skill as the 100m run, ie none at all, although this time you're going to need some stamina. These races last the best part of a minute, so pacing yourself is essential if you want to avoid chronic wrist cramp and the predictable barrage of jokes from your friends and colleagues. Just when you start to think it's all a bit too easy, you realise that it is. The hammer, javelin and triple jump require a vague semblance of timing, in which you must monitor your run up/spin, while selecting an angle of elevation for your throw/jump. As always, it's important to tap the buttons as fast as possible while concentrating on these hugely taxing tasks. Some of the animation is laughable, particularly in the javelin, as athletes amble up to the throwing line like they're having an afternoon stroll, rather than competing for Olympic gold. The high jump is the most bizarre event of the lot. Run up, press the action button when your leading foot hits the floor, then let it go to flip your ankles over. Weight lifting isn't much better, once again turning out to be nothing more than an exercise in speed and endurance. The whole single player experience is about as uplifting as a cheap bra.
If you command even the most basic hand/eye coordination, you should find that you break several of the Arcade mode records within a couple of tries, and after the inevitable sense of smugness and satisfaction, you'll soon realise that there's very little left to challenge you.
Which leads us onto the four events which require something a little different. The developers must have been having a particularly inspired day when they came up with this lot. Firstly, there's the skeet shooting. Armed with a rifle and an aiming circle, you have to shoot down clay pigeons before they hit the ground. However, your task is made incredibly difficult by the sluggish movement of your gun, often making it impossible for you to get anywhere near the targets. To make matters worse, our attempts to vent our frustrations on the judges and crowds also (unfortunately) ended in failure.
The kayaking is quite possibly the most patronising event of the lot. Holding down one of two buttons to propel yourself forwards and backwards, you have to navigate some rapids by (wait for it) steering your kayak left and right, while making sure you pass through every gate along the way. Gaming really doesn't get much more exciting than this. The cycling and diving events are perhaps the only two which have had some thought put into them. Cycling requires strategy and speed, and you'll have to make sure you pace yourself round the circuit, but diving is the most challenging event of all, as mastering the many different types of somersault with correct movements on the direction pad takes patience and skill. Even though they're hardly born of genius, at least these four events give your fingers and thumbs occasional respite.
Variation On A Theme
If you get bored with the all-too-easy arcade option, you can try your hand at training a bunch of no-hoper wimps into superstars. Starting off with 12 athletes (one for each event) who each possess the athleticism of a five - year-old and the physique of Mr Muscle, it's your job to train them up in a virtual gym, and watch them blossom into world beaters. When you start out, it won't matter if you're the fastest button tapper in the world, as your group of inadequates will put in the kind of performances usually watched by parents at primary school sports days.
In order to take your team members to the next stage of their physical development, you must complete a set of tasks in the gymnasium within a given time limit. No prizes for guessing how the developers have tackled this one. Any ideas? It's a tough one we know, so try not to look too surprised when we tell you that lots of key tapping and very little skill is once again involved. What is positive though is that, as each athlete improves, so does their physique. In a game so bereft of ideas, it's good to see touches like this, and as their frames thicken and performance levels rise, it becomes a matter of pride to get each individual to achieve the qualifying standard needed for them to compete in the Olympics. With blooded fingers held aloft in triumph as your team walk away with gold medals, you'll feel a certain sense of pride and probably a huge sense of relief that it's all over.
More Of The Same
Of course there's one factor which always manages to save games like Sydney 2000, multiplay, and it's in this field (ho ho ho) that S2000 excels, allowing up to eight of you to compete simultaneously. For some strange, almost inexplicable reason, when you get two or more people round a monitor, it suddenly becomes more fun than picking the fluff out of a supermodel's navel. Sydney 2000 can turn even the most serious person into a giggling child.
However, if you believe that age-old adage that it's the gameplay and not the graphics which make a game, then you have to wonder why you'd want to buy S2000 if you already own a similar title, either on the PC or on any other format. Apart from the coaching aspects, there's very little that's new, and graphics aside, it's hardly moved on since similar games on the Spectrum.
For the most part, there's little to choose between this and Sergei Bubka's Millennium Games, which at least had a stab at adding some originality with its alternative control method, and a need for tactics as well as speed. If you have to get your hands on a track and field game, then make it Midas's offering. Its presentation and multiplayer options might be inferior, but it just shades it in the gameplay department and also offers LAN support. But if you already own a similar title, save your money and watch the Games on TV instead.
Download Sydney 2000
Courtesy of Eidos comes this button-masher's delight. Sporting gameplay similar in style to classic games such as Track & Field (Konami is doing an update of this--see preview in PS2 gallery), Sydney 2000 offers 16 different events including Olympic standbys such as weightlifting, hammer throwing, platform diving, and of course, plenty of meter relays. Get ready to try for the gold this fall.
It's funny how this works out, but Sydney 2000 seems like Virtua Athlete's evil twin. The two are almost an exact antithesis of one another. Whereas Virtua has a shallow pool of events and controls simple enough for a toddler (but still fun), this game has plenty of events (12 in all) and clunky controls. Kayaking, diving, skeet shooting and track & field--you name it, Sydney 2000's got it. One thread common to all the events, however, is the subpar graphics. Almost everything in the game looks eerily sterile. The environments have a dull look to them, and even simple objects (such as the field) have occasional clipping. What's worse are the disproportionate athlete models. Not only are they devoid of much detail, but the blobby human builds just don't look right (these are supposed to be athletes?) and their faces look ridiculous. Any way you slice it, these visuals are not up to Dreamcast standards. Aesthetics aside, there are a few good events in the game, such as the Platform Diving that lets you choose your type of plunge and the Javelin, which is pretty simple but entertaining. Another disappointment is the training mode where you can build up your player's abilities. Here, you work your athlete out in this weird techno "Virtual Gym," complete with annoying music that seems totally inappropriate. It's just a microcosm of what's wrong with Sydney 2000 even though it is a tolerable game.
We've got three button-slapping Olympic titles heading to the Dreamcast: this game, Virtua Athlete 2K and ESPN International Track & Field. Sydney 2000 belongs at the bottom of the heap. You get a decent number of events, but only a few deliver any thrills--namely the javelin throw, high dive and weight lift (you really feel like you've lifted a load after tap, tap, tapping through that event). The sim-type Olympic mode offers a few innovative ideas, including the ability to build up your character through training mini games. It's just too bad that most of the events are so dull, and that the game is devoid of personality and looks so blah.
I'm a sucker for Konami's track and field games; I've enjoyed 'em all. Unfortunately Sydney 2000 is a poor example of the genre. In general, it lacks finish on all fronts. The animation is well below-average compared to other DC sports titles. The gameplay mechanics are similar to the T&F archetype but control is not as precise. Plus, some of the events (like the 100 meter swim) are so ridiculously long you'll get a fore-arm cramp before you finish the race. Oh yeah, the Olympic Mode forces you to complete a lot of goofy exercises to gain endurance. It's a good idea but the graphics in those sections are hideous. I can't recommend Sydney 2000.