Athens 2004 Review
Athens 2004 is similar to the Olympic Games on which it is based in that it is a mix of the old and the new. As in many Olympic video games that have come before it, Athens 2004 relies on tried and true rapid button mashing to control many of its games. With 24 events included in the game from such diverse sports as gymnastics and equestrian events, Athens 2004 deserves credit for devising a slew of control schemes to add variety to the game. As you’d expect though, the results are mixed and in the end you have a collection of mini-games in which some games are a lot of fun, some are a chore to play, and some you could take or leave either way.
Athens 2004 is playable in several different modes. There’s a practice mode that lets you choose any of the game’s events and practice it without the pressure of competition. When you’re ready to take on the world, there’s competition modes that let you compete in a single event, a series of related events ala the decathlon, an ironman mode that encompasses all 24 events, and a party mode designed to be used with a dance mat. In all modes you can select which country that you will represent from many countries around the world. Not every country in the world is available, but you’ll have plenty from which to choose. On the other hand the athlete models in the game are much more limited. You can not select your athlete’s look, and if you regularly play for the same country you will always appear as the same person each time you play an event. In fact, there are only a few “sets” of athlete models in the game that are shared among the countries included in the game. With create-a-player features standard in today’s sports games, it’s surprising that Athens 2004 does not let you create a custom athlete that you can attach to your profile.
The game’s 24 events are primarily drawn from track and field competition, but also include groups of events in swimming and gymnastics. There are also a few individual events thrown in for variety such as archery, skeet shooting, and an equestrian jumping event. Most of the track and field and swimming events require you to wildly mash the X and O buttons as fast as possible, with the L1 button occasionally used to jump, hurdle, or set yourself on the starting block. These events are primarily an exercise in pushing buttons as fast as you can and quickly lead to digit fatigue or pain. Because of this it is difficult to play the game for very long at a time, with the amount of time you can dedicate to it dictated more by your threshold for pain than anything else. Some events rely more on timing than speed and present various forms of circles and meters that require you to press the button as the cursor passes certain marks. The difficulty level varies widely in these events. The shotput uses a system similar to that used in golf games and is easy to pick up and become competitive in it quickly. The discus on the other hand is a nightmare that forces you to rotate the control stick. I never could get it to work right and eventually gave up on it. For the shooting events, archery uses an intuitive targeting scheme that requires you to steady the bow and time your shot. Skeetshooting hover ties your gun to two dimensions of movement along a “track” in the air and requires you to shoot with split-second timing as the clay pigeon comes flying through your limited view. Another exercise in frustration here.
The party mode is interesting in that it makes use of a dance mat for play. The number of events in this mode is limited by the games that are suited to dance mat control. Some events are natural fits for a dance pad like the women’s floor exercise with its DDR style timing scheme. Others don’t work quite as well. For example, before trying the dash you’ll need to nail the dance mat to the floor and have your friends bring permission notes from their doctors as it requires you to run in place hitting two of the pad squares with your feet as fast as you can.