Who knew that qualifying for the Olympics could be so difficult? Instead of a worldwide competition crafted around ideas that fit in with the modern gaming landscape, this is just an archaic compilation of mostly old, painful gameplay techniques that wore out their welcome decades ago. Not only do many of Beijing's events focus on the sadistic control method of making you rapidly tap two buttons until your fingers burn, but the unfathomable difficulty of the early rounds also makes the experience almost as grueling as training for the real thing. The minor redeeming elements only squirt a few drops of perfume on the overwhelming stench of the rest of this game.
Though all 36 events in Beijing 2008 have some problem, the biggest issue is the ridiculous attributes system that you use to level up your team during the qualifying rounds. For some reason, you command a group of athletes who are slow, weak, and embarrassingly out of shape. By winning qualifying events, you can pump points into categories such as power, speed, and stamina. This is in sharp contrast to real life, in which competitors show up to the games fully prepared to face off against the best in the world. If you fail to achieve the goal for the day (such as placing in three of the five chosen events), you are branded a failure and have to start that day all over again. Given that you are athletically inferior to all of your opponents, you'll find yourself bringing up the rear over and over again.
Using a keyboard makes racing events much easier.
Every event in Beijing 2008 that involves racing is agonizing if you use a controller, which is developer Eurocom's recommended method. The 11 swimming and running events all require you to repeatedly slam on the buttons or wiggle the sticks to gain speed, which is not only painful but fairly unresponsive as well. Anything that requires pure speed--such as the 100-meter dash--is nearly impossible. After you take your mark, you'll have to anxiously wait for the starter pistol to blast before you can begin. The problem is that there are no audio or visual indicators to tell you when the gun will fire. You have to keep count in your head, which means that you will often find yourself starting well after the rest of the pack or suffering a disqualification for jumping too soon. Cycling has the honor of being the worst of the included racing challenges. You have to rotate both analog sticks for more than four consecutive minutes, a technique that is the polar opposite of fun.
However, these running events become too easy when using a keyboard. For some reason, rapidly tapping two keys instead of buttons is much more effective, which means that you'll not only be able to consistently place, but you'll also threaten world records without breaking a sweat. Nevertheless, this advantage swings the other way in most other types of events, in which contortionist maneuvers are required to hit all of the necessary keys. The controller discrepancies can cause a severe imbalance when playing head-to-head against a friend; the victor is all but decided before the starter gun fires.
Other sports have their real-life depth completely stripped away and replaced with a mediocre rhythm game. Most of the gymnastics program suffers from this insultingly simple mechanic, making it not only far too easy for anyone familiar with the genre, but extremely repetitive as well. There are only three different routines (easy, medium, and hard), so there is little reason to partake in these endeavors for more than a couple of times. The high jump is a mirror image of the floor exercise, which shows how ill-advised this control scheme is. The diving events ask you to spin the analog sticks to match the balls circling your diver. This is extremely tedious and in no way captures the extreme focus needed by real-life competitors. These shallow excursions are so distant from the real thing that it's almost laughable.