When faced with recreating sporting challenges in the digital domain, most game-makers usually take one of two paths. Either they attempt a genuine simulation, cramming their game full of details and giving the player a sportsman’s-eye view of proceedings or they take the armchair fans-eye approach sacrificing some complexity and authenticity in order to try to capture the glories of an event as presented to us by TV cameras.
The Playman series most certainly takes the latter approach; indeed, it takes it so far that it virtually creates its own unique third way of approaching sports games. You see, despite the impressive snowscapes and the clobber sported by your cute athlete on screen, the actual gaming challenges on offer in Winter Games bear precious little relationship to sport at all. For instance, when faced with the biathlon, typically an endurance event involving long distance cross-country skiing interspersed with bouts of shooting, there’s no consideration at all given to pacing, direction and energy conservation or even the aiming element of marksmanship. Instead you simply have to press the ‘4’ or ‘6’ key in conjunction with passing markers on the ground to move your flaxen-haired skier along until he happens upon a rifle range which then exposes a series of numbers you must then punch on your keypad in order to hit the targets. It sounds over simplistic, maybe even a little bit boring and in theory it shouldn’t really work at all. But believe us, it does. In fact it works absolutely brilliantly.
Though simple, the control system is exceptionally well-balanced and as you continue to play (and you will) you’ll discover the subtleties and learn the split-second importance of timing your button presses as you attempt to edge seconds of the world records or beat your mates.
The other three sports mix things up even further with slalom providing a directional challenge as you try to weave your way down an undulating 3D course, the ski-jump combining timing for jump and landing with balance and judgement in flight whilst the bobsleigh demands attention and a subtle hand as you try to keep your sled from moving too violently about the course. All the events are slightly different yet all manage to tread a seemingly perfect line between being easy to pick-up and yet more challenging to master.
In fact the only real downer here is the lack of competition. Though MrG’s world records stand there to be beaten, if you’re playing alone you don’t have the option to challenge any computer-controlled opponents (which you might be able to learn something from) in the tournaments. Social gamers won’t bemoan this too much though as the option to take on up to nine mates on one phone paves the way for some truly epic challenges, but for the lonely commuter it would’ve been nice to get the feeling that you were actually competing in a tournament rather than going after a hi-score.
This isn’t enough to keep winter games off the podium though as the game scores highly for its difficulty level, presentation and performance.