With snow still lying on much of the northern hemisphere we thought we'd jump into Winter Games 2023, the latest version of a sub-genre we've had a lot of fun with over the years.
The events are: Biathlon, Curling, Downhill, Short Track, Skeleton, Ski Cross, Ski Jumping, Snowboard Cross, Super-G and the 2-Woman Bobsleigh…
You can Train for an individual event, compete in the individual events or set up Cup competitions (Amateur Semipro, Pro, Alpine, Air, Speed, Stamina or Custom) and choose from three difficulty settings.
Biathlon is the classic mix of cross-country skiing & shooting, you control your athlete with the left stick to steer & aim and a strangely non-intuitive and unresponsive mixture of tapping 'A' and 'B' in rhythm to ski, but the shooting is quite well simulated as you hold your breath with the 'L' Trigger to make for accurate aiming. Missing a target means you have to lap a penalty loop.
Curling is a well-established Olympic sport in which players slide heavy, polished granite stones along a sheet of ice toward a target area known as the 'house'. The house is segmented into four concentric circles and a point is scored for each stone in or touching the house that is closer to the centre than any of the opposing team's stones. The player/teams have four stones each, taking alternate turns. The game's rules are similar to shuffleboard, bowls or boules. This is the best of the events by a mile, and possibly the best representation of the sport yet, with variable strength, spin and sweeping options to allow for a great deal of control over your stones.
Downhill skiing is a classic high-speed run against the clock down a mountain with generously spaced gates. You tap 'A' to gain speed out of the start gate then 'tuck' and go faster by holding the 'R' trigger, and edge turn by holding the 'L' trigger. A blur effect gives an impression of speed while trying to mask frame rate problems, but it does feel like skiing.
Short Track is a speed skating race on a much-shortened track. You tap 'A' repeatedly to accelerate, maintain rhythm with 'A' and 'B' and keep your balance with… the 'L' trigger. Eh, wait, what? Sprinting is done by tapping 'X' but drains stamina... But the unfair collisions that result in you falling, the same unresponsive button prompts as the Biathlon and the hideous frame rate judders are what'll really drain your stamina, and possibly your will to live as well.
Skeleton sees one mad individual dive head-first down a bobsleigh run on a glorified tea tray. You tap 'A' to sprint for the launch, press 'X' to jump aboard and then 'L' & 'R' triggers help you turn sharper (but slow you down.) This is simplistic fun, with responsive controls and a decent, blurry sensation of speed. For such a simple event graphically, it displays bad frame rate jitters and horrible camera glitches in the replays.
Ski Cross is a short downhill ski race for 4 competitors. Tap 'A' to accelerate, edge turn with the 'L' trigger and time jumps & landing with a brief hold of 'A'. This feels very weird and is totally counter-intuitive, but the racing is fun once you master the weird jump control timing.
Ski Jumping is an event in which a skier slides down a ramp and takes off, the aim being to leap or "fly" as far as possible while landing with style, or crashing like a dying duck if you're British Olympian Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards. This event requires a bit of skill as you want to jump when the wind gauge shows that it's straight in your face (although it can change on the way down, meaning you'll need to keep your balance with the Left stick). A press of 'A' sets you off down the ramp and subsequent pressing 'A' to hopefully take off right at the end of the ramp and land right at the end of the green zone of the landing gauge that's placed on the right of the screen.
Snowboard Cross is similar to Ski Cross and with the same weird jump controls, a 4-player race down a shortish course with jumps.
Super-G is similar to Downhill but with more twists, turns and gates.
2-Woman Bobsleigh is obviously the blue ribbon event in any winter games, and so it's a natural inclusion here... OK, enough of the sarcasm, Bobsleigh has the same controls as the Skeleton: tap 'A' to gain speed etc... Are you detecting a theme here?
Okay so here's a recap of the main points we'd like to make about the game:
There are some laggy button responses and oddly inconsistent frame rates from event to event.
The character models look outdated and the animation is basic too.
There are otherworldly physics going on as well, particularly in the bobsled and short track events.
The game has an awful frame rate and camera juddering in some events, the bobsleigh and skiing events being the worst.
No online multiplayer but does save your records and have a takey-turnsy or split-screen for up to 4 players. We've only tried 2 and it was barely playable, so good luck with that.
Other than steering/aiming, where's the analogue stick use? You might need a new 'A' button.
Did the graphics artists spend more time on the static loading screens than the game itself?
Why so many female competitors and no choice of gender?
The game has the most patronising announcer/commentator I've ever heard.
There are ridiculous difficulty peaks and troughs meaning I was unable to win a Short Track race after a ton of practice, yet won the 2-heat Skeleton by 32 seconds!
The camera is set too low in just about every event, meaning you constantly feel like your view is partially blocked by the athlete.
Each event gets a video replay, but it's like heavily edited highlights that were edited by one of those crappy YouTubers who always edits out the best bits and misses key events.
We played the game mostly on the Xbox Series X, but tried it on an Xbox One and as expected the frame rate problems and laggyness of button response is noticeably worse, as are the load times.
Okay, enough criticism. I know there are gamers out there who love this sort of multi-event game, and I'd include myself among them, but Winter Games 2023 isn't one I'll remember when talking about Epyx/US Golds' classics like Summer Games II, Winter Games and California Games. The Curling and the Biathlon aren't bad but they're the only events I'd consider playing post-review, and then only on a Series X, not an Xbox One. Winter Games comes from an Indie developer and it's priced at only £24.99, but bear in mind that if it's snowy frolics you want then a much more polished, extremely challenging winter sports game STEEP is only £8.99 right now for the X Games Gold Edition...