The problem with most fitness games – and there are actually now quite a few of them out there – is that they don’t very often know exactly what it is that they want to be. Some of them feel like they have to succeed as entertaining games first and fitness tools second, and some feel the need to be so straight-laced and serious that they are often an outright pain to be around. It may be a pretty new genre, but it already appears to be a bit of a confused one, and although Nintendo’s Wii Fit titles come close to striking the perfect balance, they didn’t quite take the fitness aspect seriously enough, nor did they feature enough variety to keep people coming back for more than a few days at a time.
Another fundamental problem is that it’s very hard to remain interested (and focused) when you know that the game doesn’t always know precisely what you’re doing. It’s infuriating to be told that you’re not performing an exercise correctly when you are, and the whole experience can similarly be rendered pointless on those odd occasions when you realise that you can get away with tricking the game, into thinking that you’re exerting yourself when you actually aren’t. So as entertaining as some of these titles have undoubtedly been, none of them have ever been able to compare favourably to time spent at an actual gymnasium, with an optional physical trainer waiting in the wings.
The fact that a detailed (and seemingly faultless) reading of your heart rate sits in the top left hand corner of the screen at all times in EA Sports Active 2, alongside an ever-escalating estimation of how many calories you’re burning off, may be the two aspects that initially convince you that this is something very special… but it’s the overriding quality of the accelerometer peripherals that will really keep you coming back. The two devices – one of which straps to your right arm and the other to your left leg – do a pretty astonishing job of tracking every last one of your body movements, irrespective of whether or not you’re even using the limbs that have accelerometers attached to them.
During your first hour with the software you’ll probably try to repeatedly catch it out, and you’re very likely to fail as dramatically as we did. During one particularly strenuous exercise that involved the Resistance Band (which is also included as part of the package) we tried to take a breather, and simply approximated the on-screen instructions in a flappy, can’t-be-bothered fashion, and it resulted in the program ceasing its progression. In order to stop the barrage of genial comments from our on-screen trainer about stopping if we were tired (which is the only thing that taking a break resulted in) we had to do the exercise in question, and properly.
This may seem like a minor detail but it actually helps you to connect with the game on a much more serious level, and the extensive customisation options only make your full involvement all the more gratifying. You are able to construct your own schedule from the off; so if you want to focus on one part of your body or work from one specific pot of exercises, you can plan your week-long (or month-long ) fitness regime around them. If you want to begin with the default program first – and that is recommended for newcomers – you’ll get a glimpse of almost all of the different exercises on offer, and will have cool-down stretch exercises automatically programmed in for you, to help you avoid any painful muscle strain.
The game’s presentation (across all formats) is outstanding too, the menu systems are elegantly designed, and you are given full control over the ‘difficulty’ setting, which simply determines how hard you want to push yourself. This setting can be altered at any time, so you’re encouraged to experiment. The way that the game sets you intermittant goals to achieve is an ingenious way of getting you to go the extra mile; regardless of whether it’s to perform a specific set of exercises a set number of times, or to burn off a certain number of calories. But if these carrot-dangling tactics don’t float your boat, then you are free to simply ignore them.
So EA Sports Active 2 is the real deal. It’s an enjoyable videogame, sure – and its canny implementation of the addictive trophy/achievement structure that compels so many modern gamers to soldier above and beyond the call of duty, is nothing less than a stroke of pure genius. But first and foremost it’s a proper fitness tool that is entirely customisable, and has clearly been built to last. It also helps that it features two pretty marvellous pieces of technology, that couldn’t possibly have been put to better use. If you’ve ever even fleetingly thought about picking up something like this, make sure that in this instance, you do. You almost certainly won’t regret it.
Watch the EA Sports Active 2 trailer here: