On your marks...

International Sports Challenge logo

EMPIRE * £25.99 * 1/2 meg * Joystick * Out now

Every four years, a small event called the Olympics arises. Almost every single games company fights for the ultimate Olympics licence. The money that floats around must be incredible. Unfortunately, International Sports Challenge is not the official Olympic game, but it is really rather good.

A bit of history for you. Anyone reading this remember Daley Thompson's Decathlon on the good old Sinclair Spectrum? Yes, of course you do, it was the start of something big and it would revolutionise athletic games for ever and ever. Amen.

Yes, the one game that would be responsible for the end of an era. As you may or may not know, Daley's Decathlon involved tapping two keys as fast as you could. This undoubtedly led to the N and M being worn out before any of the other keys. This, among other things, led to the death of my Spectrum, so with a tear in my eye I waved goodbye to the good old Speccy and said a big hello to my brand spanking new Amiga. Hurrah, hurrah and thrice hurrah.

Being a sentimental and thoughtful sort of guy (you've got to be joking - Ed) I still look back to the days when Daley ruined my micro, but in some way maybe it was a godsend and I was meant to receive an Amiga on that fateful day.

Since Daley, sports games have come and gone, but as I said a few seconds back, it is the time of the Olympics and sports games are big business to these software companies. For starters, most sports games are dead easy to produce - all you have to do is produce a simple joystick waggler, or that is how it seems to me, which is unfortunate for you the punters, yes you, the ones who have to fork out £25 or more a time for such software.

It is your decision and with tons and tons of Olympic games software available, it is you the punters who will make or break these companies. Whoops, I've just realised. I have made a major error. This is not an Olympic Games game. It's only got six different sports in it, so it's got nothing to do with the Olympics.

Blimey, that was almost a catastrophe. It's easily done though, especially with the images that cover the box. There are six events - diving, cycling, shooting, swimming, show jumping and the marathon.

The marathon is the "key" event. You start with the marathon and in between you travel to all the different events. After the event has finished you return to the marathon to check on how your runner is doing. You can alter his rhythm and speed, plus you can tell him what to take on the refreshment stand. You have a choice of glucose, water or steroids. Oops, I mean a sponge. Don your swimming togs because the next event is diving. Yes, you too can dive like the pros or you could be a complete amateur and bellyflop, but at least it will be a flabtastic bellyflop. To be honest, it is not a bad diving event. For starters you can actually do a proper dive and yes you do feel quite happy when you do an inward reverse double piked somersault.

Show Jumping is next. Now this is the only event in the whole game that is guaranteed to raise a smile. For starters, it is all in 3D. It does not actually feel as though you're riding a horse, it is more like driving a car. I found this out when Dobbin kept on doing three point turns and especially when he got pulled over by the cops and had to take a breath test to see if he'd been riding while under the influence. To keep you entertained, there are several different courses. Back to the baths for the next part, it's swimming. The competition allows you to chose between four strokes, three different distances and three different competition levels. This is an almost straightforward waggler.
At the bottom of the screen there is a stroke bar which displays the speed and rhythm of your stroke. A heart will appear on the bar each time you need to breathe.

The only other waggler in the whole package is cycling. As in the Show Jumping, the cycling is a 3D-Vectory-type thingy. This is one of the more exciting events. You start waggling your stick and for the first couple of laps you have to either take the lead or follow the other cycle, then the bell rings signalling the final lap, then you go into a waggle frenzy until you hit that finish line. I know it sounds crap on paper, but believe me it is really exciting when you're waggling away.

Right, last event before the end of the marathon and it's the shooting. There are four different shooting events. Rapid Fire pistol shooting involves you shooting at five revolving targets which are marked with five scoring zones - the closer to the bull's eye, the more points you're awarded with.
Running Game target shooting that you have to shoot running game, but thankfully these days the "game" are just moving targets with pictures of wild boar painted on them. Clay Pigeon and Skeet shooting I expect you're all familiar with, so I won't waste my breath explaining it all to you. After you've completed all these events, you go back to the marathon to guide your man home to the finish line. Unfortunately I always ended up about fifth and still haven't won it, but I'm sure you'll be able to do it tons better than me.

Right, that's another review done and dusted - all I need to tell you now is what I think about it. Overall International Sports Challenge is a very polished product indeed. The 3D bits add a new dimension to the genre, plus the fact that you have the marathon running all the way through the game - another idea that works well.
I can't really compare it to any of the other recent sports games, simply because I haven't seen any of them. The graphics are good and the sound is fairly average, but the playability is excellent.

I think you will probably come back to this one even after all this Olympic business has died down. I liked it, but it does not last too long which is probably its only major fault, mainly because there aren't enough events.
Also, £30 is a bit expensive, but if you're feeling in a particularly sporty mood then I would recommend that you buy this.

International Sports Challenge logo

Are you an all-round athlete? No? Well then have a go at this little lot, it's far less tiring.

With the pace hotting up for the Barcelona Olympics, it's hardly surprising that the software companies are pulling out the stops to get their sports simulations out to coincide with the start of the games. The latest digital combination of Olympic Events comes from Empire in the form of International Sports Challenge.

The game is a combination of six sports, with various events being included in each discipline to make a total of 21 events. Up to four human players can compete, each player choosing the level they wish to play at on each discipline. Each section is loaded individually from disk, the list of sports you wish to play being selected from a menu at the start of the game. Once all the events have been completed, the final totals are added up and the winner is presented with a nice gold animation (but there are no silver or bronze awards - bah).

Going for gold
Although International Sports Challenge only contains six sports disciplines, the variety of the events means that there are actually around 20 events to play. Empire have tried taking a different approach to the usual sports simulation, giving different control methods and perspectives on many of the events and including the novel idea of making the marathon a linking event.

However, for the most part the game seems to be just the same old stuff we've been seeing for years. The 3D events are quite innovative, but even the cycling event is just an old-fashioned joystick-waggling affair (which is pretty much an outdated idea when you come down to it). The diving can be annoying at times too, with the control method becoming ridiculously hard to execute, making the going extremely frustrating. As for the marathon, all you have to do is push up the effort to make the pace around two hours and keep taking water at the refreshment stands. Sure you could get a slightly better time by using some of the other functions, but there is no immediate effect on the game as you are playing it, which makes it all seem a bit dull.

Although Empire have tried to take a different view of the genre, International Sports Challenge still doesn't take the field of sports simulations any further than the original Epyx games all those years ago.

Time to take a step back in time to your school's sports day. Only these events are a bit more advance, but you're still allowed to make a pig's ear of it.
International Sports Challenge: Diving International Sports Challenge: Show Jumping
Dives can be taken from three heights, or as a combination of one and three metre springboard dive plus a five metre high dive. To take a dive, you hit fire to start, then again to set the power, then move the joystick to follow a dot that moves around a circle. This dot shows the moves you have to execute to complete a successful dive. The dives are rated by difficulty.
The equestrian event is a first-person, 3D-view affair, with the player riding a horse through a polygon-based arena. Pushing forward on the stick spurs the horse on, pulling back slows it down and left and right turn the horse in that direction. The key to beating the event is to time the approach to the fences and hit the fire-button to clear the obstacles.
International Sports Challenge: Swimming International Sports Challenge: Cycling
Swimming can be attempted at a number of levels, with a choice of stroke and distances (as well as a 4 x 100 metre medley event). After pulling down, the pressing up to perform the dive, you must move the joystick left and right to execute as long a stroke as possible. Timing your breathing is also important, otherwise you will be slowed down by a lung full of water.
These are in the classic computer-sports sim mould. In other words it's a joystick waggler! After choosing the type of race (sprint or pursuit) and the distance, you must waggle and push up or down to adjust your position. For sprint you have to overtake your opponent and finish first, whereas pursuit pits you in a race to finish a certain distance in the quickest time.
International Sports Challenge: Shooting International Sports Challenge: Marathon
The shooting events are probably the most wide-ranging of the six sports included. You can take part in trap shooting (where you must shoot pairs of clay-targets launched from a single point), skeet shooting (which has the targets launched from a pair of bases), target shooting (requires quick reactions to hit five targets before they disappear) and boar shooting (consists of a number of moving wildlife targets which must be hit on the run).
The marathon is a link event which is played between the other events (it can only be attempted when you play a full competition, including all the other sports). You must set your runner's pace, effort and speed to try and run the 50-km distance in the quickest time. The right choice of refreshments to take at the stands can also affect your runner's performance. Make sure that he doesn't get too tired, or his pace will certainly start flagging.

International Sports Challenge logo

Jetzt, da Ihr diese Zeilen lest, dürften die olympischen Sommerspiele in Barcelona gerade so richtig heißgelaufen sein - höchste Zeit für ein bißchen digitale Körperertüchtigung...

...dachte man sich bei Empire und beglückt die Bildschirmathleten mit einem neuen Game im Stil der C64-Klassiker von Epyx (Gott hab' sie selig). Bis zu vier Spieler ringen in insgesamt sechs Sportarten um einen Eintrag in die speicherbare Rekordliste, fünf der Veranstaltungen sind einzeln anwählbar, am Marathon darf allerdings nur teilnehmen, wer alle Disziplinen in einem Rutsch durchzockt.

Dabei stellt doch gerade der Dauerlauf eine echte Neuerung dar, er dauert nämlich ganz wie im richtigen Leben etwa zwei Stunden! Zunächst wählt man einen der vier vorgefertigten Läufer, nach dem Start werden Laufgeschwindigkeit und - rhythmus eingestellt. Beizeiten gönnt man seinem Sprite einen Drink, eine Ruhepause oder eine Vitaminspritze, das Laufen besorgt es gottlob von alleine - über Sieg oder Niederlage entscheiden die taktischen Entscheidungen des Spielers. Da natürlich kein vernünftiger Mensch die ganze Zeit über vor dem Screen ausharren mag, kann man inzwischen die anderen Sportarten beglücken, das Rennen läuft derweil sozusagen im Hintergrund weiter...

Gehen wir inzwischen zum Turmspringen, wo allerlei Freifall-Figuren mit unterschiedlichen Schwierigkeitsgrad zur Auswahl stehen. Allerdings schlägt man nicht beliebig Saltos, vielmehr muss ein Punkt geschickt im Kreis dirigiert werden, damit der Rechner die gewählte Kombination perfekt ausführt. Nicht sehr abwechslungsreich, also ab zum Springreiten. Hier gilt es, in flotter 3D-Vektorgrafik diverse Hindernisse fehlerfrei und in vorgegebener Reihenfolge zu überwinden. Ja, dank der gelungenen Steuerung liegt das Glück der Erde tatsächlich am Rücken der Pferde!

Weniger glücklich hat uns das folgende Wettschwimmen gemacht, zwar glänzt es durch zahlreiche Einstellmöglichkeiten (Brust, Kraul oder Freistil, Streckenlänge, Stärke des Computergegners), der Spielspaß geht jedoch baden. Das rhythmische Joystick-Rütteln wird bald langweilig, außerdem kann man trotz Splitscreen nur gegen den Rechner antreten. Etwas witziger ist wiederum das Radfahren im dreidimensionalen Stadion, wo der Polygon-Computergegner nur durch wüstes Joystickrütteln und eine stabile Kurvenlage zu besiegen ist. Anschließend folgt das Schießen, was am besten per Maus erledigt wird. Mal kommen Tontauben in einem Affentempo angeflogen, dann stehen die Ziele still; so oder so wird nur der geübte Scharfschütze erfolgreich sein - wie das Spiel überhaupt mit einem kernigen Schwierigkeitsgrad aufwarten kann.

Leider werden die Mühen kaum belohnt: Es gibt weder Eröffnungsfeier noch Schlußzeremonie, die Grafik ist trotz netter Zwischenbildchen nicht gerade aufregend, Musik und Soundeffekte sind nur spärlich verteilt, dafür wird recht häufig nachgeladen. Alles in allem eine brauchbare Digi-Olympiade, aber die mittlerweile drei Jahre alte "Summer Edition" gefällt nach wie vor besser. (rl)

International Sports Challenge logo

Empire sprints ahead with the first of the Olympic games.

Arghhh! Just as the dust was clearing after the stampede of footy games, it is time for the Olympics and the inevitable onslaught of athletics games. Lucky for Empire, their International Sports Challenge has two things going for it - it is the first one out, and it has got some weird events in it. Sure it has got the usual dose of joystick waggling (in the swimming and cycling events), but among the six events (okay, so it is not exactly a full Olympic sim) are show jumping, and - yes! - skeet shooting - always one of my faves on the sports games of yesteryear.

It is possible to play each event individually, but of course these games are all about doing the entire thing, preferably competing against a friend of two. The formula for the whole lot goes something like this - diving, shooting, cycling, swimming and show jumping are all played as in-between events, with a strategy- based marathon even enveloping them all. This marathon does not require a single joystick waggle, instead requiring players to balance rhythm with speed, top-up energy, avoid dehydration, all that kind of stuff. It is a mixture of balancing performance with endurance, with the occasional reaction test (i.e. when fine-tuning the rhythm) thrown in for good measure. Not riveting stuff, but it works nicely as an interlude between the shorter, sharper events. Pity about the runner's animation though.

Of the events, the two water ones really let the side down. The diving event is a nice idea, with a novel control system, but it just does not work. Graphically, it is pretty lame too. The swimming is just downright tedious - a wagglefest with the added attraction(?) of needing a good rhythm, and breathing control which must be timed so as not to fill the swimmer's lungs with water. I kept getting the urge to let the little jerk drown.

The waggle concept is used again in the cycling event, but here things actually look exciting (solid 3D vectors are used), and there is not rhythm to worry about. Sometimes the simplest things in life work the best, y'know?

Skeet shooting brings hand-eye coordination and reactions into the equation, with some pretty fast skeet flying around the place. Again, it is a fairly simple event, but it works well (particularly when competing with other players - raising that tension level even higher).

Finally, then, we come to the show jumping - another solid 3D thing. I must confess to hating show jumping on TV, and I have never had the urge to ride a horse in my life. But this is funny AND fun. Guiding a horse's head round the course, trying to find the next fence without crashing into everything else is just a little bit surreal, but it is laughter all the way (smashing straight through all the barriers is a real hoot).

The lack of events is partially compensated for by the game's flexibility, with several variations in each event upping lastability and game time. Empire reckon there are 2000 event variations to try out, and while I doubt you would want to try out every single combination, International Sports Challenge offers a decent amount of fun for yer money, for a team of players at least. I have got my doubts about its value as a single player game though, and the water events really are tedious. But at least it tries to be a little different, and anyway, I am a sucker for multiplayer games.

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Steve Keen aims for a gold medal with the first of the many forthcoming Olympic-based games to arrive...

With the 1992 Summer Olympics just about underway you can expect a whole bunch of track and field-related games to be grasping at the pot of gold which accompanies the spectacle every four years. Empire's game caters for up to four players, and covers six sports with a choice of 21 events. These are diving, show jumping, swimming, cycling, shooting, and the marathon. The events are all played in succession in the competition section, but can also be practised individually.

The marathon serves to tie all the events together and if you choose to play it, it will always be the first competition you'll embark on. Because of its twenty-six mile length, the race can be left to tun whilst you get on with the other five sports, with the computer automatically cutting back for an update on the action between events. Of the six sports, this is surprisingly one of the most enjoyable. After selecting your runner, you can modify his competitive drive from a series of sub-menus. From these you can also control how much effort he exerts, the speed at which he runs, the rhythm of his stride, and even which refreshment to take at the many strategically-placed watering holes. The track is preset and can be viewed by clicking on the map icon which shows everything from the gradients of hills to the whereabouts of the refreshment tents! All such details must be taken into account when adjusting your runner's stats. For example, running downhill requires much less effort though.

Although this section is fun you won't have much trouble beating the computer players. The real challenge is sprinting against the clock and actually keeping in the race. Set too fast a pace and you could find yourself burnt out and out of the race.

At first glance, you'll probably be dreading the inclusion of the waggling method employed in previous games. Although the joystick-trashing system hasn't been totally abandoned, it is nowhere near the level of exertion displayed in the past. The main offender is cycling which takes place inside a velodrome. There are four races to choose from and, as with all the events, you can compete in three different classes - National, International and World. The race is displayed using polygons and involves waggling your joystick as fast as possible to pass the finishing line before your opponent. All two-player games can be raced head-to-head with a friend or against the computer. The scrolling is smooth, but hardly exciting, and you'll be glad when it's over.

The diving section is another event which falls foul to bad gameplay. The idea is to pick four out of forty possible dives spread over three heights of board. Each dive possess a tarif showing the difficulty and, the harder the dive, the more points you'll get for the performance. To perform the aerobatics you must first press the firebutton when a red icon expands and follow another sphere's pattern as it spins around.

The only other event worth mentioning is shooting - not because it's particularly good, but it's one of the few that offers any enjoyment. Once again, a choice of styles is offered including skeet, trap and boar. You have a limited amount of shots so each must be made to count. Control is via the mouse or joystick, but the latter can be very frustrating to use.

International Sports Challenge is a very poor affair. The graphics for the human sprites and the 3D sections are nothing special. Gameplay is especially limited and, although there are a good variety of events, they're all very samey. As a result, you're best advised to wait for the next sweaty sim to come along.

The first Olympic events can be traced back as far as the ninth century. Women were not only forbidden to compete, they weren't even allowed to watch the games. Even back then, the importance of winning was so strong that the games were soon corrupted by cities entering professional athletes and attempting to bribe judges. Things became so bad that the event was eventually banned in 393 AD by the emperor Theodosius and the original city where they had taken place, Olympia, was destroyed over the centuries by earthquakes, floods and marauding invaders.

International Sports Challenge logo

Empire/A, ST (£29.99), PC (£34.99)
DAVID MCCANDLESS hates Carl Lewis, gets 'annoyed' when some spacker tells him Britain are good at rowing, thinks Ben Johnson probably took drugs to escape having to listen to Carl Lewis going on and on about God and detests everything the Olympics stands for (which, lets face it, is money). The perfect person to appraise all the tie-in games (The Carl Lewis Challenge, Espana '92 & International Sports Challenge), we thought.

At least these guys got it right. No goody-two-shoes American athlete cum social moralist here - just Linford Christie in all his glory on the front cover. Nice. And the events in this game are nice too, with a refreshing tang of originality, neat presentation and horses.

Yeah, horses. This is the only game to feature Black Beauty's ilk in an isometric 3D vector graphics equestrian adventure. Kitted out with a radar and a preview of what jump is next, you have to direct your wild stallion around a gymkhana nightmare. Dig in the spurts to make him speed up. Pull back the reins to slow down. Pity there's not a whip button. (Steady on. Animal Activist Ed.)

Sod the whip, there's a gun in the Shooting events - Clay, Skeet, Boar and Trap. At last - a fire button. In this event you get a lovely country backdrop, a large firearm and a cunning quantity of 'targets' which bullet (ho!) out in all directions from the 'houses' (as they're called). Use the mouse to target your ah... target and blam! Death to the UFO-shaped piece of flying crockery.

Mind you, flying crockery is what you'll be feeling like as you nancy-nonce above the pool in diving. All manner of aerial morris-dancer steps have to be performed before a grim set of judges. Innovatively enough, there's no joystick twisting in this - just following a ball around a circle to get the moves right.
Then again, you'll have to get all your moves right in the Marathon. (These links are beginning to bore me. Ed.) You don't, of course, have to waggle for 26 miles, but you do have to monitor your runner's speed, rhythm and moisture level, as well as adapting his pace to suit the terrain. Um... and then there's cycling. Another vector adventure, this time in a 'pursuit bowl'. Good old fashioned waggling is needed for this one.

An adventurous array of events for up to four players, impressively implemented and not too easily mastered. It's backed up by good sound and okay to good graphics. But again, it has very little long-lasting appeal unless you're playing for money.