EA Sports Active 2

4.0 Overall Score

Written by on December 17, 2010 in

The Kinect launch brings with it a cornucopia of fitness games. Not only do they release along with the new platform, but they are positioned perfectly to compete for New Year’s resolution dollars. Among those, EA Sports Active 2 takes home a number of superlatives including “Most Expensive,” “Biggest Box,” and, given its status as a sequel, “Most to Prove.” For as much as it does prove as a motivational tool, seasoned gamers will be let down by general bugginess and a shoddy interface.

The player is greeted by a couple of minutes of introduction to the game and its setting, a desert oasis. The same intro plays every time the player starts the game. It would have been much nicer to run this only on the first play for each player. Once that is done, the player begins interacting with the product. The on-screen hand is oddly much more jittery than the on-screen hand in the Kinect Dashboard interface. The player creates a profile, selects a virtual trainer, and is then ready to begin a workout.

The game’s suggestion is for the player to start a workout program. It offers both a 3-week and a 9-week program each with multiple intensity levels. Unfortunately, there is no guidance as to which the player should select. I would like to see a preliminary fitness assessment which would recommend the best starting point given the player’s current fitness level. The player may also opt for a one-off workout which can be custom assembled from the available exercises or generated automatically by the virtual trainer.

Navigating any of the menus in the game is laborious in part due to the aforementioned inaccuracy in the on-screen hand. Your hand may be perfectly still while its on-screen representation is jittering like a junkie looking for a fix. It’s very frustrating. Fortunately, the game does allow for a gamepad to be connected although it is a less-than-elegant solution. The game has voice commands in many areas, but you’re going to have to turn those off. Otherwise, you will often find yourself activating the voice commands for either the jukebox controls or the demonstration for the current exercise despite the fact there is no sound whatsoever in your workout space. It was certainly a nice thought, but the interruption of your workout is a lot more jarring than simply having to use the controller at other times.

The workouts themselves are a lot of fun. Your trainer does a great job of describing to you exactly how to perform each exercise and, thankfully, this tutorial plays only the first time you encounter each exercise. For exercises which use the resistance band, an illustration of how the band should be placed is show briefly each time you repeat the exercise. If you are able to find the proper intensity on your own, you will get a lot out of the workout. If you are in fantastic shape, the game recommends you should pause and complete more reps. It’s a bit of a cop-out but a worthwhile compromise to remain accessible.

Oftentimes, the exercises reveal the fact that much of the actual body-tracking is smoke-and-mirrors. Sure, you’ll end up having reps not counted even though you performed the exercise perfectly, and I can forgive that as this is a first-generation product. You may also notice many of the exercises will only track the parts of your body that need to be moving for the exercise. Other body parts are ignored. I understand the need to track those is simply not there, but it makes the whole thing feel staged instead of feeling like the game is actually watching you. Even worse, warm-up and cool-down exercises are not tracked at all. You are instructed to follow along, but reps are counted even if you leave to reheat some pizza in the meantime.

The game asks you to take water breaks, which is a great thing, but it often doesn’t give you ample time to do so. After each exercise, it takes a few seconds to load the next exercise. Depending on what follows the water suggestion, you may or may not have time to get back into view of the sensor in time for the game to recognize you. If you don’t, you will receive a message that the player is no longer recognized until you are positioned such that you can be recognized. Then, you must either do battle with the motion interface or turn your controller back on to signal the game to proceed. It’s not a huge inconvenience, but it can get annoying.

Speaking of player recognition, I frequently receive a message during player recognition that the “lighting is not good where (I’m) standing.” I’ve learned this means I need to remove my glasses while I’m being recognized. I have never experienced this issue with recognition in the dashboard or any other Kinect games. Add that to the oddness with voice commands and the extremely disconcerting way the game will sometimes freeze just before the end of a 30-minute workout forcing you to turn of the 360 and lose all progress, and you get a game in desperate need of some patching.

The heart-rate monitor, the gadget included in the box which justifies the $100 price tag, feels very unnecessary. Perhaps it is my ignorance of the vast mysteries of the human body and what a heart-rate would even indicate (aside from the obvious), but I found that I got just as much from playing the game without it. I guess the calorie counting is a little less accurate, and you’ll have one fewer statistic to pore over. The superfluous nature of the monitor is actually a positive since workouts may be done with a friend, one of you playing without a monitor. If it felt like a major disadvantage, multiplayer workouts might be less enticing.

Multiplayer is very similar to the single player workouts. Both players stand side-by-side and complete the entire routine together. The trainer tries to pit you against one another in a friendly way to further motivate you to perform to your best ability. If you play a workout together as part of the program, only one player receives credit for the program but both will receive credit for the workout. Some exercises cannot be completed in a multiplayer workout. This seems to be an issue with the number of points which can be tracked at a time. Although the game will go split-screen for a running exercise, it will simply skip the dodgeball exercise for example.

If you live in a gymnasium, you may have sufficient space for EA Sports Active 2.

The fact is amplified in multiplayer, but, even in single-player, this game needs a ton of space. I have about 13 feet right now from my Kinect to the back wall which seems to be just enough. I need 3-4 feet more for this game than for any other Kinect game I have played. I really can’t imagine very many people would have this kind of space. I have heard a Kinect positioned higher (more than 3 feet from the ground) requires less space, but this is not always an option as in my case.

Although there is much to lament in this game, it did get me to work out and did a better job motivating me than I tend to do myself. If I want to talk about this as a piece of software, its obvious that it needs some major work. As a fitness tool, it fares better. I feel a more casual player might be able to overlook a bit more than I could, but I also feel the opposite might be true in some instances. There were times I had to try to figure out what the game wanted despite its own difficulties in telling me. A less experienced gamer would be more likely to call it broken and move on. For instance, it took a while to determine that it must have been the voice commands triggering the random appearance of the jukebox controls. A casual player might not have even considered that option could be turned off and thus had to live with its constant interference in workouts.

Many of my complaints could be fixed with a patch, and, if that patch ever comes, EA Sports Active 2 will be technically adequate. It speaks volumes of the quality of the content of this game — the workouts, the tutorials, the trainers — that I am willing to continue use of it in its current state. As much as the geek in me is in love with the novelty of body-tracking and the web-based stat tracking, I can’t help feeling the average consumer could get most everything Active 2 has to offer with much less frustration from a cheap fitness video.

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Author: Devon Campbell View all posts by
Devon's childhood has crept way into adulthood... and he's cool with that. He's embraced it by continuing the nerdy pursuits of his youth and indoctrinating his poor wife, Tiffany, and daughter, Ambria, thereby possibly spreading the disease to them. They don't seem to mind so much.

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