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Bruce Jenner's Decathlon is a decent sports game from Interactive Magic that will probably be a love-hate affair for most gamers. I was infuriated by the button-mashing (or mouse-mashing, to be more accurate) requirements of the game, but liked the RPG-style athlete creation and development too much to give up. The result is a strangely addictive and quite unique sports game that is not easily written off as just another game that tries to capitalize on the success of an athlete - in this case, decathlon gold medalist in the 1976 Olympics.
In BJD, Interactive Magic introduced some of the best features yet seen in an olympics game. First of all, the game features all ten of the events featured in the real thing. In a unique approach, you handle the events in a two day series: the first five events comprise "Day One," while the last five occur on "Day Two." This may seem trivial at first, but it in fact gives the game a subtle level of strategy since your player has only a limited number of "endurance points" which you much ration through each of the five daily events. Use all that endurance too soon, and you won't have enough energy to finish the 1,500-meter race at dusk. Save too much, and you won't have the points to even finish at all. In this way, BJD adds a nice and authentic element of strategy that real-life athletes deal with.
The most fun part of the game is "player creation," which is as detailed as some RPGs. You select the name, face, style for certain events, and allocate "skill points" across a number of categories such as sprinting and weight throwing, etc. Similarly, the difficulty level can be customized and fine-tuned by creating exactly the kind of opponents you want in each event.
Another cool feature is the "Coach's Office," an archive of lengthy videos starring Bruce Jenner himself who reminisces on the different events and experiences of his career. Throughout the game you will also see video sequences of Bruce explaining the techniques and tips for each event, although they usually come down to "save your endurance" - which is why the absence of these videos on the CD-rip download on this site isn't really a big deal ;)
With such a good start, it is a big letdown to see BJD fail where it matters the most: the gameplay. Even with all the stats and focus on endurance, the game is basically a frantic mouse race. You will spend a lot of time holding down or mashing a button. For example, the running events involve holding down the left mouse button to accelerate, then letting go to decelerate. This is okay for the 100 meter dash, but becomes painstakingly dull in the larger races. The jumping events involve the same basic plan - hold down button, let go, repeat if necessary. The big problem here is that you get absolutely no adrenaline rush - except possibly where you tailor the opponents to be very tough. In contrast to Accolade's addictive Summer Challenge, BJD is more of a "sit back, relax, and let your fingers rest" kind of game. Still, you will be compelled to finish the game - perhaps it's all that time spent in allocating endurance and skill points that you don't want to go to waste. Or perhaps it's that feeling that gold medal is so close to your reach. Whatever the reason, BJD is notable for being an innovator in a crowded genre, although unfortunately not where it counts the most. Recommended, but not nearly a top game.
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Bruce Jenner's Decathlon screenshot
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