Sunday, 23 October 2011

EA Sports Active 2

Lowdown: A complete personal training program.
Couch potatoes such as yours truly have a problem we need to contend with. How, exactly, are we to take up exercising when, you know, it’s such a pain? Clearly the problem applies to a large number of people but solutions are left wanting. One possible answer, offered by EA Sports Active 2, is the gamification of exercises: turning the painful affair into something you do through a video games console, in the comfort of your home, might make one less of a potato. At $20 asking price for the Wii version, I thought Active 2 was worth a try.
Unlike most games that come in a DVD jewel box, Active 2 comes in a much larger cardboard box. It contains the usual jewel box, but also several instructions booklet, an exercise resistance band, and the pieces de resistance: a sensor you strap on your hand, a sensor you strap on your knee, and a wireless receiver that plugs into one of the Wii’s USB inputs to receive those sensors' inputs. Together, the last three allow the game to provide you with feedback on your exercises; in particular, it allows the game to show your avatar performing the exercises on the screen. Batteries are included, by the way, although mine were obviously on the older side of things.
The first thing I noticed, even before sticking the game disc in the console, is the quality of the attached instruction booklets. Or rather the lack of it: they tell you have to pair your straps to your Wii, which is fine, but in general they are not much more than a lengthy disclaimer notice. They don’t even tell you how to make a resistance band our of the provided raw ingredients (two handles and a plastic strap); I had to use this video to learn how to do that.
As you start the game you create yourself a new exercising Avatar. The options are quite limited: Active 2 forced me to play/exercise as a black person with hair, neither of which are true. On the positive side, it's nice to sail this particular ship of the imagination!
Next on the agenda is the selection of your personal trainer. You can choose between a guy claiming to be tough and a woman; I chose the woman. We’ll get back to her shortly. You move on to select your exercise program: you can choose individual exercises, but the whole strength of Active 2 lies in its ability to offer you weeks long exercise programs that build your fitness gradually and are offered under several difficulty levels. I chose to start things easy, and I have to say it felt as if Active 2 read my mind.
Having used Active 2 for exercising over a good few weeks now I can attest to be quite impressed. There is quite a large variety of exercises to perform, and while the majority is mundane some of them are quite innovative in the gamification department. Take my four year old’s favorite as an example: mountain biking. This exercise has you crouched on your pretend bicycle, jumping from time to time to avoid onscreen obstacles, and running quickly to pedal up hills. Most of the exercises do not require the Wii remote, although some (like boxing) do.
Individual exercises apart, the exercise programs themselves appear to be well thought out. The number of repetitions increase as your exercise program progresses through the calendar, and the exercises themselves get harder: what started with push ups from knees turns into proper push ups, etc. All exercises programs start with effective warm ups and end with cool downs relevant to the particular set of exercises performed that day. Indeed, you will find that one day Active 2 will focus on your cardio while the next day it will focus on your lower body.
The game keeps progress of your performance. The hand strap collects your pulse, which is constantly displayed. It is not the most reliable pulse meter ever, but I see it as good enough. Using the metered pulse and your profile details, Active 2 calculates how many calories you burn as your exercise: I always find it disheartening to see how burning so few take so much effort. On the positive side, seeing the figures prevents me from assuming I can obliterate the contents of my fridge just because I did some exercising.
As one can expect, there are some genuine advantages to working out with the aid of a games console. There is the gamification factor that adds some attraction to the process, there is the cost factor (this is a personal training game that is available for less than a single real personal training session), there is the extra flexibility that comes from being able to exercise at home whenever suits you best, and there is the fact you don’t have to feel bad in front of all the gym’s regular Arnold Schwarzeneggers when you can’t even lift a kilo above your head. On the other hand, exercising this way at home meant that my wife can see exactly how unfit her husband is. Personally, one major advantage was my four year old being truly addicted to the game, often acting as my exercise partner; that certainly adds to my motivation to come back for the next exercise session.
Active 2 is not without its shortcomings, though. I found these started with the sensors, which often proved a bit less sensitive than they claim to be. It's not just the occasional inaccuracy of pulse readouts; rather, its the sensors' inability to detect subtle yet critical movement, which too often meant I was performing the exercise as per the instructions yet my onscreen avatar was left stuck somewhere in the middle. On some cases I managed to cheat my way out by shaking my foot/hand; on others I had to order the Wii to go ahead to the next exercise. Regardless of which option you go with, you're bound to get knocked off your exercise's rhythm. Further on the sensors, be advised they are quite picky about their orientation (wearing them upside down would pave you a path to exercising frustration), and they're also quite a pain when their batteries run down but no one bothers telling you about it.
My next gripe is with the personal trainer. For a start, I found her annoyingly politically correct. For example, she tells you to work on your leg muscles, hands muscles etc but when it comes to your ass she's suddenly talking about "glutes", sending me to the dictionary on the way. However, the main problem with the trainer is that she won't stop talking and she keeps on repeating the same expressions again and again. I want to commit murder each time she tells me that "this is all for you" or that I should "give it a hundred and ten percent"; but she's not only repetitive, her comments are often stupid. Add it all up, the political correctness, the repetitiveness, the constant chatter and the overall stupidity and you would have to agree the instructor is a pain in the glutes. So much so I suspect that her obvious American accent is used for Jihadist training camps' recruitment. If you don't have anything against Americans before Active 2 hits you, you're guaranteed to hate them afterwards. All curtsy of one talkative instructor!
Overall: The amount of value that can be derived out of EA Sports Active 2 is a very personal affair. With me it had a huge effect: the game can be annoying, but damn it - it works! Given that the game can be yours for $20, postage and batteries included, I suggest giving it a try. I'm giving it 4 out of 5 stars.
Note #1: EA Sports Active 2 is also available for the Xbox 360, where it uses the Kinect, as well as the PS3. I chose to buy the more primitive Wii version despite owning a PS3 because I do not want to invest in a PlayStation Move kit.
Note #2: EA Sports Active 2 includes social media elements. You can upload your performances to EA's servers, where they can be tracked and compared with others. Not only that, you can use the facilities to manage your diet, too. Personally, I find that my privacy is upon intruded enough without EA providing additional insults. However, if you're the type that thinks Facebook is a gift to humanity then perhaps you will enjoy these features, too.


Anonymous said...

i have this for ps3, and it does not require playstation move for you to use it.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Thanks for that. I wonder what it uses to know what it is that you're doing as you exercise, because the Wii version has the player using the Wii Remote in addition to the game's own controls for many of the exercises.