Training-based sports titles are becoming more and more prevalent in this generation of consoles. The Nintendo Wii made such things easy to start with, and then upped the ante with the balance board. Now, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 feature the Kinect and the Move respectively which puts them in the game as well. Some studies have shown that training/exercise titles (this one specifically looks at Wii Fit) aren’t as good for you as going to the gym, but they still seem to be better than nothing and developers keep making them.
EA Sports currently helps lead the training title charge with their multitude of EA Sports Active titles. Newly released are the cross-platform EA Sports Active 2 and the Wii exclusive EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp. We are going to concern ourselves here solely with the NFL themed title.
The NFL Training Camp package comes with a heart rate monitor, resistance band, and wireless motion tracking straps for one arm and one leg (the heart rate monitor is a part of the arm tracker). Although at first blush the straps, bands, and settings seem a tad confusing, the game features a helpful video to get you organized and ready to go for your training sessions. Well, the video isn’t helpful if you don’t know how to attach the resistance band to the handles for the band – you won’t find that information anywhere (it’s okay, you just knot the strap to the handles). We did encounter a problem with the arm strap not syncing correctly to the system, but following a few on screen prompts got us sorted out.
Once you’re all strapped in and ready to go, Training Camp asks you a few questions about yourself and links you to your EA account (or helps you establish an account if you don’t have one yet). Although EA often goes ridiculously over the top requesting you to connect to their website all the time with every title they release, with Training Camp it does make some sense – every time you complete a workout, Training Camp uploads the data from that workout to the site and provides you with more in-depth reports than can be found in-game.
As for the exercises themselves, they are, as you would expect, all NFL based and there are several different ways to go about organizing a workout/workout schedule. There is a custom workout where you decide on the exercises; there is a game generated workout based on the intensity level, time, and focus you want; there are also preset workouts; and the 60 Day Challenge.
[editor's note: the next two paragraphs of this review have been substantially changed — and one other paragraph removed — as an option we believed unavailable is in fact present]
It is with the last of the above list, the 60 Day Challenge, where the heart of the title lies. Selecting the 60 Day Challenge will have the game organize a 60 day workout schedule for you, with four days on and three days off per week.
Although we initially believed that the game required you to work out on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday schedule, the days of the week on which you choose to work can, in fact, be altered once the program has begun. Similarly, the difficulty settings of your workout can also be adjusted. Both these options are available in the settings menu within the Challenge, not the main settings menu (which is where we first checked).
Training Camp features more than 70 different drills and challenges, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 being used in any single workout. What that means is that you get a whole lot of variety in your workout routine, which is always nice.
Workouts are done in an NFL stadium or on a practice field (you can choose the location) and even feature licensed NFL players working alongside you to show you the correct moves. There is also something of a tough-minded coach providing the instructions, and we suggest you listen to what he has to say because he’ll get angry if you don’t. For instance, if you pause during an exercise he will start haranguing you, offering up phrases like “it’s not going to get any easier by staring at it.” If you’re anything like us, you’re going to find yourself tossing a few choice epithets back towards the TV.
Your coach pushing you is certainly a little added motivator, but it becomes hugely distressing when you’re doing the exercise and the monitors simply aren’t tracking it. Trust us, you don’t want to hear some guy yelling at you to do five more push-ups when you’ve already done 15 and only 10 were required. We encountered this problem not only with push-ups, but also with hammer curls (similar to a regular bicep curl). In hammer curls it was particularly aggravating because in order to count the curl, the monitor required our left arm to be elevated over our head (which in no way resembles what either our avatar or the NFL player working opposite us was doing). It is possible to just do the exercises the right way and then just tell the game to skip over it should the monitors not have recognized your work, but as everything is tracked (even if only for your benefit), it’s upsetting to not get that 100% completion of a workout counted for you when you completed 100% of the workout. You can also do it the right way and then jiggle around the monitors until they register the exercise having been completed, which is the option we chose, but it would be preferable to just have everything work right. Happily, those sorts of issues seem to be few and far between for the title, and, in the end, you’re really doing the exercising for you, to get yourself in better shape and to make you feel healthier.
Not being doctors we can’t tell you that playing one of these training games will improve your fitness level, that it’s more or less beneficial than going to a gym, or that you’re not going to injure yourself by doing something wrong. What we can tell you with some certainty is that we had a great time running around the various stadiums, getting encouragement from our omniscient coach, and working alongside the avatars of professional athletes. There are a whole lot of exercises available to you in the game and a lots of different ways to organize your regimen. We can also tell you that having worked out several times with EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp we’re feeling quite sore today and are very happy that it’s a rest day. Perhaps more important than that however is the fact that we’re still looking forward to going back tomorrow and seeing what the coach has in store.
EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.