EA Sports Active 2 review: The (almost) perfect fit

EA Sports Active 2 may technically be a fitness game, but let me assure you: Niki, my virtual personal trainer -- she don't play.

This sequel to the hugely popular EA Sports Active for Wii expands its fitness dominion to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, stepping things up by including motion tracking sensors and delivering real-time information about your heart rate, making it the most interactive exercise title to date.
%Gallery-87892% It's clear that EA's agenda was to make this title immediately accessible to those of all experience levels, beginning with detailed instructions for suiting up in your sensors. For PS3 players this means strapping a monitor to each arm and one to your upper thigh. I'm not going to lie -- this third one is pretty evil, and wearing it any looser than a tourniquet means it will inevitably make a frustrating and slow descent down your leg throughout your workout.

On 360, the Kinect sensor is required, but, as a result you only need to wear one of the arm bands (so that it can track your heart rate). However, as is the seemingly innate problem with Kinect, you need a lot of room and it will regularly lose you -- usually when you've collapsed on the floor in exhaustion and aren't dying to stand up again to be scanned. But on the bright side, you get to keep the feeling in your leg.

Oh, and so you can avoid playing a humbling round of "Are you smarter than an Elastic Band" like I did, here is how to assemble your resistance band.
%Gallery-107776%Once you're all strapped in and ready to go, you're swept away to what I've dubbed the "Hard Body Resort," a virtual fitness oasis, while the opening sequence imparts to you information about the life-changing workout adventure you are about to embark on -- with narration that is oddly reminiscent of the enlistment propaganda from Starship Troopers.

The game prompts you to enter your personal stats and you are given the option of two trainers, Niki and Devon, each with differing personality types and motivational styles which vary from nice to encouraging. (No domineering drill sergeants yet, but hey, there's always DLC). Your avatar is fully customizable from a variety of body types and hairstyles down to your choice of workout threads.

You're also free to create your own routines from the dozens of available exercises (there are 68 on PS3, versus only 52 on 360) or have your trainer generate one for you. Your best bet, really, is to select one of the trainer-led workout programs. The game offers a 9 Week Program to increase your overall fitness and a 3 Week Program to give you a cardio kick-start. Both plateau-defying programs increase in intensity over time.

Each exercise routine kicks off with a warm up and ends with a well-deserved cool down and stretch -- you're also encouraged to take breaks and drink water. And because this game is focused on movement rather than staying in sync with your trainers, it's much more forgiving to the, shall we say, rhythmically challenged. If you fall behind, your trainer patiently waits for you to complete each round of exercises with words of encouragement and helpful advice. The upside of this is that it's exercise novice-friendly. The downside: cheating requires quite a bit more creativity.

No domineering drill sergeants yet, but hey, there's always DLC.

From curls and lunges to reverse crunches and oh-so-brutal bent arm side planks (I mean, seriously, how are they allowed under the Geneva Convention?) all the fundamental exercises are here. But what really makes this title stand out is its ability to make a workout fun. It does this by integrating sporty exercise games into your regimen, rather than expecting you to select them independently of your workout (not to mention requiring the additional motivation required to seek them out). There are soccer goal kicks, basketball jump shots and a mountain biking game with mechanics anyone playing games on Kinect will find familiar, just to name a few. Also, because of the large variety of activities available, the exercises and scenery are constantly changing, which helps pass the time and prevents your workout from becoming a sweaty snooze-fest.

The game also comes fully loaded with a variety of fitness tools to help track and reach your goals, including a workout calendar, a nutrition guide and even the ability to go online and form fitness groups with other Actives. It also supports two players, so you can work out simultaneously with a friend or challenge them to a "run-in-place-off," for you competitive types.

There's only one thing really missing which would have put this exer-game over the top: A yoga routine. EA Sports Active 2 is great for cardio and strengthening exercises, but a workout just for relaxation would have been a welcome addition and really have completed the package.

Retailing for $100, EA Sports Active 2 is going to cost you a pretty penny, but if you're serious about fitness gaming it's worth spending the extra dough. The hands-free motion control with heart monitor alone is worth the price of admission. But fortunately there's more to this game than just a gimmick – it's a solid effort all-around and a surprisingly fun way to get fit.

This review is based on the 360 and PS3 retail versions of EA Sports Active 2 provided by EA. Rachel Shatto is a life-long avid gamer and managing editor of Curve Magazine. When she's not killing typos or polygonal baddies, she's hosting the semi-regular, horror themed Zombie Grrlz Podcast.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.