What is it that makes grown men and women don skimpy, muscle/figure revealing bikinis and trunks, grab a large slab of streamlined fibreglass and hurl themselves into an unwelcoming, cold and dangerous ocean in an attempt to balance on top of immense, bone-crushing waves? I have absolutely no idea, and having played Transworld Surf for a couple of days, I am still none the wiser. Thankfully, the X-Box game does not include a TV-mounted water cannon to drench you every time you fall off, and nor will sharks suddenly leap from your TV and devour you whole with a side order of shrimp. If this happens while you are reading this review, then neither I nor the owners of the website can be held responsible.
Transworld Surf is, funnily enough, a surfing game that takes you round the world (natch). You start off in Queensland Australia, and from there via France, Tahiti and several other top wave-pouncing locations worldwide. I was a little upset that they didn't include Newquay Beach. Think of all the fun to be had snaking under the pier or crashing into deckchairs! Oh well... Extreme sports of this kind have been pretty popular of late, mainly due to the efforts of the Tony Hawks series, and it is little surprise to find that TWS follows a similar formula. The usual practice and single surf sessions are on show for unlocked beaches, and the 'ProQuest' style of gaming is also included, where you select a star and try and take them through a sequence of missions.
Actually, one little touch I thought particularly nice was that each of the professional surfers has a brief 'bio' movie, which takes the form of an interview with the real thing. It's pleasant to know that these people aren't just computer graphics on a screen, and actually have some kind of a personality too! Well, in most cases at least...
Proquest, as Tony Hawks fans may well have guessed, involves fulfilling certain targets. These vary from hitting targets like tuna nets full of dolphin, through scoring a whole heap of points and pulling off specified combos of tricks. Competitions can also be unlocked by getting into a photoshoot. This is my favourite part in the whole game. Suddenly, a little window will appear in the upper right hand corner with a camera-like crosshair, giving you a cameraman's eye view of what your character is up to. It's now up to you to do something really spectacular to impress him so much that he takes a photo. Naturally, you have a limited amount of time to do this. I don't know quite what triggers the photoshoot opportunity, but I think it's to do with your position along the beach.
The first big disappointment for people used to hundreds of tricks is that Transworld Surf doesn't contain the oodleplex of possibilities offered by most other extreme sports games. You can do simple stuff like 'Carves', which I am reliably informed involves big, sweeping turns on the wave (EEEEASY!) or you can 'air' in a similar manner to skateboarding games, using a grab or a kickflip-style move. However, there are only 6 grabs and three flips available, with a further three special tricks that vary between surfers. This might sound like a lot, but it's nothing compared to the multiplicity of variations available in Matt Hoffman's Pro BMX! Add to that there are only two ways to balance on top of the wave, and you're left with a pretty limited range of expression.
You could forgive a lot of this inflexibility from the sheer beauty of the game. It's worth seeing just once to gaze in awe at the splendour of the ocean in motion (excuse the rhyme). Waves dip and swell, curve barrel and roll. All the surfers and sea creatures are beautifully rendered and animated, and gleam with the moisture on their skins (watch out for the Reef Girls, lads!). At least some effort has been made to make levels different as well, with aquatic life, suspension bridges and piers (although not the one at Newquay >:( ). It doesn't matter much what they put on the beach though, since the default camera angle points right out to sea so you can observe your surfer in action. It's beautiful, but doesn't vary all that much.
So how does it play? Well, I'll be honest it took me ages to even get off the first level! The combo system is very forgiving in what makes a link between tricks. You can find yourself pulling off twenty to thirty trick combos without realising it sometimes. Sounds great? You're wrong! The problem is that you only get the points for the combo if you end it without falling off the board, and the longer the combo is either by choice or accident, the more time you have to mess it up and lose all your hard work. You soon find that in order to make any headway you have to pause for a few seconds mid-surf to let a worthy combo acrue. Fortunately if you do fall off, a handy Reef Girl is on hand to transport you directly to a new wave. Now my other big niggle. Riding the front of a wave is a little like riding a quarter-pipe. Imagine this for a second. You can air off it, ride up and down its front to gather speed, or grind along the top. Now imagine that that half-pipe is constantly changing, and that at any second it could curl over on itself and wreck your carefully aimed grind or air. I found that a large percentage of my own wipeouts were purely because the wave had chosen an awkward moment to fold in on itself, thus causing my surfer to bite the - erm - water. Needless to say, this is very frustrating. As a final niggle on the gameplay element, it is almost impossible to tell where you are at many times in relation to the targets you are supposed to be hitting, and very difficult to actually hit them whilest staying on the wave. In all, if you're not a surfer already, you probably won't get the hang of this game for a very long time.
Many great games are judged by the quality of their incentives, and all modern video games should have one or two unlockable extras, or at least secret rooms. Transworld Surf has the obligatory Better Surfboards to unlock, and it's nice to note that you can actually see the pretty designs on their surfaces since they are a lot bigger than, for instance, skateboards. They also add nicely to your surfer's stats, but nothing particularly new there. Another reward that crops up a lot are the little 'cheats' you are rewarded with if you manage certain goals. Now, I've never gotten one of these things to work yet, despite instructions from magazines. Apparently you have to put them in using the 'back' button and the D-pad while surfing, but it never seems to happen for me. If someone knows what I'm doing wrong, please let me know, it's driving me potty!
By the way, if you think the manual looks big, then the last four and a half pages are in fact the music credits! The game has a TON of different music, all handily categorised so you can select a style of music that suits you. That said, the music itself is a little bland, and I want to know why that funky music from the Old Spice commercial wasn't included! It would have been the natural choice! Maybe it's there and I didn't see it...
All in all, Transworld Surf will appeal to the surfer in anyone. Its beautiful graphics and perfect physics engine make it a startlingly realistic simulation of the sport. Sadly, those who haven't actually tried surfing for real (like me) may be left scratching their heads in bemusement, and even die-hard surfers will have trouble coming to terms with some of the more esoteric goals, and the near-featureless scenery will ensure that everyone is far too lost to manage those goals that require finding a particular target. I couldn't even get my hands on all eight dolphins in the first level for goodness' sake!