Extreme water skidoo racing is an overlooked genre. The only game that springs to mind is Splashdown. Splashdown was a fairly well received title that spawned a less well received PS2 sequel. Sadly Xbox gamers will have to put up with Argonaught Games' Carve. Ok, so again I've started on a negative, but i do find it hard to find anything good that I can say about this game. Granted, there's not a massive amount wrong with the game, but the whole experience feels mediocre and dull.
The game is a form of extreme sports game, putting you in control of a water skidoo. Your task is to enter tournaments and win. Thats about all the variety found in the way of game modes. Whist piloting your water vessel around you can also perform various tricks. These are split into to main categories, water tricks and ramp tricks. Water tricks are performed on the flat and ramp tricks are performed once you have left a ramp. These tricks can be strung together to perform huge combos, earning you massive points. Upon successfully landing a trick , you are given a quick speed burst, this adds a bit more to the skill of performing a trick as you must ensure that you have an easy stretch to perform the boost, otherwise you will find yourself hitting obstacles and losing valuable time. Performing tricks also fills a bar on your screen, once filled you can perform a super speed boost. This can give you a real advantage as it is easier to take advantage of than the one-off boosts you normally receive. A key element of the gameplay is navigating the numerous buoys that are found on the games courses. You must ensure that you pass to the right of the red buoys and to the left of the yellow buoys. Failing to do this will result in a three second penalty, if you miss five buoys you will be disqualified from the race. Winning tournamnets unlocks tracks, vehicles, tricks and cheats. The game is very much pick up and play, gaming veterans will find themselves sailing through the game with little challenge at all. The AI of your opponents is very weak and rivalries don't develop at all (like in games such as TOCA), AI appears to have been wholly overlooked.
The game does boast Xbox live functionality. There are two main methods of play, Arcade and Team. Arcade is your standard two to eight player race whereas Team puts you with another player and your points and penalties are combined. Its a nice idea but like the rest of the game lacks depth features and extras. The Live element of the game seems to have enough players online at any time to get a decent game, but there are never masses of potential rivals around. One thing in the games favour is the budget release price. The game costs just £19.99 on release, so it may be worth picking up as an Xbox live title.
Graphically the game is quite good. Nothing fantastic, but nothing that dissapoints. In fact the graphics engine is fairly robust. Levels are fairly detailed, character models are solid and have enough polygons put into them. Animations are fluid and mesh in together well, but with the limited number of tricks this isn't surprising. The game has far more variety in graphics than it does in gameplay. One nice touch is the water that is splashed up behind the skidoo. This water hits your screen and stays there for a short while. It is as if you are following your player with a camera, the droplets of water blur the view slightly and help draw you in to the game. It's just a shame that the game is so boring. The most important aspect of a skidoo racing game is the water. This may sound a touch obvious, but it can make a monumental difference in a game. The water in Carve is typical of the whole game. Average and a touch dull. Splashdown (which was released two years ago) had truly gorgeous water, it shimmered, it rolled in the sunshine, there were choppy sections where you were bounced from wave to wave, water churned as you threw your skidoo round a corner. In Carve its relatively grey and still. The water does help to suck some of the excitement from the game.
The game controls are different from most other extreme sports games and to be honest I'm not so keen. Acceleration is handled by pressing down the right trigger button and tricks are performed using the four face buttons. Pulling off tricks is a bit odd, instead of using a 'rule' of performing tricks (e.g. SSX, Dave Mirra, Tony Hawk, Splashdown, Matt Hoffman etc) moves are programmed combinations, so instead of pushing a direction and a button, like you would expect, you have to push a button combinations, such as x,y,b,a. This makes the system a little too over complicated, as you must memorize all the different tricks. This system is far from intuitive. Your skidoo does handle quite nicely and it is unlikely that you will blame the control mechanism for an untimely crash (I do this with most extreme sports games).My biggest gripe with the controls isthe acceleration constantly holding the Xbox trigger does become painfulby the end of your third or fourth race. I found myself wanting to turn off after a single tournamnet because my fingers hurt so much. I don't think I've ever had to do that before.
Ok, time for a touch of deja vu. The sound in the game is relatively uninspiring and is a touch boring. Most of the extreme sports genre has a thumping sound track, whether it be the rock and punk of Tony Hawk or the sublime mixing in SSX. The sound in Carve is average and forgetful. Vehicle sounds and other general gameplay sounds do fail to inspire at all. Also you get words of encouragement from your team mate. Though with the limited number of voice samples you'l be hearing the same lines every minute or two.
Carve isn't a bad game but it hasn't done enough to separate itself from the pack. Instead of bringing something new to the genre, it's just taken all of the basics that are already out there and has done an average job of them. It is an ok pick up and play game, but with very little challenge and limited play options its not the kind of title that you will find yourself coming back to. The lifespan of any game is always lengthened by an online component, but with a limited online mode 'Live' can only add a fraction more to the game. With a £19.99 price tag it might be worth picking up if your desperate for some online extreme sports. Personally I would advise spending your £20 on second hand copies of Splashdown, SSX and whatever else you can afford with the change.