Reviewed: March 12, 2004
Reviewed by: Travis Young
Global Star Software
Next-gen consoles certainly arenít experiencing a shortage of racing games, even when you venture into the sub-genre of water racing. Whether you are on water-skis, wakeboards, speedboats, or personal watercraft machines, there are numerous cross-platform titles and system-exclusive racers likely to appeal to nearly everyone.
Carve falls into the latter category, an Xbox-exclusive racer created by Argonaut and released by budget publisher, Global Star, that offers plenty of fun and even some encouraging online aspects, but at the end of the day I canít help but feel Iíve done all this before and it was better the first time.
Carve delivers a substantial racing package including multiplayer support for up to four racers locally or up to eight online or with a system link. You get to pick from four teams, each with two racers, and take part in all the traditional racing modes. But when you try to stake your claim in an already-saturated genre you need to up the ante in some way and Carve simply doesnít stand out among the rest of the competition.
You wonít find anything out of the ordinary in the main menu. You pick your type of racing choosing from Quick, Arcade, Tournament, Online Multiplayer, or you can take part in the lengthy Trick Tutorial. You can also choose your team, each with their own stylish pair of male and female racers and varying stats like Tricks, Speed, Ramming, etc.
Like most trick-based racing games, performing stunts will slowly fill your turbo (or RUSH) meter. When this meter is full your craft will take off like a rocket complete with blurring special effects that create a psychedelic sensation of speed. Unlike other games that give you no control over this boost, Carve actually allows you to pick when and where you activate this speed burst, allowing for a bit of strategy. Additionally, any trick you perform that exceeds 2,500 points will also give you a quick burst of speed immediately, and trick combos extends the duration of the boost.
There are a dozen tricks that can be done, both in the air or while skimming across the water along with two custom tricks per racer. You can even do the classic ďsubmarineĒ move to dive underwater then pop from the surface for a few more tricks to add to your combo chain. While its possible to play the game without mastering the trick system you arenít likely to win very many races without learning at least a few of the basics. Your opponents are almost always faster than you and turbo is the key to winning.
Tracks are cleverly designed around real-world environments. In addition to simply getting across the finish line ahead of the others you will need to navigate dozens of buoys along the course. These alternate red and yellow and you must pass each on the proper side. The game automatically locks onto each buoy and clearly indicates the direction you need to pass it on. If you miss a buoy you take a 3-second penalty on the lap timer and if you miss five buoys you are disqualified. Of course, you can use this system to your advantage by purposely missing strategic buoys to shave valuable distance off your lap in exchange for that 3-second penalty.
Control is deceptively simple. The right trigger is your throttle and the left trigger activates your RUSH when the meter is full. The face buttons and the D-pad or left stick handles all your tricks. The left stick also controls the steering for your watercraft, but there was a disturbing lack of any forward or backward weight distribution. This eliminates your ability to pull back and hydroplane or push down to dig (or carve) the water for tighter turns. I found myself swinging very wide on many of the tighter turns and I almost always had to back off the throttle to maintain a suitable racing line through the buoys.
Racer A.I. is merely adequate throughout most of the game and only offers a true challenge in the later races near the end of the tournament. Your opponents will cross your path and ram you from time to time. Depending on your teamís stats for ramming, you may or may not get knocked into the water. You can also take a swim for a failed stunt. Regaining control of your craft after getting knocked off is a significant time penalty and too many mishaps can easily cost you the race.
Online racing is perhaps the biggest saving grace for Carve; especially since other watercraft racing titles have skipped this feature up until now. Carve offers both team and normal arcade modes for up to eight racers. In team mode you share the point total and the five allowed buoy misses with your partner, but you can also work together to block and ram the competition.
To further enhance the online aspects there is full support for the headset, online scoreboards, chat rooms, and friends list. Of course the best feature of the online portion is that the game runs silky smooth and after more than a week of racing I canít recall a single instance of significant lag or poor performance. Carve is an exceptional online racer that might even overshadow its single-player component.
Activisionís Wakeboarding Unleashed has set the standard for realistic rendered water and nothing has come close to beating it, not even Carve. In a word, the water in Carve is ďinterestingĒ. Aside from the tropical courses, there isnít much transparency. Instead, the surface is nearly metallic in its ability to reflect the environment and even has the same oily consistency as mercury.
There are good wave physics that actually influence your watercraft forcing you to steer clear of the wake of racers ahead of you. Unfortunately, aside from the ocean courses, all of the tracks are relatively calm with no natural waves. Things do get a bit choppy in the stormier tracks and skipping the waves will certainly slow you down.
There are 27 tracks that wind their way through a variety of environments. These are unique and varied, but by the same token, donít really explore any territory we havenít raced before in other games. There is a decent level of detail in the race worlds, some of which, like the trains and traffic, are even a bit distracting.
The racers are more attractive in the menu portraits than their 3D renders. The females feature some attractive posterior curves and the men are suitably muscular in their skintight wetsuits. They all share the same trick library and apparently the same trick animation, so things get a bit repetitive no matter whom you choose for a character.
There are some nice water effects like droplets that shower the screen when you fall into the wake of another racer or happen to be racing in a thunderstorm. Sometimes the droplets get so numerous it can actually hinder your ability to see the track. Having ridden these craft myself I can vouch for the realism here. There are also some nice blurring effects and color shifts for the RUSH mode.
Racing games are one of the few genres that demand support for custom soundtracks. With their repetitive nature and extended gameplay length you are likely to tire of the music that ships with the game. This is the case with Carve, and even though I enjoyed the minimal selection of techno and electric-rock tunes I was sorely wishing for the ability to plug in my own favorite music.
Sound effects range from splashing water and the hum of your watercraft to a few environmental noises specific to each track. Itís nothing outstanding but it all works well enough. There is also some minimal speech that includes obvious advice from your teammate and random taunts from your opponents. Itís fairly stereotypical and highly repetitive after only a few races.
Chances are if you are a fan of watercraft racing then youíve already played this game when it was called something else, perhaps Splashdown or Wave Race: Blue Storm, depending on your gaming system.
Thatís not to say that Carve is without any merit. You get some interesting new tracks and a modest library of tricks, but the biggest factors into recommending this title come from the $19 budget price and the stellar online gameplay. Youíll probably tire of the single-player game after a few nights but the online racing will keep you wet and wild for months to come.
If Carve were trying to compete with AAA racing titles then it would be quickly dismissed as a failure, but with an affordable price tag and a multiplayer element including flawlessly smooth online racing, there is no reason than any fan of watercraft racing or Xbox Live gaming should skip this game.
Carve might not be the most inventive racing title in the Xbox library and it certainly doesnít explore new areas within the genre, but it offers more than its fair share of fun and excitement and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys these kinds of games.