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Are you going to buy an Xbox One X This Holiday Season?

Hope to Receive it as a Gift

Game Profile
Global Star Software
Argonaut Software
GENRE: Racing
PLAYERS:   1-8
February 26, 2004
 Written by Leigh Culpin  on March 25, 2004

Full Review: How can they call it that when you don't even make a real path in the water?

Carve is the latest Xbox addition to the Jet Ski racing pack, and the first game of the genre I've touched since the original Wave Race for the N64, and while the latter may be old, it's still the water racing standard in my mind, and while Carve may live up to that in many aspects, for the most part it doesn't go much further.

Wave Race 64 was a very small game, something that Carve isn't once you get past the initial game setup - there are only 8 characters to choose from, which may sound reasonable but since there are only four teams (and both members of the team have the same attributes) there's really only four skill sets available. These skills are a balance between speed, teamwork (I'll explain in a minute), tricks, blocking, and ramming. Unfortunately there isn't really one team that's right in the middle, but then again that also means you're forced to adapt to a specific style instead of being moderately good at everything, a forced choice most games are too afraid to make. It works out rather well in this case, as the different teams truly do have vastly different attributes. While the character selection may for all intents and purposes be limited at 4 (as was the case in Wave Race), the initial track selection is even more limited, presenting you with a whopping 2 choices at the beginning of the game. Now, to be fair, there are 24 main courses in total spread over 4 locales, plus 3 bonus courses, so the selection is there, you just have to play through all the tournaments to unlock them. While this may be alright if you own the game, from the rental point of view it kind of limits your multiplayer options right out of the box, something that's inherently frustrating for what might otherwise have some limited party-game potential.

Jet-Ski upgrades aren't nearly as exciting as they sound - the tournaments "automatically" upgrade your vehicle's speed as you progress through the game, but only apply to that level tournament, so you can't take your "advanced" jet-ski through the novice course, meaning that it doesn't really make much of a difference since all the other racers get the same boost - you're really picking the race speed rather than your jet-ski's pace. That aside, the game is fairly face-paced considering it takes place on the water in relatively small vehicles. Successfully completing a trick worth the minimum trick points will automatically give you a "Rush," and how long and fast it lasts is defined by the complexity of the trick. Each rider has 3 of their own unique tricks as well as the ability to perform 4 water-based tricks (such as a handstand and driving backwards) and 8 air-based tricks (such as a superman or a nothing), and how long you hold them and how many of them you combo together (by performing them in succession) adds to your multiplier, up to 5 times. A level 5 Rush lasts the longest and gives you the most benefit next to the "Double Rush" which is enabled when you fill up your Rush meter by completing tricks. Every time you bail on one the meter goes down, but if you can fill it and then tap the left trigger you'll get a prolonged Rush which is the most beneficial of all (from the racing standpoint at least).

Each tournament level has a set of pre-defined goals that you can choose to beat or progress without completing. Meeting trick point requirements for a tournament unlocks a new trick, while meeting tournament point requirements (by placing higher than is necessary) unlocks "cheat codes" reminiscent of the Goldeneye days - in arcade mode you can access a menu and turn off options such as "big head mode" or a special rush mode which prolongs the existing rush mode's effects. None of these are particularly useful or add to your ability to complete the tournaments however, so their presence is somewhat useless in truth, and when the rewards for completing such goals are kind of useless, the point of meeting the goals in the first place becomes far less desirable short of just having the satisfaction of doing it.

The visuals are all pretty satisfying, with high-polygon characters and good looking environments. My main complaint here is that you don't actually deform the water, just draw a flat wake over it, which is somewhat disappointing considering the technology that's available and considering it was done all those years ago on a system almost exponentially less powerful. That aside, special effects for the Rushes and everything else on screen really does look pretty respectable, including the subtle but well-done splashes of water which will "hit the screen" periodically. The lighting is a bit "off" at times, and you never feel overly immersed in the Carve world, which definitely works against the game. Don't get me wrong, you can be engrossed in it, but it doesn't have that bright and happy Wave Race feel but more of a murky one, except in the brightest environments. Having said that, a lot of the courses feel VERY Wave Race inspired, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The audio is another story, as while the sound effects themselves all do the job, the music is all repetitive and annoying (with no custom soundtrack option! I've said it once and I'll say it again, if the technology's there, bloody well use it!) and the bits of voice communication you'll receive from your partner quickly become even more repetitive and annoying than the music.

The whole partner concept is an interesting if somewhat misused concept - all eight racers go at it at once, meaning that the courses often are very convoluted for the start of the race at the very least. While your team mate is supposed to help you win the race by blocking opponents and the like (a feature that I never actually noticed working, by design or not I do not know), but the problem is that they'll sometime get in front of and then block you. The game employs an interesting dynamic - if you get close behind someone and in their wake, you'll slow down a lot, meaning that even if a team mate gets in front of you, you could very easily lose 90% of your speed and end up being passed a handful of times before regaining it.

On the up-side of things, there is Xbox Live support, meaning if you're looking for a new challenge after tooling the AI opponents the challenge is certainly available. Assuming you can find a decent range of folks to play with, the online component can be quite fun and really is the only thing that other games of the genre have been missing, giving Carve its truest one-up on the competition.

Bottom Line
Carve is well done overall, it just really isn't anything new. An old formula has been taken and created in a modern package with some moderately innovative elements, a nice online feature, and some things that don't work quite so well, making for a game that is certainly worth a look if you miss Wave Race 64 (and don't have a Game Cube) or haven't yet had the privilege of playing a jet-ski game in your lifetime. For everyone else, though, Carve is pretty much an old game formula brought to life under a different title and platform, worth perhaps a rental on a 2-for-1 offer but not really by itself. Not because it's a bad game, but because you've played it before.

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