Several games released for the Xbox have featured a budget retail price of $29.99USD. In 2003, State of Emergency arrived on the Xbox and because of its prior release on the PS2, as well as its rather simplistic gameplay, publisher Rockstar Games decided to make the game a bargain price for consumers.
Later this year, Trivial Pursuit: Unhinged will be released for the Xbox at a similar price point. Carve is a jet-ski water racing game from Argonaut Games, who are trying to pitch to the same value-oriented audience.
Of course, when a game is released at a reduced price, some concessions must be given in regards to its value, longevity, and overall fun factor. Luckily, Carve is a game that knows what it’s trying to accomplish and, for the most part, achieves what it sets out to do.
Carve follows the basic formula of other watercraft games such as Wave Race: Blue Storm (GameCube) or Jet X20 (PS2) in that it features a decent selection of racers who fly around on jet-ski watercrafts through various locations across the globe. Obviously, Argonaut Games isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but they’ve certainly produced a solid rendition of extreme water racing.
There are a good selection of game modes in Carve, but again, nothing is new or totally unexpected. You have Quick Race, Arcade, Tournament and Time Trial options, as well as an interactive tutorial to get you accustomed to the game’s reasonably easy trick system. Additionally, the game features Xbox Live support for up to eight players and System Link capabilities.
As a watercraft racing game, Carve controls as well as one can expect. The right trigger is responsible for the throttle, and the harder you press it, the faster you go. Movement is controlled with the left thumbstick, which also doubles as an input for tricks performed off the game’s many ramps and jumps. The A, B, X, and Y buttons all control tricks that can be done on the water, and some that can be done off the ramps. The left trigger button is responsible for your racer’s ‘Double Rush’ boost meter, which is filled by performing varied and successful tricks. Once the meter fills, you can fire off the left trigger to get a speed boost, which, admittedly, is a bit hard to control. The control scheme is reasonably simple and most gamers should master the fundamentals fairly quickly. The only complaint that could be levelled against the controls is in regard to the trick system, which does suffer from some sketchy implementation. Often, you will perform tricks on the water and then get a small speed boost. However, this often sends you on a straight, uncontrolled line and you end up speeding off the course or at least off-line, and it ends up costing you in terms of positioning. This is an unfortunate element to the control, as tricks off the ramp can be strung together in combos quite quickly and effectively and are implemented much better than water-based tricks. More tricks altogether would’ve been a welcome addition as well.
Playing the game doesn’t require any substantial thought, other than the fact that you want to be pulling off tricks all the way around courses so you can get a ‘Double Rush’ and blow past the competition. Often, the game does get a bit of a “Rinse & Repeat” feel to it, but, again, it delivers what it promises: solid racing entertainment.
The game looks good, if unspectacular, with a solid amount of detail on the courses and lighting in the sky. The water itself flows and reacts appropriately and displays reflections of the nearby landscape. One of the cooler looking effects is the ‘Double Rush’ boost. Once your racer enters this mode, the character turns blue (as well as the screen) and some pretty funky streaks start beaming off the racer as he/she chews up the course with speed (this also adds major air-time to jumps). The main knock against the visuals in Carve would be the character models of the racers, and their personal watercraft. It’s not that they look particularly bad, but the racers often have stiff looking joints and don’t show a lot of realism. The crafts the racers pilot look much like other similar game’s jet-skis, but they don’t react to the water very well and often the ocean just clips right into the bottom of them.
The sound in Carve was given minimal attention, and it does show. The rudimentary wacky ocean music is in the game, as well as some decent sound effects, but the lack of any licensed musicians or custom soundtrack support definitely hurts. It’s not bad sound design, it’s just uninspired.
The main draw that brings this value-priced title over the hump, so to speak, is the Xbox Live support. All of the features of other Xbox Live games are present, such as scoreboards, friends list support, and Optimatch searching. The online racing supports up to eight players, which fits well with the size of the tracks and type of gameplay. Any more than eight racers in a game might have created a lot of clutter on the track and it would’ve been hard to pull off tricks (as it stands, eight players even creates this problem sometimes). There is very little online lag, if any at all. However, since this is a budget-priced game, there is a problem with its perceived value, as online games are hard to find in Carve, and often just a few rooms are available to race in. Still, the fact that online support was included was definitely a wise decision.
Carve is a game that will fulfill your water racing fix, especially if you’re a fan of games like Wave Race. The budget price and Xbox Live support are the two main factors that push this game from sub-par status up to a solid dose of online fun.