Genre : Sports
Publisher: Global Star Software
Release date: February 26, 2004
During the 32/64-bit era, watercraft racing games somehow developed into a relatively popular sub-genre, with such notable releases as Sony's Jet Moto, Nintendo's wonderful Wave Race 64, and Midway's Hydro Thunder. The current generation of consoles, though much more capable of creating the demanding water-effects that make or break these types of games, has not seen many water-based racers hit the store shelves, with only a few exceptions, such as Wave Race: Blue Storm on Nintendo's Gamecube. For Xbox owners without a Gamecube, there haven't been many choices available to fulfill the need for a good water-based racing title - until now. Developer Argonaut has just released Carve, their entry into the watercraft racing genre, complete with Xbox Live support and a low price point, selling for $20. Sadly, the game doesn't live nearly up to its potential, thanks to its primitive handling and average graphics.
While Carve is a watercraft-based racing game, the basic concept is, of course, the same as any racer: whichever craft crosses the finish line first wins the race. The game does feature selection of modes: quick race, arcade, tournament, trick tutorial, system link, and Xbox Live, though with the slight exception of the trick tutorial mode, they all feature the same, tried and true racing concepts.
Quick race is the most simple of the selections; players are thrown into a race, with the watercraft and course chosen at random. This is a nice feature to have lying around, and it works great if you have just thrown in the game and want to hurry up and give it a spin, but I don't see it having any use past that.
Arcade mode is simply the offline multiplayer mode. Up to four players can challenge each other on a single screen. Carve features a hearty selection of cheats and unlockables, most of which can thankfully be put to use in this mode also (some games aren't very feature-friendly in multiplayer modes, which is why I've pointed this feature out). This mode is definitely the meat of the game, and if there is anything to like about this game, arcade mode is it. Playing the game with the screen split four ways is, as with any split-screen experience, a bit of a pain on smaller televisions, but it works as would be expected. Since this game does not feature much depth, I feel that there isn't much use for it past this mode. That may seem a bit harsh, but it is actually a complement, in a way; it could have been a total wreck, but instead, it does deliver somewhat, though it is overall an underwhelming release. The system link mode is almost exactly the same as arcade, except without the need for split screens. If you have access to system link modes and just happen to know someone else with a copy of Carve lying around, it would do no harm to give this mode a try.
The main single player experience is in the tournament mode. There are five tournaments, each one successively harder than the next. Each tournament is made up of four races, in which the player must finish the race in fourth place or better in order to advance to the next race. At the start of the game only two courses are available, but by completing the tournaments, the course-count clocks in at twenty-seven - a substantial increase, but not extremely important, as this is a water-based title, and the courses themselves aren't as different from each other as they could be. Other water-based racers like Wave Race: Blue Storm have shown us that a lot can be done with this genre in terms of differentiation between courses. Carve is a full step backward from what the bar set by Blue Storm.
The trick tutorial mode is a nice little addition, and I think it does a lot to improve the overall quality of the game. Too many games have released recently that simply scream for a tutorial mode, and while some developers have answered the call (Konami's Dance Dance Revolution being a prime example), many have not. Since watercraft racers are not exactly the most popular genre around, no developer should assume that players are familiar with how the intricacies of the game should handle. Having a mode in which you can learn how to best use the more complex features of a game is always welcome, in my opinion.
The Xbox Live component of Carve offers an online version of the arcade mode, and a teamplay mode. Teamplay mode lets two players enter a race with combined points and buoy misses. While that sounds interesting, it really doesn't do much to add to the experience. Carve does feature online rankings, something that every Live-enabled game should have, as it greatly expands the replay value of almost any game (and with little effort from the developer!). Another plus is the lack of any real technical problems with the online mode. The netplay code is very tight here - there is little lag, and a stable framerate. If you're looking for a quick, cheap game to play on Live, Carve is a great choice. It may not be the best game around, but it's inexpensive and you'll run into little to no problems with getting it online.
Carve's controls are very simple: the right trigger accelerates your watercraft, and the left analog stick steers. The course is marked with buoys which let you know the boundaries of the race. If you miss a buoy, you are penalized with a small time deduction. You have only four chances to do this, though, and once you miss more than five buoys, you are disqualified from the race. This is an interesting way to handle a watercraft racing game, but the courses are so simple that it's very unlikely that you will be disqualified once you familiarize yourself with the controls.
Carve's gameplay is average, but it's graphics are wonderful. The water effects, while not as amazing as those in Wave Race: Blue Storm, are very well done, with realistic reflections and ripples. For a game that was obviously conceived as a budget release, it's a pleasant surprise to see that real work was put into making it look good. The wave physics are good enough when they are put into use, but since most of the tracks feature still water, the feature is sorely underused. The racing environments are pretty much bare-bones, as the focus of this game seems to be on taking your watercraft through still water and trying to stay with the buoys. The character models are technically nice looking and well animated, but their actual appearances (extremely stereotypical) annoy me to no end. As for the watercrafts themselves, they are fairly uncreative in appearance, though they look the part.
The music in Carve is a selection of licensed tracks by electronic artists. They work well enough, but, as with most electronic music, they are very repetitive and may serve to irritate some listeners to death.
Carve is a fairly below-average game as a whole. The graphics are uninspiring, and the gameplay is extremely simplistic and often boring. This game needs a shot in the arm - more exiting waves, a better selection of music…something. For some gamers, it will definitely be worth the $20 price-point, especially with the solid Live support, but for the majority of players out there who aren't exactly desperate to get their hands on a new water-based racing game, Carve is a wholly underwhelming release.
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