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Score: 7.5 / 10
No way would I try and convince you that
Carve, the new Xbox-exclusive watercraft racing game, is one of the
systemís better overall racing titles, because it isnít. It has some
score-dropping gameplay deficiencies and on top of that, you could
practically breeze through the entire single-player experience of Carve
in a long afternoonís gaming session. But Carve has an excellent Xbox
Live multiplayer mode, and coupled with the gameís introductory budget
price of $20US, makes Carve a title that racing fans with Live should
Carve has you racing around the waves of four locations (USA, Europe,
Pacific, and Artic) with six courses each, giving players 24 courses in
all. Each location has enough of a different look and feel to keep the
single-player gameplay interesting for a while, as does the easy
pick-up-and-play controls of Carve. But if you are looking at Carve as
strictly a single-player game, your interest will wane after a day
or two. By far the weakest link of Carve is
its short-lived single-player mode.
As in another Xbox racing title that Carve bears a striking resemblance
in many ways to, Quantum Redshift, there is a feeble attempt at giving
players a story to follow by having four teams of characters, two made
of a female/male pairing, one comprised of two female racers, and the
final with two male competitors.
Each character has an extremely brief
biography and a separate personality and skill set (some are better at
tricks, others are faster watercraft drivers), but besides the obvious
physical differences between each character, there doesnít seem to be
any real reason to select one team over the other or really care to any
degree for these nondescript waveracers.
And while the arcade-style action is fun, there isnít too much incentive
to continue playing after youíve completed the short tournaments and
unlock the tracks you just completed in the tournament. Carveís
tournaments do gradually increase in difficulty, but not enough so that
you wonít be able to complete the entire tournament in a day or two.
The heart of Carveís gameplay is its trick system, along the lines of
every extreme sports title today. Carveís trick system, featuring such
moves as the Superman, barrel roll, and bodywhip, serves only one real
purpose during the race: to increase your RUSH! meter, which gives you
an adrenaline-filled speed burst for each trick performed. And after a
prerequisite amount of successful tricks, youíll be rewarded with a
DOUBLE RUSH, and be sent flying at hyper-speed through and over the
But the trick system is flawed though, making it really hard to get the
DOUBLE RUSH sensation until late in the race when that speed burst may
not be any useful assistance in trying to catch up and pass racers in
front of you.
Again, similar to most extreme sports games, mashing a specific button
pattern on the controller pulls off a specific move. Some tricks are
only available on one of the few ramps laid out on each course. The
problem is that the tricks donít always immediately correspond to your
button mashing, and especially for ramp-oriented tricks, timing is
crucial. If you donít get the simultaneous responsive reaction to your
button pushing when you are on a ramp, you wonít be able to do the trick
you had attempted, or even worse, you will wipe out and get
unceremoniously dunked in the water. This uneven hit-or-miss nature of
Carveís trick system creates many frustrating in-game moments.
Balancing that out however, is the basic gameplay of Carve. Each race
requires you to complete a slalom course around buoys. Red buoys must be
passed on the right-hand side, while yellow buoys are passed on the
left. If you miss a buoy, you lose precious seconds off your race timer
(run out of time before completing a lap, and the race is over), and if
you miss five buoys during the race, you are automatically disqualified.
In games such as Project Gotham Racing 2, drafting, which takes
advantage of the physics of following behind the racer directly in front
of you, helps you gain speed to catch your opponent. But in Carve, the
physics of water have been employed, and the opposite effect happens. If
you attempt to trail closely in the path of the player in front of you,
youíll get caught in the wake of his waves, and this will actually slow
you down, making it that much harder to catch up.
It is of course possible to avoid using the trick system altogether and
still see a relatively high level of success, but the trick system was
incorporated to put some zing into Carve, and without it, takes a big
chunk of the fun factor right out of the game.
Carve is redeemed, however by its Xbox Live support. Although the
aforementioned Quantum Redshift was a far superior racer to Carve, its
fatal flaw was a lack of Xbox Live gameplay. Carveís Xbox Live support
is its saving grace, so much so that coupled with the budget price,
youíll be able to forgive its single-player mode and other
transgressions all in the name of a solid online multiplayer experience
that causes you to crave more Carve than you might care to admit.
Like all online games, the challenge level increases dramatically when
you race against other human rivals instead of playing against a gameís
A.I. challengers. You can race against seven other Xbox Live gamers, and
races are very competitive. I havenít encountered any connection or bug
issues whatsoever that could drag down the high-flying water racing
action. Since there isnít another watercraft racing game on Xbox Live,
Carve offers a splashingly refreshing online change-of-pace.
Graphically, Carve is average, with the best visuals being the gameís
environments, especially the Artic courses, and the water that is the
very crux of Carveís entire gameplay. This isnít the best water graphics
ever seen on the Xbox, but itís really good, particularly the foamy wake
left behind by front-running watercrafts. Carveís characters look too
plastic-shiny (similar to NBA Street Vol.2 and even Dead or Alive 3) but
lacking the same level of rendered detail.
What would an extreme sports game be without an extreme music
soundtrack? But Carveís soundtrack is just so-so, and features a roster
full of no-name performers. Ever hear of Radio 4? Jack Ass & Mule? Slam?
Percy X? These are some of the never-heard-of artists performing on
Carveís soundtrack. Not bad, but easily forgettable tunage throughout.
Although there isnít a big infusion of voice-acting, Carve sports some
cheesy character dialogue, with the expected over-the-top stereotypical
accents and annunciations.
The price is right for Carve, but only for Xbox Live gamers. This is the
first watercraft Xbox Live racer, so if youíre looking for a break from
the crowded car, truck and motorcycle game field, Carve is a perfect
choice. Although its single-player mode is way too short and the trick
controls are completely mediocre, Carve is a perfect arcade-style online
racer easy to learn but hard to put down.