Review by Chunker_Butt
The poor man's Splashdown
<<< Intro >>>
While there are dozens of racing games available for original Xbox, there are very few that fall into the specialised sub-genre of jetski racing.
Jetski racers differ from normal racing games due to the surface upon which you ride. Racing on water provides opportunities not afforded in standard racing games, such as the ability to actually submerge your craft below the racing surface, and also the opportunity to interesting environmental effects such as waves and undulations. Also, for better or worse, jetski games tend to have looser controls than standard tarmac racers, given the little skis are sloshing around in water rather than gripping some nice responsive bitumen.
Carve is a budget title for the original Xbox and one of only two jetski titles available for the original Xbox. The only other jetski racer on the console is called Splashdown. Given there are only two games in the genre, I shall be adding a short "Splashdown Comparison" paragraph at the end of each section throughout the course of this review.
<<< Game Modes/Story >>>
2 out of 10.
Carve is a racing game so I don't expect much of a story, which is lucky because there is none.
The game offers you quick race, arcade, tournament, training and time-trial options.
The quick-race will auto-select a character and course for you. You do three laps and then win or lose you are thrown back out to the menu. It's not at all satisfying but sadly it's probably the most fun mode available.
The second mode on the menu is arcade mode. The instruction manual says you have control over the speed of the craft that are selected as well as a bunch of other options. I didn't see it ask me any options though even though I was looking for them. You are allowed to choose your own tracks, but pretty much all of them are locked, even after beating the first tournament and completing the training mode. Once again, you complete this mode and you are thrown back to the menus. As unsatisfying as quick-race but it takes a little longer.
The third mode in the menu is tournament mode and this is as close as this game appears to ever get to a career mode...which is very disappointing. Basically you take part in a tournament of four or more races, and you need to place well in one race to proceed to the next. The problem is, you only have a couple of failed attempts allowed across the entire tournament and one bad move or a bit of bad luck can easily send you from 1st place to 6th place, causing you to fail the race and use up one of your limited continues. Use up all your continues and you are disqualified from the tournament and sent back to the menus. This happens easily and it's thoroughly frustrating when it happens in the last event of a five match tournament. It's strange that this mode isn't first in the menu because this is the mode you need to play to access the very limited assortment of unlocks the game has for you (which is primarily the courses). The tournaments are tough and subject to luck, and even after getting top spot in the rookie tournament, I feel like barely any content was unlocked for use in the arcade mode. I found this mode a chore to play.
The final mode is training mode. It's advised to do this as soon as you start just to get the basics down. It's boring, but you unlock an extra course for arcade mode if you complete it. The most frustrating thing about this mode is that the position of your rider isn't reset between tricks. That's fine at the start, but at the end when you are expected to perform the complex combos I could only manage to do it off the single big jump on the course. If I messed up the button inputs or my prewind, etc (which I did) then I needed to drive all the way around the course before I could even attempt the trick off the single big jump again. And even when I did successfully land it, I still needed to do another lap because you need to land each of the tricks in training mode twice before you can tick them off the list! Very frustrating.
Oh, and there is a time trial mode but that is just cruising around the course by yourself practicing and hardly even worth considering as a standalone mode.
SPLASHDOWN COMPARISON: Splashdown has a proper career mode and makes you ever so slightly care about its characters more. Splashdown is better in the modes and story department.
<<< Graphics >>>
6 out o10.
Beautiful water surface effects and fantastic movement of tides and waves. Character models and jet skis look like N64 models. The objects around the course (buildings, wharfs, walls, trees, etc) are also blocky with ultra-low resolution textures. Asides from the water, the whole thing can look a bit blurry and confusing at times. The submerged effect when you "submarine" your ski beneath the water's surface is pretty cool though.
SPLASHDOWN COMPARISON: Splashdown has better character models, although the water is not quite as good. Even so, Splashdown is slightly better in the graphics department overall.
<<< Sound >>>
2 out of 10.
Horrible! Truly horrible!! Literally the worst sound in any game I have played in my entire life! In some races I couldn't hear any music. When I did hear music it was incredibly repetitive. One of the songs literally sounded like a shopping trolley with broken wheels being dragged screeching across a field of ice. It also appears like the number of tracks on the soundtrack is extremely limited as I felt like a kept hearing the same mind-numbing backing tracks repeating themselves every couple of races.
The sound effects mostly consist of the monotonous monotone of your tortured ski as you hold the engine at maximum revs for the majority of the race. There are also constant cheesy lines from your teammate. I got sick of my female teammate repeatedly asking my male rider if he was going to impress her with his tricks. I felt like screaming "no....I don't care about impressing you, you narcissistic women you!" at the TV.
SPLASHDOWN COMPARISON: Splashdown has real music that doesn't make me want to claw my own ears out. Splashdown easily wins in this department. Easily, easily, easily a hundred times over.
<<< Camera >>>
8 out of 10.
I had no issues with the camera. There are three levels of zoom available so you can choose how far back behind your rider you want the camera to sit. I set it once right at the start to a setting I liked and never felt the need to change it. There is also the ability to look around and behind you using the right thumbstick, but it's a feature I never really found myself using. I did sometimes find that the rider and ski do sometimes obscure the path ahead, but fortunately the buoys ahead are well signposted with a very easy to see graphic appearing on the screen regardless of whether you can see the actual buoy or not. I never found myself getting lost on the courses no matter how wide and open or narrow and branching they were. As a side-note, the graphic also gives you an indication of how much the track is going to curve ahead, which is a very nice and helpful feature once you learn to read it propely.
SPLASHDOWN COMPARISON: Splashdown has more camera angles available, but many of those are not practical at all. I would say this is equal in both games.
<<< Controls and Gameplay >>>
5 out of 10.
The game handles like a drunken elephant on rollerskates... but that's sort of ok as it actually feels fairly accurate given you're riding around on jetskis in the ocean. You need to take the corners really early though as your turning circle is generally terrible, but when you do take it early and just clip past the buoy by mere inches it can be somewhat satisfying. Steering is further complicated by the waves, which will send you slightly airborne, often right at the moment you needed to start turning to make it around the next buoy. Having said that, it's only in the environments with noticeable waves that this game lifts its head out of the swamp and becomes enjoyable. Navigating large undulating swells in a racing game is a very fun and unique experience and it's a shame this game didn't do that too often in the levels I managed to unlock. This game would have been much more enjoyable if the handling was a bit tighter, the computer opponents didn't take so many shortcuts and far more of the environments utilised the very fun swell mechanic that appears too infrequently throughout the game.
Opponents ramming you and shunting you off course further complicates the control woes. Often your losses in races won't seem fair, and it will feel like there is definitely an element of luck involved in how you place in each race. Your opponents will skip buoys and take shortcuts getting ahead of you and putting you in their wake were you slow down even further. It's counter-intuitive at first, but to get a good result I found I generally needed to skip some buoys too. You're only allowed to skip a few without getting disqualified, but generally sticking to the course the whole time will just make you come in somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The last problem I have with the controls is the trick/boost system. Like pretty much everything else in this game, the trick system is unresponsive and the tricks themselves are slow to complete once they've begun. However, the boost you get from tricks is absolutely essential to success. Aside from the general unresponsiveness, I have two other specific issues with the trick system. The first problem is that in the earlier races your ski doesn't have enough power to launch off the ramps fast enough to have enough time to pull off a slow ponderous trick before you land. In order to land a trick you need to commit to it as soon as you leave the ramp. The problem is you often have no way of knowing if the ramp is going to give you enough air to get that essential boost you need for success, or if instead you will come back to the water's surface too quickly and fly off your ski. Getting boost from pulling tricks is essential to success in races, however crashing once or twice in a race is often enough to send you back to last place, where you will likely remain. The second problem I have with the boost system is that you receive the boost as soon as you land the trick. This creates a problem as you are often launching off ramps without being able to see what's on the other side. By the time you do see it's too late as you are committed to landing your trick. Sadly, the boost the successfully landed trick gives you can send you speeding off directly into a barrier and crashing, sending you back several spots and often ending your chances of obtaining victory...a highly frustrating thing when you were in the last race of a tournament on your last continue!
SPLASHDOWN COMPARISON: The trick system is much more responsive and manageable in Splashdown, and not having auto-boost after each trick in Splashdown is such a relief after battling with that feature in Carve.
<<< Uniqueness >>>
9 out of 10.
There are plenty of racing games on the Xbox, but only one other jetski racer (Splashdown). Jetski racing with its loose sloshy ocean environment and undulating surface is definitely unique. In fact, the sections of track featuring waves are easily the most enjoyable part of the game. The wave sections really emulate an ocean environment very well and offer up something I haven't really seen in any other game on the Xbox. Your craft definitely handles differently to the land vehicles commonly found in other racing games as well, doing a good approximation of the behaviour and associated limitations of a real jetski. Having the wake of leading craft effect the speed of those behind is a cool concept, although in reality it can be frustrating given you always start at the back of the pack. Still, needing to find a way around the racing-line of those ahead of you does make a nice change from needing to always pick the static best racing line as you do in other racing games.
SPLASHDOWN COMPARISON: Both of these games are unique, being that they are the only two jetski games released on original Xbox. Equal points to both games for uniqueness factor.
<<< Overall >>>
5 out of 10.
This game has low production values, a truly hideous soundtrack, lack of anything resembling an enjoyable career mode, and is plagued with unresponsive controls and a plethora of frustrations and dodgy AI. However, I did really enjoy the ocean environments and the overall concept is unique for the Xbox, so it's still a game I'm glad I have in my library. I think this game could be fun with friends if you could use a cheat to just unlock all the courses up front and save yourself the frustration of having to attempt the boring lengthy tournaments. There are some really interesting ocean sections in the courses I saw. My hope would be that the glimmers of brilliant course design I saw all too rarely in the initial courses would be fully realised in some of the later ones. But I'm simply too frustrated with this game to put the time into trying to obtain any more than those 9 extras courses I did manage to get unlocked. Even though the semi-random nature of the races means I probably could unlock all the tournaments with a few more attempts and a bit of luck, the truth is I simply have no interest in doing so as playing through those tournaments just isn't really enjoyable.
SPLASHDOWN COMPARISON: Splashdown is simply better in almost every way. While this game gets a 5 (or maybe a 6 at a stretch), Splashdown is sitting more around the 7 or 8 out of 10 vicinity. If you only intend to get one Jetski game for your Xbox, get Splashdown instead. It's simply better than this game.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Product Release: Carve (EU, 03/19/04)
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