Carve sounds like it ought to be some kind of hack'n'slash adventure, the word being more readily associated with swords, knives and turkey than it is with watersports and 'carving up the waves.' The game's battle for recognition isn't helped by the fact it can't call its vehicles 'Jet Skis' (trademarked by Kawasaki and licensed to Jet Ski Riders) or even 'Sea-doos' (trademarked by Bombardier and licensed to Splashdown), so it's settled for the horribly vague 'watercraft'.
Awkward nomenclature out of the way, Carve turns out to be one of the most immediate games we've played of late, and is just about the equal of genre champion Wave Race: Blue Storm. In fact, Carve bites on Wave Race considerably, lifting most of its control system and play structure. The game brings its own little additions - by copying the 'miss five buoys and you're out' system, it accentuates the tactical benefits of cutting corners as you learn where it's worth risking penalties and disqualification in order to save a few seconds.
Carve also improves on Blue Storm's miserly eight-course repertoire by offering 27 satisfyingly varied circuits. Plentiful ramps provide opportunities for tricks and earning an essential speed 'rush,' although the automatic boost for high-scoring tricks sometimes works against you if a sharp turn is imminent.
Argonaut has stuck to traditional principles of how stunt-racing games should be structured, which makes for a balanced progression through the tournaments. On the other hand, there's no room for innovation. SSX showed how it should be done. With its race mode complemented by the ultimately more compelling trick challenges, EA's game abandoned realism, opting merely to maintain a satisfying feel while offering endless big air and multiple railslide combo opportunities. Carve is briefly thrilling, but complete the final tournament and you're left treading water.
Thankfully, the fourplayer splitscreen and eightplayer Xbox Live modes throw you a lifeline. The co-op teamplay doesn't really work, but frustrating opponents by forcing them to stall in your wake is effective.
Finally, if you're really into H20, the game features 'nice water effects'. Or, to be more specific, the dynamic waves affect what's sitting in them, while 'environment-mapped bump-mapping' adds an unusual level of sheen. Attention to detail like this makes for an attractive-looking game.
Carve will be released for Xbox on 19 March