In the wake of Waverace 64 for the Nintendo 64, there haven't been too many racers in the water- racing genre. Given that the game became a classic on the N64 and set new standards for gameplay, graphics, and physics, following in its footsteps is a tall order. Fortunately, Infogrames and developer Rainbow Studios look to be up to the challenge with Splashdown, a wet racer that offers a change of pace on the PlayStation 2.
You'll find four modes in the game: training, career, arcade and versus. The training mode lets you get the hang of racing around and pulling tricks. Career is a traditional championship mode that will have you clawing your way to the top of the racing pack. Arcade is a “pick up and play” mode that has you racing against computer controlled opponents. Versus lets you take on a friend in split-screen racing. The game features three difficulty levels and 18 courses, only a few of which are immediately available--you'll have to open the others by finishing in the top tier. In addition, arcade and versus modes offer a free-ride option that lets you find some cool extras in the game. The various tracks you'll race on each have a fair share of secrets and shortcuts to help shave precious seconds off your time and beat the competition. In addition to skillful racing, you'll be able to get a leg up on the competition by pulling off stunts in the water or when you're shooting off the many ramps that are liberally placed on each track. Successfully completing a stunt increases your "performance meter," which improves your top speed and acceleration. Stunts become key to victory as maintaining your absolute top speed is a must.
In terms of control, Splashdown treads the fine line between realistic physics and arcade-style gameplay and manages to avoid any major disasters. You'll steer with the left analog stick, accelerate with the X button, and initiate the 20-plus available stunts in the game with the L1, L2, and R2 buttons. You'll also have the ability to "submarine" your craft by submerging itsnose for better control in choppy water. Hydroplaning can be used for extra bursts of speed. You can control your pitch for better landings. You'll even be able to invert your craft and do 360-degree backflips--granted they're not incredibly useful in a race, but they're great for rubbing in a victory against a friend. Outside of its solid control, the game offers a wide assortment of camera controls to let you find the right view for your racing style. The triangle button toggles between preset angles; the right analog stick manually adjusts the camera; the square button looks behind you during a race (best used on a straightaway unless you like slamming into obstacles); the R1 button initiates the "thrill cam," which can only be used when you're airborne for a dramatic view of your rider. A dolly camera is available by holding down the circle button and holding up or down on the right analog stick. You'll be able to hit the waves with the Sea Doo and rider of your choice as the game offers a variety of riders and vehicles. Riders have statistics that determine their handling and ability to successfully pull off stunts.
Splashdown's graphics are an excellent match to its control, serving up some of the best aliased graphics seen on the PS2 in a while. The environments are large and detailed, sporting clean textures, with good color usage. The water effects are especially pretty albeit a bit glossy: It's incredibly shiny and looks amazingly well lit all the time. It's even possible to see through the water to the ocean floor in the more tropical levels. The various riders and Sea Doos offered nice detail and movement as they turned. The smooth movement and frenetic pace during the races calls to mind Rainbow's previous PS2 game: ATV Offroad Fury. The high frame rate in our preview build had us hungering for the final build of the game to see if Rainbow can keep things moving at its current clip after adding the remaining graphical touches on its to-do list.
Our preview build of the game offered a fun time, although it was challenging because one of the game's innovative features hasn't been implemented yet. Splashdown will feature ALOD (automatic level of difficulty), which Rainbow says will adjust the game's difficulty according to your ability. The various stunts were fairly easy to trigger, although successfully landing out of them took some practice. The tracks offered a good amount of visual variety and challenge and kept things fun. Overall, Splashdown is showing a great deal of promise. It's a title to look for when it hits this fall.