Wave Rally Preview

Take to the waves in Eidos' latest game.

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Very few games have managed to replicate the realistic sensation of racing on water since the release of the original Wave Race back in 1996. Wave Race's realistic waves and racing mechanics delivered an experience unmatched by any other racing game involving water. In an attempt to take the Jet Ski racing crown away from Nintendo and its Wave Race series, Eidos and the development team at Opus360 are diligently working on a Jet Ski racing game for the PlayStation 2 called Wave Rally. The game follows the same basic gameplay recipe as the Wave Race series and will have you turning in and out of buoys on various courses and in different weather conditions. However, Wave Rally also has a number of interesting features, including the option to select from two different types of watercraft.

Working that buoy navigating magic.
Working that buoy navigating magic.

Wave Rally features five different modes where you can test your Jet Ski driving skills. In the arcade mode, you compete against the clock on five different courses. When you reach a checkpoint, more time is added to the clock, but if you happen to miss any buoys--by passing them on the incorrect side--while you're out on the course, then time is taken off the clock, which makes it much more difficult to finish a race before time runs out. In any case, you want to finish the race in first place to accumulate the most points at the end of the race, because the competitor with the highest point total at the end of the five rounds wins.

The championship mode is similar to the arcade mode, except there's no time limit and there are 11 rounds instead of five--you'll race on the same series of tracks multiple times but in different weather conditions or at different times of the day. In addition, the championship mode uses the same point system as the arcade mode, though you cannot progress to later tracks if you haven't accumulated a certain number of points.

Okay, okay, so I missed some buoys.
Okay, okay, so I missed some buoys.

The time-trial mode essentially functions as Wave Rally's practice mode. In this mode you can select from any one of the courses that you've already completed in the other two modes and simply race on the track alone. Whereas in the arcade and championship modes you can miss four or five buoys and still be in the race, the time-attack mode lets you miss only one before forcing you to retire. But you can take it slow and find the position of every buoy since there isn't any competition to worry about.

The freestyle mode offers a slight departure from the rigors of competitive racing--you'll be placed in a large circular course for the purpose of performing a routine of tricks. This routine will then be judged according to a series of categories that include appeal, composition, technical value, and artistic value. Unfortunately, in the current build of the game, there doesn't seem to be much value to this mode other than to show off, but hopefully the final build will yield some reward.

Wave Rally also includes a two-player split-screen mode where you can compete against a human opponent on any of the tracks unlocked in the arcade and championship modes.

Ride the Wave

Before jumping into the actual gameplay portions of Wave Rally's five modes, you'll have another group of options to choose from. One of these options lets you select from either the traditional Jet Ski or the Runabout (Wave Runner), which is actually the sit-down version of the Jet Ski. You probably won't notice the subtle differences between the two craft until you've had some time to adjust to the way Wave Rally controls. The Jet Ski seems to have better handling capabilities for making those sharp turns, whereas the larger Runabout has slightly more trouble navigating around tight areas.

A little prerace synchronized floating.
A little prerace synchronized floating.

After choosing a Jet Ski or a Runabout, you'll be able to select from five riders, each of which has a rating in a few different categories that can impact race performance. For example, one rider might have a solid rating in handling but a low top-speed rating, which is perfect for the narrow river courses that have plenty of twists and turns. Conversely, if you're having trouble on some of the larger tracks that have long straightaways, then you'll want to choose a rider with a higher top-speed rating. However, these ratings can be manipulated before a race by taking points out of one category and distributing them into another. Once you're done with all of the customization, you can adjust the wave settings, or basically the difficulty level, of the mode. Increasing wave frequency makes racing problematic, especially on courses with bridges or overhangs that suddenly become transformed into new obstacles.

Wave Rally's five courses include both river and seaside locations. Obviously, the ocean courses serve as a better demonstration of Wave Rally's water and wave effects, which look quite good, but all of the courses seem to use the PlayStation 2 hardware effectively. The alternate versions of the five original courses are particularly noteworthy because they show different types of effects ranging from sunsets to raging storms.

Oh, the pressure!
Oh, the pressure!

Collisions with objects on the course are all too common when you're first starting out. Wave Rally's controls are a little touchy, with the slightest tap sharply pushing your rider in either direction. Likewise, sharp turns can be difficult to make because your Jet Ski behaves as if it's riding across a sea of speed bumps. Fortunately, control becomes more forgiving as you progress through the game, but it's definitely awkward at first.

Wave Rally is shaping up into one of the few water-based racing games that actually takes advantage of its environment by incorporating realistic wave effects and actual Jet Ski racing mechanics. Its large and detailed environments should also go a long way in attracting both novice and hard-core racing fans. Wave Rally is currently scheduled for release on November 15.

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