November 15, 2001
Atari Splashdown - Review
A couple of weeks ago the latest Official Australian Playstation Magazine landed on my desk. As per usual the first thing to do was to throw the demo disc into the PS2 and have a look at the upcoming games. After going through the playable demos it was onto the movies clips where Atari Splashdown was on offer. Sadly, the game looked horrible. Be it the compression used on the video, the poor selection of highlights, or the fact that the game had the Atari branding, the fact of the matter was that no one in the room had any interest in the game at all. But let me say this now. That preview video is no where near representative of the high quality of this game. Unlike the preview video the actual game has terrifically clear visuals, and some awesome gameplay to match.
|Pulling a massive trick over Venice.|
Unlike Nintendo's Wave Race games on the N64 and Gamecube or Eidos' upcoming Wave Rally on the Playstation 2 this isn't a Jet Ski racing game, but a Sea-Doo based racing game. For those of you unaware a Sea-Doo is a slightly larger craft, but no less exciting. The game features 8 different riders from around the world including Andy Pierce, Hailey Hollister, Kyoko Takahashi, Jeremy Wallace, Rafael Martin, Amman Ra, Juana Lopez and Sebastien Kleinemann as well as one secret character. Rainbow Studios have included 18 exciting race courses spread across the globe: Amazon Jungle, Bali, Bering Strait, Everglades (Florida), Great Barrier Reef (Australia), Hawaii, Lake Havasu (Arizona), Lake Quilotoa (Bolivia), Loch Ness (Scotland), Madrid (Spain), Mission Bay (California), Nice (France), Nile River (Egypt), Rhine River (Germany), Seoul (Korea), Three Rivers (Pennsylvania), Tokyo (Japan), Venice (Italy) and one secret location.
Atari Splashdown consists of three main sections. The first of these is the Arcade Mode which includes Circuit (standard race), Time Trials (Race against the clock), Free Ride (lets you practice and explore a circuit) and Countdown which is a very cool balloon bursting game. In the Countdown mode you will select a track, which has several hundred balloons spread around it. You must collect these balloons before the timer runs out but as you collect them they add time back onto the clock of either 1, 5 or 10 seconds. The game also includes a detailed Career mode, which includes 20 different races to compete in while the Vs mode will pit yourself in a 2-player race to the finish line.
|If this isn't the best water ever...|
Playing Atari Splashdown can only be described as a complete joy. The controls are completely natural and there are no problems with the handling of the water craft. Pull down on the analogue stick and the craft will lift the nose and pick up speed. Push the analogue stick up and the nose will dip into the water allowing you to slow down and perform sharper turns. The courses on offer are littered with ramps and jumps and unlike Midway's pathetic Arctic Thunder, you have complete control over the actions of your rider. Three shoulder buttons are used to select the style of trick while the analogue stick will place your rider forward, back or to either side of the Sea-Doo. These tricks help fill up your crafts power meter which, when full, will give you a boost of speed. When you jump it's crucial to land the craft as flat as possible to the water to reduce speed loss.
Rainbow Studios are now one of the premiere developers on the Playstation 2. Prior to this game the company developed the very respectable ATV Offroad Fury and are currently working on Star Wars Racer's Revenge for LucasArts which should be released in mid 2002. Only last week THQ made a move to acquire Rainbow Studios to become a THQ owned company.
There are almost no faults with this game. My biggest complaint is that if you manage to beach your Sea-Doo the game puts you back into the water only a few feet from land, but pointing straight towards it requiring some severe turns. Perhaps the game could have included a couple more racers for more action, or the number of riders and/or tracks could have been increased slightly, but this is getting real picky for a game which is quite exciting. The difficulty of the game is set pretty high which may make less experienced gamers struggle on anything but the easiest difficulty level. The final problem which I had with the game is the similarity, and unfamiliarity, of the courses. The barrier reef for example is more like a series of islands with enough shipwrecks to make the Bermuda Triangle look tame. Still, it's probably more interesting then running into a coral patch.
|Pulling a hand stand.|
The first thing that will hit you graphically with this game, beside the inclusion of the Atari Intro, is the quality of the water in this game. Until this game landed on my desk I was of the firm belief that Wave Race on the Nintendo 64, or it's Gamecube sequel, had the best water in a console game. Forget it. Atari Splashdown is so much better. The water ripples, the waves, the froth in the backwater all combine to make this the most realistic ever. To top it all off the waters transparency is simply amazing with detail extending to the sea floor assuming the water is clear enough.
|Yet more ultra cool water.|
Fortunately, this graphical detail also extends to the Sea-Doo's and riders who move an lean from side to side as the race progresses at a solid 30fps. The animation on the tricks is a little rough, but still conveys the action while crashing the Sea-Doo into a tree will have your rider sailing in the air before crashing to the ground, or back into the water.
As you would expect from such a fast paced racing game the music plays an integral part and the developers have included 12 fast paced tracks. These include popular songs such as "All Star" from Smash Mouth (which is the opening song from Shrek), "The Rock Show" from Blink 182, and "Hold Your Breath" from Otis while the game is rounded out with lesser known but equally impressive tracks such as "A Mouthful of Exhaust" from Man or Astro-Man? (that's not a typo), "All She's Got" and "Rhythms" from Sum 41. It's a pretty good mix of music that is cycled through during the races.
|Waves are a little too infrequent.|
Sound effects in the game are quite impressive with plenty of great engine noises from the Sea-Doo's and crunching noises when they crash. The only problem with the sound is the voices, they are a little hard to understand at times. Still they dont really add much to the game so it's not really worth getting worried about.
Atari Splashdown is one of the best games this year. It's a lot more rewarding then Rainbow Studios' previous racing game, ATV Offroad Fury with fewer faults and more refined gameplay. The graphics will simply blow you away while the game will keep you playing for weeks on end. Atari Splashdown gets my full recommendation.
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