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by Infogrames

10-01.jpg (5464 bytes)Sporting (only a little pun intended) some very impressive graphics, an adequate physics system, and the Transworld name, Transworld Surf has been scoring some rather solid reviews. This amazes me. While certainly the best surfing game that I have ever played, regardless of the system, and while the basic action of the game is admittedly entertaining, I found Transworld Surf limited enough in scope and game play that a good review seemed impossible. Yet consistently I see that reviewers have been giving it competent scores, sighting the good graphics and atmosphere, and noting only slight drawbacks in the difficulty and execution of the game play. Fair warning, then, that this reviewer was far less impressed with Infogram’s Transworld Surf than seems to be the general surface consensus. In light of some of the other boarding sports games in existence (Tony Hawk, Amped) Transworld Surf simply doesn’t have the long lasting appeal and breadth of gameplay that should be present in any good game on a system as capable as the Xbox. Half a year from now, when other games are on the market, Transworld Surf will be the first game most players will pick out of their collection as the one they could do without.

11-01.jpg (6389 bytes)The story behind Transworld Surf is nothing unusual to this style of game. It places you in the role of one of thirteen of world’s most talented surfers, all competing with one another in the Transworld Surf World Tour. As is to be expected, the entirety of the gameplay takes place on the waves, where you work to earn points by performing various tricks and combinations, and occasionally attempting to accomplish limited goal-oriented tasks. The game offers four basic game modes: Competition (Pro Tour), Single Session, Free Surf, and Multiplayer. Unfortunately, these varying modes do little to expand the actual play of the game-- the major difference between them being that in one you surf with a time limit and other competing surfers (competition), in another you surf by yourself with a time limit (Single Session), and finally you can surf by yourself with no time limit (Free Surf). While the Pro Tour does ask you to attempt occasional goal oriented tasks, such as freeing a dolphin from a net by surfing over it, the three modes are virtually interchangeable, and nearly all play the same. It would have been nice to have multiple styles of play. The lack of variety is an overall limitation to the life span of Transworld Surf, as it will tend to grow stale rather quickly (within days) after you start playing.

12-01.jpg (6234 bytes)Transworld Surf is, however, blessed with truly beautiful graphics in the in-game engine. The way the water reflects and ripples, spraying off the tail of your surfboard as you cut through the water to the beat of the game’s very competent soundtrack is really very well done. The game’s overall atmosphere shines brightest during the few brief seconds at the opening of each surfing location when the camera circles the beach and an announcer introduces the local, complete with the misty fog and sprays in the right places at the right time. The graphics of the menu system are less impressive, reminding me somewhat of the original interfaces of the old Nintendo systems back in the day, with the exception of the full motion video that plays in the background of the menu display. The game’s developers appeared to have a great fondness for motion video, since an expansive list of commercials and advertisements are available to watch under the options menu. While I found this feature to be sort of enjoyable, I felt that half the substance of the game disc came from these selections, as if the disc were only half a game and half a collection of videos.

3-01.jpg (5521 bytes)The controls are easy to handle and enjoyable. Combination tricks are linked together relatively easily and are not intimidating, which is good since the game’s competition mode would be impossible without them. The physics system worked rather well, despite a tendency for your surfer to suddenly wipe out for no apparent reason. These elements do give Transworld Surf the position of best surfing game I’ve ever played. Don’t jump to conclusions, though. That title, regardless of how it sounds, is not necessarily one of prestige. Surfing games of the past have not been known to make waves, so topping them wasn’t that hard. While holding the crown for its area of the gaming world, it still falls far short when held up in comparison to other games on the market.

6-01.jpg (3182 bytes)The reasons for this falls into two main categories: difficulty and diversity. First is difficulty. Transworld Surf has a very steep learning curve with a top that very well may be beyond the reach of the time that people are willing to put into it. For example, the first "level", which is the first beach in the Pro Tour competition, requires that you meet a series of goals before continuing on to the next beach. These include acquiring a certain number of points in a limited time and performing various tricks. While this sounds easy, it takes a great deal of practice before these goals become reachable. This makes for a very frustrating first few hours. After you reach what most would feel to be a level of competence, you go on into the first competition rounds in which you must place first in order to progress to the next beach. Here you discover that all of your skills from earlier play are woefully inadequate to the task, as your dismal scores consistently land you in last place. Since alternate beaches are locked, even in free or single surf modes, until they are reached through the Pro Tour mode, the player is really stuck to surfing the same waves over and over. Any game that asks you to spend over three hours on a first level that has a maximum run time of three minutes contains a serious design flaw.

sim-transworldsurf-0001-01.jpg (5608 bytes)Which brings me to my second point: diversity. Transworld Surf lacks it. While the locations are atmospheric and well rendered, they all have the exact same gameplay. The waves all look about alike. Don’t get me wrong because the basics behind the gameplay are entertaining. It is indeed fun to play on the waves after you’ve mastered a little of the controls, but it is fun in the same way that Tic-Tack-Toe is fun. After the first few games things become threadbare. Combine this with the steep learning curve that asks that you spend an exuberant amount of time perfecting your skills before you can progress in the game, and you simply have a very bad combination. In much the same way that we will always return to playing Tic-Tack-Toe when we are bored, Transworld Surf is a game that will come out only occasionally after the novelty wears off--and even then only briefly.

sim-transworldsurf-0002-01.jpg (4717 bytes)The design team attempted to counteract this lack of diversity by adding relatively simple and ineffective details such as the Karma Meter. If you interfere with other surfers and sea life, your karma will go down, ultimately leading to other surfers knocking you from your board and shark attacks. However, since it is really hard to get your karma meter to go bad, it makes very little difference in the way the game plays. Aside from that, the shark attacks aren’t nearly as cool as they should have been, and happen rarely anyway.

sim-transworldsurf-0006-01.jpg (6801 bytes)In short, Transworld Surf has good graphics and a good control layout. The basics of the game are entertaining, as opposed to some other surfing games whose basics are actually annoying. However, the learning curve demands too much without giving enough in return. If you really enjoy surfing games and are willing to battle it out, you might consider this an ok game, but when your friends come over to play an hour of Xbox, they’ll almost always want to play something else within the hour. My prediction, which is opposite almost every other review I’ve read, is that this game will be one of the first sold from the average collection when the next wave of games leaves us looking for quick cash to help us afford them. It simply doesn’t have the staying power. 

Aaron Stanton   (1/05/2002)


Ups: Good graphics; good control; only for die hard surf fans.

Downs: Karma meter is lame; not enough variety; gets boring quickly.

Platform: Xbox