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If you're looking for some early-release titles that really show off the Xbox's visual power, TransWorld Surf certainly makes the list. Some of the system's most beautiful graphics are showing up in its sports titles this season -- NFL Fever, anyone? -- and this baby leads the pack for sure. There's no way you've ever seen better-looking waves in a console game before. Surfer models have all the right moves, foam sprays generously at the crests... and boy, are those reef girls hot. Oh, and the reflections! The beauty of moonlight dancing atop nighttime waves in Huntington Beach can only be compared the to first time you saw sunlight pouring through the treetops in Halo. If you've played the game, you know what I mean.
Yeah, there's an ugly spot or two as well, but nobody's perfect. The water seems phenomenal from a distance, but sometimes it'll come off as a bit too 'chrome-like' up close when you're riding a barrel. Wave peaks don't look so hot when they're forming either, but consider how much processing power it takes the Xbox to generate every tiny detail of each monstrous wave. Not too shabby when it all boils down.
TransWorld Surf passes the audio test with flying colors, too. It's the little niceties that create an engrossingly real atmosphere in each of the nine locations (including Pipeline, Fort Point, and Teahupoo): seagulls call out and onlookers cheer as the waves gush loudly overhead. The swish of foam settling near the shore after a wipeout may very well bring back childhood memories of Florida trips with your parents -- or maybe that's just me.
But even if the sounds don't kick up nostalgia, the soundtrack itself should kick your ass. Featuring nearly 50 tracks from a countless array of artists, TransWorld offers angsty punk (NoFX, Sum 41), smooth hip hop (Cali Agents, Moka Only), and amateurish electronic tracks (Dr. Onionskin, Alfa One Seven) to satisfy all sorts of tastes. Not finding what you want? No prob -- burn your own tracks to the Xbox's hard drive and pump it up during the game whenever you want!
Fans of trick-based extreme sports titles like SSX and the Tony Hawk series won't be let down here. Although there's a larger learning curve than said games, everything's smooth as butter once you understand how to carve a wave. Players build up combo meters by linking massive airs, snapturns and cutbacks, and glide under peaking waves to rack up insane points and finish off the chain. Just like Tony Hawk, every level presents new goals to carry out -- some on the wacky side, involving sea turtles and severed cow heads -- in order to earn better boards and unlock new locations. All the while, photographers are stationed around the water to chronicle your sweet performance with a number of snapshots, which you've gotta collect to open up the final competitions. See, much like Microsoft's Amped, TransWorld Surf requires the player to develop some serious media attention as the game progresses.
Among other nuances that set this game apart from its competition, TransWorld implements a Karma Meter that represents your respect for surrounding surfers and sea life. If you go around knocking the other guys off their boards and slamming into baby seals, your meter plummets; if you honor the order of nature around you, your surfer's karma goes up. Just be careful not to let things get too bad for you -- sharks and saltwater crocs seem to love the taste of a disrespectful sportsman, and those horny reef girls'll cut the dirty talk once you've wiped out enough of your competitors!
The back of the game box boasts in bold letters, 'Pick up and play controls!' Ha. Nothing could be further from the truth, but at least it shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to get the hang of things. First-time players may want to try out Free Surf mode before getting their feet wet, just to learn how unforgiving those waves can be. Without a doubt, one of the hardest parts of the initial game is merely staying on top of the board for longer than 30 seconds. Of course, when you're finally able to ride a barrel with a multiplier of 11 in your combo, the world is your oyster.
Some of the level goals are insanely difficult, though. Anytime you're required to jump over multiple obstacles in a straight run, get ready to kiss all sanity goodbye for a good half hour. Sure, challenge is always a welcome factor, but sometimes certain objectives simply can't be completed without many, many, many attempts. Ah, but that's platinum replay value to some people, isn't it?
For a friggin' surfing game, the folks at Angel Studios really did an outstanding job of creating a complex gaming experience. The seamless architecture involved in each forming wave is a joy to behold in itself, and on a grand scale it feels as if you're actually there, shooting the peaks in real life. After all, every location in the game was painstakingly modeled after authentic surfing hotspots around the world, and from the looks of it, they got it right.
But how do the controls feel? Pretty stubborn at first, yet perfectly fluid after settling in. The developers were wise in limiting control only to the left analog thumbstick, because anything else just wouldn't be right. Every button on the gamepad gets some use: triggers for grab tricks, face buttons for snapturns, airs, floaters, duck dives, and dismounts - hell, even the Back button comes into play when entering special codes. Sometimes it can be awkward to toggle camera angles with the right analog stick (especially when simultaneously jumping and looking behind you during certain goals), but the Options menu provides no alternative control schemes, so deal with it.
There aren't many inadequacies to overcome in TransWorld Surf; sleek presentation, addictive gameplay and loads of movies to uncover should be more than enough to pull in even the most jaded gamers. Don't be skeptical about this one because of its subject matter - for Xbox owners, this is going to do to extreme water sports what Tony Hawk did to the skateboarding genre back in 1999.