S-S-S-Sony and the jets.
Watercraft racing is back! Jet X2O is Sony's newest entry in this fading racing genre. Showcasing "extreme" racers getting "massive" air to do "wicked" tricks, Jet X2O is a decent racer that fails to provide the extreme levels of "entertainment" it's going for.
This game has been described as a pseudo-sequel to Sony's excellent Jet Moto series, but the only similarities are the general jet-ski shape of the vehicles and the word "Jet" in the title. Each race is a rough, one-way ticket down tortuous river routes fighting turbulent rapids, rocks, shipwrecks, and a rowdy crew of competitors.
Whereas in most racing games you get to choose a vehicle with the attributes that best suit your racing style, Jet X2O eliminates all that annoying decision making by only giving you one PWC (personal water-craft) initially. Other PWCs can be unlocked. The racers themselves are pretty much your basic gaming archetypes. There's the Keanu-esque American surf/skater dude, the burly Russian, the Cute Kid, The Rocker, the sexy blonde Swede, and of course, the wacky Asian Frenchman. Huh?
There are several competition modes to choose from. Trick Only mode pits you against the clock, attempting to gain as many points as possible by doing tricks until time runs out. Successful tricks reward you with extended time and give your PWC's boost gauge a partial charge. Ramps and sharply angled rocks and ship debris are handily sprinkled throughout each course to supply air for tricks or a jump shot at alternate routes. Alternately, you can opt for Race mode, in which you compete for just the fastest time and don't sweat the tricks.
The mode that you will probably play the most is Combo mode, which is a competition where your advancement to the next race depends not only on what place you finished, but on the points accrued from doing tricks as well. It's not uncommon to finish a race in first place only to restart the level because you bailed trying a 360 Superman.
The other mode is the Big Wave mode in which it's just you and the water with no time limits or competition, sort of like the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater "free skate" mode. There is a distinct lack of objects to bust tricks off of, and it's pretty dull. I assume this mode is basically used to get familiar with the controls.
Ahh, the controls. The left analog stick controls your PWC's turning, while the right stick controls the craft's pitch and yaw. The learning curve is a bit steep, but most gamers will adapt quickly. Doing tricks is very simple; merely tapping any of the shoulder buttons performs a button-specific trick. Tapping the boost while holding down one of the shoulder buttons modifies the trick, allowing for combos and multipliers. Bail on a trick and your rider loses those points, as well as valuable time while you tries to get back in the saddle.
The courses themselves are massive. Each race is a one-way trek down-river. All routes lead to the same finish line and the challenge is finding the quickest path for the win. The level design encourages exploration, as opposed to forcing you along a central route. You will end up playing over and over simply trying to determine which paths are actual shortcuts as opposed to just being different routes.
The sound effects are nothing special. Splashing sounds like...well, splashing, and the engine noises are adequate. The generic in-game music doesn't leave an impression at all. But many will be annoyed by the character-specific taunts that repeat themselves all too frequently during close-quarters racing. The characters talk over one another, so it sounds like a bunch of nonsensical babble. Throw in an annoyingly smug race announcer, and you have every reason in the world to go to the menu and shut those voices off.
Jet X2O is a pretty good looking game, with interesting locales and amusing character animation. The water looks great, with crosscurrents, wakes, and waves causing your craft to bobble along appropriately. Beautifully rendered waterfalls provide eye-candy while serving as excellent jump fodder. There's some minor draw-in and clipping errors, but it's not very noticeable.
The biggest problem is the lack of real speed for the racers. 80 miles an hour just doesn't feel that fast in this game, especially with your opponents keeping pace with you. Your turbo boost doesn't give the impression of speed, either. When boosting, the engine rumbles a bit deeper, but the backgrounds fly by at about the same rate as before. You might find yourself glancing at the speedometer to make sure your PWC is actually speeding up.
The two-player split screen mode doesn't add much to the game and only serves to emphasize that the different riders aren't all that different from one another. Part of the fun in two-player racing games is the give and take fighting for position, which is absent here because of the multiple paths your rider can take. You can be neck and neck with your opponent and never see him because he's on a different path.
Jet X20 isn't a bad game, but it does seem to be missing something. Decent graphics and gameplay aside, it just isn't terribly fun, and we've already seen a lot of these gameplay ideas in better games like the SSX series. Give this one a rental, and hope someone soon brings a true Jet Moto sequel to the next generation.