8/1/2003 1:50:27 AM
Outlaw Volleyball Xbox Review
By Mark Diller
Somewhere, deep in the human male consciousness, is a connection between volleyball and bikinis. This is the impulse that got beach volleyball into the Olympics, and it’s the impulse that has spawned (at least) two games this year: “Outlaw Volleyball” by Hypnotix /Vivendi Universal and “Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball,” by Tecmo. Those of you who read my review of the DOA title know that I didn’t care much for that game – in my opinion the volleyball was merely an excuse to fill the screen with T&A – but “Outlaw Volleyball” is a different animal entirely. Sure, it’s got the babes – plenty of them, and they wear next to nothing – but at the heart of the game is a volleyball simulation that’s just plain fun.
This isn’t just volleyball, mind you – it’s outlaw volleyball, and that means irreverence. You’ll play in a series of skuzzy, disgusting venues – prison yards, sewage treatment plants, and (worst of all) Coney Island – and as you play the announcer will mock you at every opportunity. The on-screen characters are rude and crude, just about every one represents some sort of ethnic stereotype, and fistfights are built into the game (making this something of an unholy union of volleyball and hockey). So is the game offensive? Not really, unless you’ve got a very thin skin. There’s no profanity and no blood, and what you do see is all in good fun.
The controls are simplicity itself. With the camera fixed behind the court (unlike DOA, which had the camera swoop around in an impressive but ultimately annoying fashion), you control one player on a two-man team (though you can switch between the players by pulling the left trigger). When the ball is heading your way a yellow circle on the ground tells you where it will land. You get your player to that spot and then hit the A button to bump the ball, using the left thumbstick to indicate where the bump should go. The same mechanics work for setting the ball, and when you spike it you also use the A button, holding it in just long enough to get the “quality” meter to the top so you’ll hit a good shot and using the left thumbstick to indicate your target. Serving works the same as spiking; meanwhile the B button is used for soft returns and dinks and the X button allows you to hit the ball aggressively across the net instead of bumping or setting. Thus you spend almost all your time using the A button and the left thumbstick, moving to the other buttons only when the situation calls for it. The right trigger, meanwhile, is used to unleash Super Actions – extra-powerful serves or spikes that you can unleash when a series of good plays have built your momentum meter high enough, or extra speed that you can use to catch up with a distant ball. The mechanics are simple to learn – you’ll be playing competently during your very first game – but there’s enough variety built in to keep you working on the more difficult skills.
There are sixteen players built in, though when you start the game you’ll find only four to play with: you need to unlock the rest by winning tournaments. The players’ ability totals vary, but you can build a player’s skill by running Drills, which are certain built-in challenges, such as serving, spiking, or bumping to a particular target. You’ll find “outlaw” elements here, too – spike drills, for instance, that involve knocking down obnoxious spectators. When you successfully complete a Drill you’ll be given some points that you can add to a player’s totals in one of four categories: speed, power, offense, or defense. So as you go through Tour mode you’ll try to win an Event to unlock another event or venue (there are ten sites built in) or, occasionally, a new Drill that you can use to increase your player’s skills and thus make it easier to win another Event. Lather, rinse, repeat: these mechanics keep you plugging away hour after hour.
The graphics are first-rate, a true showcase for the Xbox. The venues themselves look nice (I particularly liked the bright, sunny Coney Island locale), but the real strength of the game is in the character animations. The players move through their sequence of volleyball animations with almost perfect fluidity, and the reaction shots (which play after every point, unless you turn them off in the Options screen) are extremely lifelike. Truly, these characters move like real human beings – I can’t think of a single title I’ve seen in any genre that’s done a better job of modeling human movement. The sound, meanwhile, is also of high quality. The announcer has enough variety that he doesn’t get annoying right away, many of the character vocalizations are funny (the self-obsessed El Suave is probably the most amusing character), and the soundtrack contains the head-banging rock that you’d expect in a game like this (and if you just love the in-game music tracks, you can buy them separately on a CD). Everything is of uniform high quality and contributes to the pleasure of the game.
The single player version is fun enough, but if you’ve got a hankering to take your show on the road there’s also an Xbox Live component built in. The player attributes that you build up locally can be taken online, where you can expect your online opponents to be just as rude and crude as the “Outlaw Volleyball” characters probably are when they’re not shackled by the ESRB. The Xbox Live component also promises new characters and venues for you to download.
In sum, this is the game that “DOA: Extreme Beach Volleyball” should have been. “Outlaw Volleyball” proves that you can combine bikinis and volleyball in a way that doesn’t sacrifice good gameplay. If eye candy is the only thing you care about, then either title will do, but if you actually want to have fun playing volleyball, “Outlaw Volleyball” is the clear winner.
Overall rating (1-10):
Graphics: 9. Nice level modeling and first-rate character animations.
Sound: 8. Sharp, funny, and irreverent.
Gameplay: 8. Challenging without being too difficult.
Replayability: 8. It keeps you coming back.
Overall: 8.5. This is the best volleyball game available for the Xbox, and is a lot of fun even if you’re not into that particular sport.
Outlaw Volleyball Xbox Review