Outlaw Volleyball Review

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Graphics: 9.0
Sound : 7.5
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : 8.0
Overall : 8.4
Review by Michael 'Bucky' Davis

Expanding on the success of their Outlaw Golf game, Simon & Schuster Interactive has released Outlaw Volleyball for the Xbox. Using many of the same characters, there is a decidedly adult twist to this version of the Outlaw game. But the real question: is it a good volleyball game?

One of the first things that will strike you after the introduction is the graphics. Specifically the models, they are spectacular! And no, I'm not referring to the cleavage! These are the most detailed 3D human models that I have seen. You can easily make out individual muscles under the skin, and the soft, supple curves of... never mind. Anyway, each of the sixteen models has a unique physical look about them, so you aren't just looking at 4 different models with different hairstyles. It seems that Hypnotix has really taken the Xbox graphics capabilities to the limit.

In action, these models are just as impressive. Their movements as they dive, dig, set, bump and spike are fluid and flawless. I even went so far as to zoom in as close as possible during replay modes looking for some kind of glitch, like the ball not actually being in contact with their hands, etc. I found no errors. None at all!

The only issue I could find with the models was in the profile screen. Here you can change their outfits, rotate, and zoom in and out. Yes, you can zoom into any part of their body. The "big" error I found was that the model's lower legs weren't terribly detailed. Seems like they weighted the polygon from their butt cheeks and up. This is definitely smart programming, but it's the only thing that kept the graphics score from being a 10.

The environments that you play in are, for the most part, nothing too remarkable, just a few different background props. There is one notable exception: The Stinky Falls level is a volleyball court in an underground sewer. And you are playing in a few inches of (thankfully) clear water. That doesn't help the imagination much, however. I couldn't get past what a dig would be like there. Anyway, the remarkable part of this level is the ripples in the water created as you move around the court. They make for quite an impressive sight.

Dealing with the sound wasn't nearly as pleasant as viewing the VERY detailed female models. The announcer has a very limited repertoire, and will repeat it over and over until you want to strangle the guy. Thankfully, he can be muted. Once I found that out, the game's sound became much less annoying. There is a decent soundtrack included in the game, and with the ability to customize the play list with music stored on your Xbox hard drive, there is no reason to complain about the music.

The sound effects are, for the most part, nicely done. The characters are chatterboxes, constantly talking to each other. This does get a bit repetitious after you hear, "I got it!" for the 900th time. If they had included a larger vocabulary for the players and announcer, it would have helped immensely.

If you have ever played with Outlaw Golf, it won't take you long to recognize the similarities between these two games. There is admittedly something strange about including the ability to beat the snot out of somebody in a sport like golf or volleyball. OG had a fun twist to it: If your golfer got too frustrated, he could beat the crap out of his caddy to relieve his anxiety. The fights in OG were a scripted sequence that required you to hit the correct buttons with the right timing to get the most out of a beating session. In OV they have scrapped that rather innovative system for the old standby of two people squaring off and trading punches and kicks until one falls. The purpose of fighting in OV is to allow you to steal Momentum from an opposing player. Momentum is loosely tied to your playing performance, and effects how fast a power meter recharges.

I found the whole momentum/power meter/fighting thing to be more of a useless distraction than anything else. It seems as though they included something like that for the Outlaw identity more than any other reason. To be fair, a power spike is a spectacular event, with the player rising impossibly high into the air and firing the ball down at the court at bullet speeds. Handling such an awesome shot seems to be no more difficult than your average spike, however.

When I first sat down with the game, I followed the short tutorial and went through a few of the volleyball drills that let me train in spiking, blocking, bumping and serving. The tutorial was informative, if a little dull and the drills were great for getting me used to the controls. Also like OG, the drills allow you to boost stats on your players, and finishing different courts allow you to unlock more difficult drills.

I really do not understand why Hypnotix didn't include a design-your-own-character ability into this game. With the highly detailed models and variety of clothing, it fairly screams for the ability to customize a player.

The controls took a real effort to get accustomed to, but the fault lay entirely with me. I kept trying to get my player positioned precisely under the target of where the ball was landing and precisely time my button push to make sure I hit the ball. But mercifully, the designers have abandoned this frustrating system for a MUCH more interesting approach. All you need to do is get close to where the ball is going, press and hold the button you want, and then aim with the left thumbstick. Release the button and your character (who is supposedly a professional volleyball player, after all!) will take care of the tedious details like getting under the ball and timing the hit.

This is where the gameplay really shines. Instead of chasing after the ball and hoping it goes someplace useful after you hit it, you can become very precise in every hit. Want your teammate to go for a spike? Make sure your set comes down next to the net. Worried he'll get blocked, make the set away from the net. A favorite tactic of mine is to bump the ball on one corner of the net, and then run to the other corner to take the set, followed by a dink into a corner. This worked great against the AI for a bit. Until it seemed to wise up to that tactic and made me figure out another approach. I have found that every time I overexploit a weakness of the AI, it eventually closes the door on it.

If the control layout is the best part of the game, the camera can cause the most frustration. The camera views the court from one end, with a 3/4 angle. It's a great view for giving you perspective of depth, and since you don't have to worry about how high the ball really is, it is perfect for this game.

The problem develops during the bump and set (the first 2 hits of a side during a volley) because the camera zooms into the half of the court where the ball is in play. This doesn't allow you to react to what the other team is doing during this crucial setup part of a volley. On defense, you just have to blindly "feel" your way to a spot on the court you like, or when on offense, you are setting up for an offensive play with no idea of what the defense is doing. The other issue is that after the first two hits, the camera suddenly zooms back out to the whole court, cueing you that the ball is about to come over the net. Talk about telegraphing the opponent's intent!

I mentioned earlier that there was a decidedly adult twist to the game. While there is no language worse than "Damn" in the game, there are a lot of sexual innuendos and in some cases some very provocative poses (not to mention a certain lap-dance) that can create some embarrassing moments if you are playing around some younger players. You can turn off the Player's Reaction to avoid this problem should the need arise.

I do not have Xbox live, but I was able to try out the multiplayer part of the game on the same system. What I found was a solid experience, unfortunately marred by the camera problems I mentioned earlier.

Outlaw Volleyball is a terrific game that has a certain amount of PG-13 content wrapped around it. Eventually, you will turn off the announcer because he is annoying, and bypass the player antics after a score because you have already seen it. What you will have left is a great looking game, coupled with some very innovative controls. This one is a keeper, and I am looking forward to Hypnotix's next effort.