Simon & Schuster
# of Players:
Memory Unit, 480p
Last year, the Xbox was graced with the surprisingly good golf game
Outlaw Golf. It featured an amazingly solid golf engine and
separated itself from the pack by offering over-the-top characters
and adult-oriented humor. The game had a decent enough reception to
not only convince developers Hypnotix to begin work on a sequel, but
to branch the franchise out into other directions. Tackling
volleyball next, Hypnotix would go on to make the best game of its
kind to date with Outlaw Volleyball.
Similar to its golfing predecessor, Outlaw Volleyball takes a
sport and turns it upside down with quirky, offbeat characters, a
couple of interesting twists in gameplay mechanics, and a sometimes
raunchy sense of humor. However, this time the group at Hypnotix
seems to have found their footing, and really delivered the type of
brilliance Outlaw Golf only occasionally hinted at. Compared
to Golf, the graphics and gameplay feel much tighter this
time around, the humor and commentary is consistently funnier, and
the entire package just feels more solid.
Hypnotix makes no apologies for being inspired by Virtua Tennis’
gameplay, and it shows. Anyone who has played Sega’s now-famous
tennis game will feel right at home with Outlaw Volleyball’s
controls. Everything from how to serve to how pressing a button
early “pulls” your character beneath the ball was lifted from VT,
but that’s not a bad thing. Virtua Tennis represents the
epitome of easy to learn controls that mask a subtle complexity only
realized after hours of gameplay against a human opponent; Outlaw
Volleyball utilizes that system amazingly well.
Serving is accomplished by holding down the A button then releasing
when a meter reaches the peak for maximum power. The rest of the
deceptively deep gameplay consists of bumping and setting to your
partner (A), dinking the ball over the net (B), spiking the ball
over the net (X), or blocking a return by jumping (Y). Placement of
the ball is done through utilizing a cursor (which can be turned off
in Options to make the game more challenging for both you and your
opponent), and is achieved by getting beneath the ball as early as
possible and holding down the appropriate button. While the button
is held, the cursor can be moved to any point on the court and
locked in by releasing it. The earlier you get under the ball, the
longer you have to aim, and the harder you hit the ball.
The challenge comes in the form of not only knowing where the weak
point on the opposing side is at the time of return, but also in
keeping your opponent guessing. Since you get three hits, you must
always decide whether to throw the other team off balance by hitting
the ball quickly, or using the bumps to set up your partner close to
the net for the fastest return. After some frustrating moments in
gameplay, you’ll soon realize this is best achieved through the
option to turn off the CPU help and taking control of both
characters at the same time (the CPU still controls one of the
characters when necessary). It sounds difficult, and takes a lot of
getting used to, but once you get the hang of it you come to realize
just how effective it is to control both characters. After a while,
you won’t know how you ever played without it.
Fortunately, the nuances of the game are introduced to you in the
form of some absolutely hysterical video tutorials (the first
tutorials I’ve found worth watching), and through the use of
character-building drills that are unlocked as you progress through
the game. These drills start by covering the basics, such as bumping
with cursor aiming, or aiming a spiked return, and get decisively
harder the further you progress. While the earlier drills will help
square you away for the first batch of matches, the later drills
will help hone your skills against the AI that become much more
brutal as the game progresses.
Each time you beat a drill, you are allotted a certain number of
points to put into your characters stats, such as power, offense,
defense, and speed. While the difference may not be readily apparent
at first, changing from a moderately upgraded character to one
without any changes becomes surprisingly difficult. This can be
especially noticeable when you don’t upgrade the stats of your
teammate, and you’ll notice a sudden change in timing for a maximum
spike between the two characters. Since one without will require a
lot more time to reach full power, you may find yourself releasing
the spike button way too early, sending the ball into the net.
The game also features several interesting twists to gameplay to
shake things up a bit. One is through the use of a “Momentum” meter.
Similar to Outlaw Golf’s “Composure” meter, you are rewarded
or penalized for how well you are playing. Momentum effects how
quickly your turbo recharges, which it turn provides the ability to
run at high speeds for a short time, do insanely powerful serves,
or, most importantly, execute a special move that spikes the ball at
a much higher speed. Learning when to do a special move becomes
crucial in the later portion of the game, and does quite a bit to
add to the game’s overall strategy.
Another twist comes in the form of the different gameplay modes.
Along with the standard Sideout (only the serving side can score)
and Rally (anyone can score) modes, the game also includes Hot
Potato, Casino, and Timebomb variations. Hot Potato requires you to
watch a timer and either score quickly or place the exploding ball
on the opponent’s side when it is ready to blow up to earn you the
point. Casino mode tallies a dollar for every return volley until
the point is won. The money is then given to that team, and the
overall winner of the match is the person with the most money at the
end. Timebomb simply consists of a timebomb being placed wherever
the ball lands from a lost point, requiring the team to maneuver
around it until it explodes, or else be thrown into the air for a
few precious moments. All of the modes are a blast, but
unfortunately none of the extra modes are available on Live at this
time. However, it should be noted that Hypnotix is currently looking
into adding them as downloadable content.
Arguably less amazing is the inclusion of a fighting mini-game in
which you can fight an opposing team member for their remaining
portion of Momentum. The fighting is fairly basic, including block,
punches, kicks, and a special move, all to the tune of the game’s
only noticeable portion of lackluster animation. It can be great fun
to take out your frustrations on a real opponent, but since it isn’t
available in Live, and feels cheap to use it against an AI
opponent that never uses it, you’ll probably ignore it or to turn it
off in the Options menu.
The online portion of the game runs very smoothly, even on matches
opponents with less than stellar connections. However, as I
mentioned before, it doesn’t support the game’s extra modes, and I
found it difficult to find anyone playing at times. This, coupled
with a lackluster interface and the fact that Live supports up to
four players on only two Xboxes, makes for a slightly flawed
experience. Hopefully, word of mouth will help the game achieve the
sales it deserves, and finding matches will be less of a problem.
Hypnotix is currently looking into the possibility of adding
additional game modes, fighting, and ladders, with the obligatory
additional characters and courts already in the pipeline. Overall,
it is a great first attempt from the developers, but it could have
been much more.
The game does a great job of strutting the Xbox’s muscles in terms
of graphics. The models of the characters are incredibly detailed,
and someone more conservative might even say too much so
thanks to an amazing attention to details of both male and female
anatomy (thankfully for some, anything offensive can be easily
averted by turning off voices and player reactions in Options). The
courts feature deformable terrain (the sand and snow look suitably
beaten as the match progresses, and it does a great job of mirroring
water effects in the sewer level) and are wildly original. There are
enough particle effects, bump mapping, flashy explosions, and eye
candy to make any Xbox fan happy. My only complaint would probably
fall on the spectators, which feature a fairly low polygon count.
However, the complaint is minor since the only time you will really
notice is occasionally during the up-close player reactions, or
possibly when you zoom in to watch an instant replay.
audio portion of the game is equally amazing. Steve Carell returns
for a repeat performance as the announcer, but this time his lines
are wittier and rarely fall flat. The character voices are equally
well delivered, though not quite as consistently funny as Carell’s
commentary. Regardless, they do a great job of bringing the
characters to life. Both have the capacity to grow old after a
while, but there is always the option to turn them off. The real
surprise comes in the form of the game’s soundtrack. The developers
decided to forgo the big name bands, instead opting for a large
number of lesser-known but incredibly talented musicians. This
decision not only allows for fewer repeat songs during gameplay, but
also means you won’t hear the same songs you have already heard on
the radio over and over again. While the game does support user
created soundtracks, it may be a long time before you decide the
music has grown old enough to bother with it.
When all is said and done, Hypnotix has surpassed all my
expectations for the game. Outlaw Golf was a great game in
its own right, but this game is exponentially better in every aspect
than their first console outing. With fantastic graphics, a great
sense of humor, and gameplay that outclasses the competition by
leaps and bounds, it is one of the freshest single and multiplayer
sports titles I’ve played in years. The Outlaw series is
already on the road to greatness, and waiting for the next game in
the series has just gotten that much more difficult.
Easy to pick up and play, yet deceptively deep.
Sharp graphics and voiceover work.
Huge number of unlockables.
One heck of a soundtrack.
Lackluster Live play (for now).
Some may find the later portion of single player difficult to a
It’s hard to believe this is a game created by the same group that
gave us Deer Avenger 4 and Panty Raider. Hypnotix has
proved once again they can do marvelous things when they put their
mind to it. With the philosophy that gameplay comes first and
juvenile content comes in a close second, they’ve made a game that
contains both fantastic gameplay and a great sense of humor. I can’t
recommend this game enough. (No, really. I need more people to play
against in Live.) If you were one of the many people who felt
Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball didn’t live up to
your expectations, or just want a volleyball game that has fun to
spare, this game is the one you’ve been waiting for.