I fought the law and the law bumped.
Lately, video game volleyball has spiked its way into our collective gamer radar. From Beach Spikers to Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, this once overshadowed sport has become a somewhat serious player, though mostly for the wrong reasons.
The recently released Outlaw Volleyball hopes to rectify that by being the first next-gen volleyball game with some real beefcake. And just to ensure that everyone's sensibilities are met, there's a whole range of men in this one, from prison inmates to one dirty, toothless lowlife.
But besides the recognition that women aren't the only ones who play volleyball, Outlaw Volleyball offers good gameplay mechanics and a wide range of challenges. Despite the fact that it would have benefited from better receiving, a smarter interface and a steadier framerate, this is an all-around solid entry into this growing field.
Outlaw Volleyball excels in its number of game options. Included are Exhibition matches, which are quick games for one to four; Random, which bypasses the character selections and brings you right into the game; Xbox Live play; and the conquest mode, Tour.
The single-player Tour is brimming with challenges, covering 10 arenas with 5 events each. The first four or five events involve some kind of rule, such as only being able to score when it's your serve or explosive hot potato balls. The last of the five events is an elimination tournament. Completing events unlocks arenas, new drill challenges and extra characters, for a grand total of 16 playable wackos.
The controls are slightly different than other volleyball games. You don't hit the button exactly when you want to hit the ball. If you suffered through the crappy volleyball in the PS2 game My Street - undoubtedly the worst volleyball game ever - you can understand how painful "exact timing" can be.
Outlaw Volleyball's hit mechanics instead use the buttons to ready your character to hit the ball. While holding down the button to dig, you have some time to move an aiming cursor. Sometimes a 'quality' meter will increase while you are readying to hit the ball. The higher the meter when you let go of the button and make contact with the ball, the more accurate your shot will be.
The controls allow you to select between volleys, bumps and spikes. There is also a jump block to smack those spikes right back into your opponent and a turbo to boost your speed. When turbo is used with a spike, a power spike that's more showy than useful is unleashed. In general, the gameplay mechanics are good, though the timing with receiving can sometimes be unforgiving.
Winning a few points in a row will increase your Momentum meter, which helps keep your turbo in top shape. The less Momentum a character has, the more quickly they will deplete their turbo. In a neat twist, Momentum can be stolen via challenging your opponents to a quick pre-game tussle. The fighting is more like a ditzy mini-game, featuring kicks and punches and that's about it. It's good to have Momentum, but if you feel that fighting poses the risk of losing some of your own, you can turn it off.
The Exhibition and Drill games feature handy aiming crosshairs, but for some reason when you play in the Tour mode, this nifty device is hidden. Even though you still control the aim to a degree, the hidden crosshairs make it harder to be accurate. Yet at the same time, the aiming crosshairs give away the location of your shot. I think an ideal solution would have been crosshairs that you can toggle on and off during gameplay.
In fact, this aiming tool is a selectable option in the Online game. Xbox Live works well, with one Xbox versus another and up to two players per machine. Maybe it goes with the theme, but there seem to be more rude people playing Outlaw Volleyball than other Xbox Live games. Either that or I'm waaaay too nice.
Of all the components in the game, the Drills are the best, at times more fun and original than the actual volleyball game. One drill has you spiking balls against what looks to be a steady line of inmates coming at you Space Invader style while dancing the Macarena. More drills are opened up as you make your way through the tour. These Drills also allow you to earn points to build up your characters.
The character modeling and environments aren't quite as sophisticated as DOA Beach Volleyball, but are above average in design. The environments cover a wide range of wacky courts, from the inner city to a jungle to a prison. There's a sewer stage, but the water covering the floor is too reflective for comfortable play.
The character design itself is creative, running the social and racial stereotype gamut. Take Doe Joe, a Japanese Elvis impersonator who wear a shirt that says "Doe Joe" done up like the GI Joe logo. Nice. Thankfully, there's enough tongue-in-cheek humor here to keep it from being plain offensive. But for the record, they misspelled the place of origin for the hippie chick Harvest - "Berkeley" is spelled with three E's, guys.
If you're interested in digital T&A, I should note that Outlaw Volleyball seems much more interested in the A, with sharply defined rears across the board. Everyone is sporting either thongs or extreme wedgies in order to show off their cheeks. Like I said earlier, Outlaw Volleyball is an equal opportunity offender.
Speaking of which, the interface is butt ugly. There's no sense of style. The fonts look like they were randomly yanked out of a Microsoft Word template. But even more annoying is how the visuals don't always run smoothly. Intermittent framerate problems can get in the way, though they don't ruin the game.
The Outlaw series taps Daily Show talent Steven Carell again for the commentaries. While his banter has a lame humor to it thanks to his self-deprecation and off-color remarks, it gets old really fast. Perhaps because there's only so many lines before it starts to repeat or maybe because the humor all starts to sound the same, it will quickly get on your nerves.
Thankfully, there is an option to turn Carell off as well as toggle most other in-game fillers, such as win animations, sound bites and music.
The soundtrack is an appropriately upbeat mix that represents the musical spectrum, from peppy pop to a gangsta rap number. The primary band featured is Diffuser, but there's a whole mix of small bands as well. Plus, the game takes advantage of the all-important Xbox ability to use your own customized soundtrack.
Compared to the other recent volleyball games, Outlaw Volleyball focuses more on traditional gameplay, leading to probably the best of the bunch. Somehow, if you could convince Beach Spikers, DOA: XBV and Outlaw to have a kid, you would have a perfect volleyball game. As it is, Outlaw Volleyball is a solid dig.