"Volleyball games don't have to be all about scantily clad women"
Beach Volleyball is booming on console at the moment. With now four titles across the various machines based on this sport, it was about time the Playstation 2 received its own fun in the sun, and Summer Heat Beach Volleyball has stepped in. Unlike Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball on the Xbox, the main focus is on the volleyball sport and this makes it in some ways a vastly superior game.
Summer Heat Beach Volleyball offers numerous game modes in single player and arcade mode for multiplayer. Modes such as arcade and tour are where most of your gaming time will be spent. A tutorial has been included for those who need to brush up on their volleyball rules, but it also teaches the mechanics of the game which again are vastly superior to Dead or Alive: XBV on Xbox.
The tour mode is the heart of the game. You will be tasked to select a team of two from male (shock horror males in a volleyball game!) and female players. Each has different strengths and weaknesses as well as coming from different parts of the globe. It has to be said though, that when two females are playing two males the odds are definitely on the mens side due to sheer power. During a tour many mismatches can occur, for instance I chose two women as my first team, and the first opponents were two men. Conformity across the board would have made it a lot less challenging when first starting out. Arcade mode lets you select your players and your opponents as well as the court to play on.
One thing that did come as a surprise was the game is quite tough at first. I was getting completely wiped off the court, but this doesn't last long. Within the first hour I had one my first tournament and the frustration felt before was long forgotten. Summer Heat plays really well and for the most part is enjoyable. The game has a swinging camera system much like DOAX, but it is much easier to know exactly where the ball is going to land. This is due to arrows appearing on the screen. When a ball is up in the air, these arrows can be controlled, and the ball should land at the apex. You only control one player out of the two, and depending on where you stand on the court will affect the movements of the AI team mate.
As mentioned before the game features both men and women, twelve players overall. As players progress through the tournament tour mode, items such as sunglasses will be unlocked. Whilst this definitely has a deju vu feeling with DOAX, it's more cosmetic then a game function in Summer Heat. Players over time can improve their skills via a super spike system. The game controls whether a set or spike is performed, which at times can be frustrating especially when an open court exists and the player only hits instead of spikes.
One critical factor with Summer Heat was definitely going to be both the team mate and opponent AI and it comes through with flying colours. The opponent AI are smart and the players will work together, but they are not superhuman and do make mistakes. Team mates will respond well and usually pick the correct shot. At times they do make silly mistakes though, and can cost you matches or even tournaments.
Tournaments are played across twelve different locations but for the most part this change is cosmetic as opposed to affecting gameplay. As players run around on the sand, it will deform and change and at times can have an effect on a players ability to reach a ball. The environments are heavily detailed, with crowds cheering and unique stadiums which coincide with where the match is being played.
Visually Summer Heat isn't a disappointment but it could have been a little better. The player models are fantastic, and even though the women do wear quite skimpy swimwear, it is actually based on actual swimsuits rather then fantasy clothing ala DOAX. Sound is a little substandard, with the voice acting at times bordering on lifeless. Players will grunt and groan but other then that not much is said. The soundtrack is a completely different story featuring Kylie Minogue and other well known artists, its just a shame the PS2 doesn't support custom soundtrack.
Multiplayer is offered via two player and also four players with a multitap, a definite leg up on the Xbox competitor. Multiplayer for the most part reflects arcade mode from single player.
Summer Heat Beach Volleyball is the closest thing to a true volleyball simulation released on console thus far. Rather then focusing on the cosmetic aspects of the game, tournaments and other sports modes have been included. Beach Volleyball fans will adore the game because of this, and anyone interested in an arcade style game with some fun in the sun should at least rent it. It surprised me, and it will surprise you.