The 'Beach Volleyball' genre may well be the most cliched in the videogame market. That is, think volleyball videogames and one thing springs to mind - T & A! Ok it may not be quite that cut and dry but Tecmo's shameless DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball on the Xbox certainly did nothing to dispel that notion! That game would have anyone convinced that volleyball titles are way more about feeding the rampant hormones of pubescent male gamers than any actual sports gameplay. So the burning question now is - does Acclaim's Summer Heat Beach Volleyball just fall into the same trap and jiggle it's way onto your PS2 via the DOAX hype machine?
Surprisingly the simple answer is no. Surprising because Summer Heat is brought to us by the same team that also served up the controversial BMX XXX. But also because it concentrates more on fundamental gameplay, teamwork and a healthy dose of actual game content than just falling back on shallow sexploitation. Sure there's a little jiggle here and there but it's minimal really amongst everything else. As the only volleyball game so far released on the PS2 and at a budget price to boot, that's just what the doctor ordered as far as we're concerned. Oh and for the female gamers out there who still aren't convinced, Summer Heat actually includes male characters to choose from distinctly setting it apart from the likes of DOAX and Sega's Beach Spikers for GameCube.
So what we have here then is a slightly more in-depth volleyball game than you might have first imagined. It's quite easy to pick up and play after first learning the basic moves, all neatly presented we might add in the adequate Training mode. The action is strictly 2-on-2 and play is based mainly around serious competition in the Arcade and Summer Heat US Tour modes. More on modes later.
After first entering your 3 digit profile name (up to 5 profiles can be saved) and stepping through training to learn all the basic serves, shots and blocks you get to choose your mode of play. You're then presented with a character selection screen where you can create your own team, that is, you and your AI teammate. Each character has unique attributes rated on 3 different criteria - power, control and speed although after playing for a while it becomes apparent that power seems to be the most important. Also initially you can only choose from 13 characters - 8 female and 5 male. The other 7 hidden characters are unlocked as you play through the game. You also choose your difficulty level from Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert and you guessed it - you have to play through each of these in order to unlock all the hidden characters.
A fundamental difference here between this and say Beach Spikers is that where in that game you can shift between the 2 characters you choose, in Summer Heat you have to play right through as one character while your teammate is controlled by the AI. Luckily the teammate AI is very competent and attempts to play all shots pretty well even occasionally pulling out the odd lifesaver just at the right moment!
During gameplay teammates are positioned dynamically in relation to your own position and this works very well most of the time too. Move to the back of the court and they will cover the net area and vice versa. Move to the right and they will cover the left. It doesn't take long to get the hang of and you'll soon be using it to your advantage when serving, passing and shooting.
The actual gameplay has a nice simplified feel to it with scoring being rally based. It's also quite realistic meaning there's no over-the-top EA Big style moves, super shots or anything that wouldn't normally be in the real-life game and this is quite refreshing. Movement around the court is quite good but you need to be in the right position to commit to a decent shot, pass or set which isn't that tricky once you've played a few. Moves come in the form of serves, passes, sets, blocks and attacks. There are 3 types of serves and attacks and some variations on the others with things such as ball speed and the position of your teammate having a distinct effect on the execution. The power and accuracy of all your shots is also determined by how long you hold down the appropriate button. Holding it down for a short while before receiving the ball means you'll make the perfect pass to your teammate or the best shot possible over the net. This range and variation of actions combined with character attributes allows you to really create your own style of play and enhances teamwork strategy, especially in multiplayer mode.
In order to assist you with aiming shots and receiving the ball transparent coloured arrows appear on the court indicating where the ball is aimed or will land. 4 different colours tell you different things and the arrows will change colour if the state of play changes. For example red means "Excellent quality ball/power hit" while yellow means "Average quality ball/weak hit". When making a shot you can briefly aim the arrow to an area of the court but it quickly locks into position and the range is sometimes limited in the time you have to perform it.