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Summer Heat Beach Volleyball
Score: 65%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Acclaim Studios Cheltenham
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Sports

Graphics & Sound:
Well Tecmo has really opened the flood gates now, haven't they? When Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball was first announced, many people in the game world, including myself, snickered. At first look, the game looked like little more than a beautifully rendered excuse to get the most out of DOA's unique 'bounce' engine. Of course, as things turned out, each and every one of us was forced to eat a heapin' helpin' of crow when the game was released and turned out to be a fun game. To this day I'm still amazed at how well accepted the game was, especially by females (even non-game playing ones), which weren't thought to be in the game's intended audience. As is usually the case, one thing hit big and everyone has to jump on the bandwagon -- which brings us to games like Summer Heat Beach Volleyball (as well as the recently released Outlaw Beach Volleyball). Though Summer Heat does present a deeper experience gameplay-wise, it still doesn't quite match up to DOA's effort.

Visually, Summer Heat is just okay. On the plus side, player models look really nice and feature a real emphasis on sexy walks, moves and the all important 'bounce'. I especially liked the variety in character designs, even if they are a tad generic. But, as is the case with most of the game, with every plus comes a minus. Though a majority of the game's animations are nice, there was more than one occasion where animations felt a tad stilted and almost robotic -- especially when transitioning from one animation to another. Player models also feature an unnatural, almost plastic-like sheen. Each of the game's courts is really nice looking at first glance, especially the night court. But upon closer inspection, the lack of any sort of detail is rather obvious. Fortunately, most of this oversight is made up by the game's excellent special effects, such as sand being kicked up and some sweet lighting effects.

Musically, Summer Heat features a nice blend of pop and hip-hop that help convey the 'fun' atmosphere of the game. Artists such as Pink, Kylie Minogue and Sum 41 make up a really good soundtrack that provides at least one song for nearly every taste (unless your tastes leans toward speed-metal or Yanni -- then I can't help you). I did notice that the game does tend to get stuck on playing one track more than another at times (unless, my PS2 is slowly showing signs of sentience and becoming a Kylie Minogue fan), which can get annoying if its a song you don't like. Aside from the great music, Summer Heat is a flop. The announcer is terrible, but kept to a minimum and the only other sounds you're likely to hear are random grunts and 'got it' from teammates.

Summer Heat Beach Volleyball sports a number of game modes: Arcade, Summer Heat Tour and Exhibition. Arcade takes you through a series of matches and follows no set path, while Exhibition lets you customize your own game. Summer Heat Tour is the main focus of the game and is where you will unlock most of the game's hidden goodies. The game starts by having you choose one of 14 different players (both male and female) and customizing their look from a closet-worth of swimsuits and other accessories. As you progress through the game, you'll have the chance to expand your wardrobe as well as find 7 additional players.

While it may not look or sound as nice, Summer Heat plays and actually improves upon the rather simplistic gameplay in DOA: X. Summer Heat excels at giving players a variety of different moves for each playing situation, be it passing, defending or offense. This opens up a realm of possibilities that DOA: X simply didn't have. These possibilities are taken even further by the inclusion of player stats that matter during gameplay. Matching players to play styles and strategies makes up a big part of the game's enjoyment factor. So why the low score for such a 'deep' game? Well, to be honest you could be the most strategically minded player in the world and it just wouldn't matter in the game. Even when trying to match up teams that complement each other stat-wise, the power players are the ones who will win games 90 percent of the time. The other 10 percent, the game will suddenly decide to lock up or outright crash, depending on the game's enjoyment. Just as in DOA, the really fun of the game comes during multiplayer sessions.

Summer Heat tries to expand its replay value by including a Beach House option, which could easily be called MTV Cribs: The Game (and the light bulb goes off in some developer's head). During this mode, you'll be treated to a virtual walkthrough of a house containing all of your trophies and merits you've earned during the game. It's here that you'll also have access to the over 200 unlockable features in the game. You'll also be able to check out music videos, listen to all the songs on the soundtrack that the game doesn't get stuck on, and check out trailers for other Acclaim games.

Another noticeable flaw in the game is the lack of AI. It's clear that this is where the least amount of work went on the game since it's really, really dumb. Computer controlled partners are about as much help as a skateboard in the middle of the ocean, and rarely help out with anything. I also noticed that the AI has a real tendency to play a really aggressive game unless it's on your side of the net. This gave the game a rather cheap aspect that wasn't appreciated. Basically, I don't like having everything stacked against me and I really don't like it when my AI controlled partner tries to throw the game. This is, however, balanced out by the fact that the AI completely ignores the corners, so hard spikes around the perimeter of the court will rack up easy victories.

Game Mechanics:
Summer Heat Beach Volleyball has three primary ways to play the ball; power, feint, and precision, each of which is mapped to a face button. Pressing power will nail the ball, sending it flying back at your opponent while precision may not have a lot of power, but gets the ball where it needs to go. These attack types work for both sides of the ball, whether you're playing offense or defense. The longer you hold the button, the more power you can put into each hit. You can also aim the ball while deciding which attack to use. Learning to balance out these attack modes, such as feinting to one side then slamming it another is a major part of the game. Or, at least it would be, if the AI wasn't so damn stupid. Most times, just spiking the ball as hard as you can at a corner is enough to fake out the AI.

As a budget title, Summer Heat isn't that bad since it can, on occasion, offer some entertainment. But, when it comes right down to it, the game is every frat boy's dream: cheap, nice to look at and play with, but without an ounce of sense otherwise.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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