Quite a long time ago, a little-known Japanese developer called Tecmo made a beat 'em up game called Dead or Alive for the Saturn and PlayStation. It had nice graphics, a fast and fluid fighting system not dissimilar to the mechanics of Virtua Fighter, and although it was sold as a serious fighting game (and it was indeed a very good one), it did have one fun little feature - the ability to set the level of "bouncyness" on the breasts of the female characters.
Fast forward a few years, and we find Tecmo gradually refining the Dead or Alive series - with more and more bouncyness, and arguably, less and less gameplay. Sex sells, and Tecmo knows it; and with Dead or Alive 3 on the Xbox, not only did it feature more voluptuous female characters than ever, but it also redefined the cutting edge of real-time 3D graphics. Best of all, the game attached to this magnificent slice of digital artwork wasn't too shabby either.
We'd prefer it Dead, to be honest
In light of this, we can be forgiven for thinking that maybe, just possibly, Tecmo's next foray into Dead or Alive territory might be something more than the exploitative cash-in it appeared to be. Perhaps the competent fighting game of Dead or Alive might be replaced with an equally competent simulation of the fascinating sport of beach volleyball? Don't laugh too hard - there are precedents, in the form of Sega's quite entertaining Beach Spikers, and Namco's downright wonderful Klonoa Beach Volleyball.
Well, now we've played Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball for a few hours, and the news from the front is not good. In fact, it's downright terrible. From what we have now seen of the game, every single person who dismissed this as shoddy oversexed rubbish when the trailer videos appeared was completely right, although they probably weren't quite vehement enough about just what a load of utter rubbish this "game" actually is.
Xtremely pretty beach volleyball
Good points first. Don't worry, this section will be brief.
The graphics in the game are absolutely outstanding in places. As ever, the characters are rendered amazingly well; it's only a couple of years since we were seeing characters worse than this in pre-rendered video, and watching them move in real-time is very impressive indeed. The environments, however, don't seem to be as ambitious as the ones in Dead or Alive 3 - although there are lots of nice touches like the sand being shuffled about by the characters feet as they play volleyball, or the shadows of the palm trees rippling on the shore, on the whole there's nothing breathtakingly impressive here. Even the FMV isn't as impressive as stuff we've seen Tecmo do before; perhaps because they had to make so much of it for DOAX, the quality of it seems to have suffered accordingly.
More worryingly, we have a suspicion that within twenty minutes of sitting down to play, we'd seen everything on offer. There are a very small number of locations on the island, and you can visit most of them from the outset - with no sign of any locked locations or anything interesting like that. Most of the game revolves around acquiring new swimsuits and accessories to dress your character in, and it looks like this is really the only reason to keep playing - there's nothing apart from that to unlock.
Xtremely rubbish beach volleyball
Which brings us neatly to the whole thorny issue of the gameplay; or should I say, the lack of gameplay. DOAX features the most piss-poor attempt at simulating volleyball I have ever seen, with almost every aspect of the game being completely awful. You have little control over what your character does - hit the A button at the right moment and she hits the ball in a seemingly random way. That's it. That's just about the whole game in a nutshell; you can pass with the B button and run around a bit, but at the end of the day the whole game revolves around pressing the A button when the ball is near you and nothing more.
To make life even less fun, half the time you can't even see your character on screen because of the unbelievably dire camera - and that's when you get to play volleyball at all. Often you'll find yourself in the position of having nobody to partner with or play against, and will have to run off to the shop and buy presents for people until you manage to push the right buttons with someone and they agree to be your playing partner. This is utterly impenetrable and not fun at all; it's like playing a Japanese dating game, but without any plot, any indication of what you're meant to be doing or even any decent reward for doing the right thing. [And Rob knows a thing or two about Japanese dating games! - Ed]
Bite-sized games, bite-sized fun
Volleyball isn't the only thing vying for your attention on Zack Island though. Oh no. There are a selection of utterly tedious subgames, the most interesting of which is "tap the A button to bounce across a row of floats in the swimming pool". I kid you not, this is the best thing we've found in the whole game so far. There's an entire casino on offer, but all the games in it are extraordinarily dull - especially the fruit machines, which don't even offer anything as interesting as a set of hold buttons.
Of course, what's really vying for your attention is the lovely ladies themselves, and really, Tecmo know they're not fooling anyone with the shamefully diabolical gameplay they try to use to justify this as a serious videogame. They've even assigned the R-trigger on the Xbox pad to be a "boob cam" - press it and you automatically zoom in on your character's breasts or crotch. That says it all, really.
Making an early impression
Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball has been embarrassingly terrible for the entirety of the three or four hours we've played it for. First Impressions pieces on Eurogamer are sometimes lenient on problems with a game because, after all, we've not really given it a proper run out yet; but with DOAX, we can do little but be brutally honest, because there simply aren't any redeeming features here other than the graphics. Even the music is terrible - possibly the worst game soundtrack we've ever heard, although thankfully you can replace it with your own music from the Xbox hard drive.
Are we being too harsh to the game? Perhaps. If it suddenly turns into a masterpiece of videogaming and begins to reveal hidden depths as we play further into it, we'll be sure to let you know in our full review of the title nearer to its UK release date. In the meantime, quite frankly, if you want porn - buy porn. If you want a videogame - don't buy Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball.