As WellPlayed’s resident sportsperson and sports writer I am often presented opportunities to cover games/sports that I have never had a chance to play myself. The latest being volleyball – a sport I have no future in due to my short stature. However, thanks to Bigben Interactive and Spike Volleyball I am able to see if I have what it takes to make it in the competitive digital world of volleyball. In the end it doesn’t really matter though, because Spike Volleyball is a mess of broken mechanics, bugs and bad game design – not to mention it’ll set you back $100 AUD. It really makes you wonder why some games get made.
Time to play some ball
You’d expect a game you’re shelling out a Jolly Green Giant (Aussie slang for $100 note) for to be packed with features. Wrong. Spike Volleyball is about as packed as the servers for The Culling 2 on launch day. The Olympic style nature of the game means it features 50 national teams (both men and women’s) but aside from that it’s about as barebones as a sports game gets.
Upon turning on the game you’ll be greeted with a menu ripped straight from any of EA’s sporting titles where you’ll be able to scroll through a couple menu pages to see the various modes and options. The crux of the game is played across three modes: Quick Game, Tournament or Career.
All three of these modes are simply longer versions of each other. Quick Game is a one-off match, while Tournament is a handful matches between a number of teams, and Career is a bunch of tournaments across a number of years. There are weekly challenges that can be completed for in-game credits (called V-Credits) and an online mode that will give you the opportunity to take your talents global (I couldn’t find a game the one time I tried).
In Career Mode you’ll be bestowed with the honour of coaching your national team of choice, with the goal to obtain the world number one ranking during your tenure, which is easier said than done given you’ll be coming against the world’s best volleyballers.
Prior to taking over coaching duties you’ll be given the chance to tailor your nation’s look with a logo creator and kit designer, making sure your fashion is on point while out on the court. If you’re used to the crème da la crème of career modes (NBA2K, FIFA, NHL etc.) then you’ll be sorely disappointed with what’s on offer here. As head honcho of your national outfit you can send scouts out to find better talent to beef up your roster as well as hiring more experienced backroom staff. There are no squad man management options – all you can do is play with your team’s line-up, which aren’t even official national team rosters.
Matches themselves are a laborious affair, often dragging on due to excessive replays. Your players set up in your chosen formation all ready to hit the ball, and once the ball is in play players will show an indicator (X, circle, triangle etc.) allowing you to choose who hits the ball. Time your button presses incorrectly and the player will miss the ball in an almost comical way. The controls are clunky and it often feels like a chook raffle whether your player will react in time to make contact with the ball due to some shonky AI.
The ref has seen something he likes
Replays will be shown after almost every point and here is where the game’s physics are put to the sword. Rarely does the ball make solid contact with a player’s hand, instead the majority of replays will show the ball not even connecting with the player at all. There’s also no commentary, except for at the beginning of a match or when a team calls a time out, making it a weird design choice.
Naturally the game is riddled with bugs, with the ball disappearing and players disappearing from time to time. Players will hit the ball despite the ball being metres away, they will collide with one another (comically) when going for simple returns and sometimes the game will just simply freeze – its own way of telling you that you should be playing something else.
Visually it’s passable, with players looking generic and the stadiums having no real individual characteristics aside from different coloured floors. It’s kind of like listening to a Taylor Swift song; once you’ve heard one you’ve heard them all.
The air up there
It’s hard to fathom what Bigben were thinking when they signed off on such a project. Sure, Olympic volleyball hasn’t had video game representation for a long time (if at all), but the level of polish and content included doesn’t do the sport justice. I feel sorry for Black Sheep Studio (the developer), because they obviously did what they could with what is likely a shoestring budget, but why anyone would pay $100 AUD for this is beyond me. Usually I’ll find a way to weave a positive aspect into the review, giving it some sort of condescending pat on the back, but there’s almost nothing here worth praising aside from giving hardcore volleyballers a chance to play their favourite sport on modern consoles. Actually a couple of the menu tracks are alright, so there is that too.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher