As the world starts to recover from the excitement generated by the annual “rain on London fortnight” (also known as Wimbledon) a budget tennis game emerges from the strawberries and cream.
Sadly, before I even play the game I find something to annoy me. During the loading of the game you need to select the display driver to use and the resolution/ colour depth to use. However you can only select 640×480 in 16 or 32 bit colour, after that you select your language. No problems yet, however it seems that these settings are not stored anywhere and you have to select them next time you play.
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know how to play tennis now? You hit the ball over the net to your opponent’s side of the court and try to get it to bounce twice inside the court boundary. Easy, well no actually. The main reason for this what seems to be an odd control system; at first it seems difficult to do anything other than hit the ball to your opponent. However, after reading the manual and realising that you can influence the direction of the ball with the movement control it suddenly seems almost natural.
Armed with this knowledge you still have to master how the game responds to the controls. You have to press the button for the type of shot you wish to play a short time BEFORE you influence the balls’ trajectory. Too many times I’ve been on course to smack the ball to the far corner of my opponents half of the court only to run away from the ball. The controls are very sensitive to timing and if you’re slightly out it can lead to a stupid miss which in turn can lead to verbal outbursts of the John McEnroe or Greg Rudeski variety.
A tennis game should have a predictable ball. Without it you can’t be in the right place at the right time or play the correct shot to score. This is one place where the physics engine of the game works well. Hitting the ball hard will send it screaming to the opposite side of the court, hit it gently and the ball gently flies through the air and lands closer to the net. There are four different shots that can be played: a normal shot, top spin, slice and lob – better known as ‘I bet you can’t return this one.’
The game features a number of game modes: single match, tournament and championship. In the tournament mode you play five matches with each opponents’ skill increasing, the aim being to win the competition outright. In championship mode you take on the role of two players from a single country and play out a knock-out based tournament. Since you have to play two characters this can lead to quite a number of games. Thankfully you can skip matches if you feel the need.
While playing in this mode you get the pleasure of playing doubles games with a computer controlled partner. Now, this is where you really want to get the monitor and throw it out the window. Your partners’ AI is rather poor; they have a nasty habit of hitting a ball out after you’ve just had a rally of 10 shots when they could just drop it over the net and score a point. Amusing to watch but very frustrating to play.
If you don’t like the name of any of the players you can go for broke and edit them. Sadly the player roster doesn’t feature any female players so all those people wanting to emulate the Williams sisters are out of luck.
As you’d probably expect from a budget game the graphics are functional. The important areas of the courts have been well rendered with nice grass and clay effects; the players move in a reasonably fluid way. When you’re playing indoors the multiple shadows from the lights can be seen, especially on the ball. The players faces are reasonably photo-realistic but nothing that hasn’t been done before. Shadows are rather peculiar; effort has been made to make shadows the correct shape and size but they look like someone has applied the ‘cop show’ filter and they end up looking blocky. The less important areas of the screen have had their detail sacrificed. For example, the crowd is obviously a number of sprites drawn onto a flat surface, areas of the court are simply textures or even a simple colour fill. While this does look a bit bad with the rendering capabilities of hardware today it doesn’t distract too much from the overall visual quality.
Most sports games feature a commentator and just like real life one of the first things you want to do is shoot them. Like the majority of sports games the commentator has a limited number of phrases such as “Doing well!” and “Good grief, the power of that shot” (I always did wonder what happened to Charlie Brown.) They don’t seem to be triggered in an intelligent way but in more of a random fashion every few points or so. For example you can get “Either man could win this” when you’re on match point after thrashing the computer opponent is straight sets. Thankfully you can turn the commentator off in the sound menu.
Sound-wise the game is limited to the (muted) commentator, grunts of the players as they hit the ball, the noise the ball makes when it bounces and the crowd – which seem to be standard sound library noises. The menus feature some music for a bit of light entertainment while you try to find the exit option. (Which is hiding on the about menu by the way.)
Although the game has many quirks and oddities there is some fun to be had. If you the kind of person who has friends round every so often to chill this game is worth the £20; it’s a different distraction to all those football games. However, if you were one of those people who had to queue for hours to get tickets for centre court, or were out partying on Henman hill then this game is probably not for you – a better choice would be something like the latest Virtua Tennis.
Let me leave you with a word of advice: make sure your computer meets the specification for this game. While the minimum spec is a Pentium III the recommended specification (quoting from the box) is a “Pentium III or AMD Athlon 19hz”. Does anyone know where I can find a computer that slow?