Our grand unified theory of sports games goes like this (Look, we were never any good at physics, so this is our one shot at scientific immortality): first, the controls need to be simple enough to pick up in a few minutes, but have enough scope so that the player can improvise and discover tactics. Second, the gamer needs to see enough of the pitch/court/field to be able to think tactically. Third, successful tactics should mirror those of the real sport.
That’s it. And within half an hour’s play, it’s clear that Virtua Tennis 2009 ticks all these boxes. The controls are a delight, emphasising footwork and timing in a wholly intuitive way, urging you to try and play like a pro. The TV view is a tried and tested classic. And it feels wonderful as you move an opponent around the court with carefully placed shots before unleashing a whipped forehand across the net.
Alas, within around 31 minutes, we began to test out difficulty levels that seriously challenged the sagacious simplicity of the grand unified sports game theory. Of the five AI levels, the first four are too predictable, while the fifth lurches towards superhuman invincibility. It gives the single-player experience all the short-lived disappointment of any British player not called Murray at Wimbledon. A rather grinding, somewhat abstract World Tour feature doesn’t help, as it uses the same AI, and neither do the embarrassing novelty ‘games,’ which include pool and Tetris played on a tennis court.
For the record, there’s some beautifully executed animation and decent likenesses of top players, but they don’t make or break it. So, rather like our grand unified theory, Virtua Tennis 2009 is convincing at first glance but the more you pick at it the more it lets you down, with one-dimensional serves, at-times-ridiculous net play and an almost total lack of unforced errors. It’s best for occasional two-player knockabouts – but anyone wanting serious solo action or a lasting challenge will be disappointed.
Jul 16, 2009