Virtua Tennis 3
Having one of your games at the top of its respective genre ranks as one of the greatest accomplishments a developer can hope to achieve. First person shooters have Half Life 2, the Final Fantasy Series has had a tight grip on the RPG genre for many years now and Street Fighter has and always will be the first game that comes to mind when someone says Ďbeat-em-upí. Sega also have a game of their own that falls into this elusive group in the form of Virtua Tennis. It may not be the most congested genre out there but thereís no doubting that Sega have done an excellent job of keeping its No.1 spot in the rankings. But a lot has changed since Virtua Tennis 2 was ported over to the Playstation 2 six years ago and a host of new would-be champions have stepped onto the court to challenge for the title, so the old dog has returned for another match and this one looks like itís going to go the full five sets. Has this classic series still got the legs to carry it through or will it have to settle for a runner-up spot this time round?
The Virtua Tennis series has always been known for its simplicity and itís the gameís easy to learn, difficult to master gameplay that has made it so popular among casuals and hardcore gamers alike, so Sega havenít done anything major to this winning formula merely adding a bit of Ďnext gení spit and shine to create a more refined tennis experience. While Top Spin 2 had a ridiculous amount of button combinations for all kinds of shot selections Virtua Tennis 3 has three buttons for three different types of shots; flat, slice and lob shot. And while only three shot choices will please those who donít like to be overwhelmed with over complicated controls, putting more hours into the game will reveal an incredible amount of depth that veterans of the series will very much appreciate.
One of the main lures in Virtua Tennis 3 is undoubtedly its World Tour mode, which for those familiar with past instalments is where most of your hours playing the game would have gone to and not much will change this time around either. The objective remains the same, create a character and take him from lowly challenger events straight to finals of the Grand Slam tournaments. Creating your character isnít as comprehensive as 2Ksportsí Top Spin 2, which is a shame as there really isnít any excuse other than pure laziness. And the omission of possible Xbox Live Vision Camera support means this was a missed opportunity on Segaís part.
The saving grace of the World Tour mode is its mini-games that help shape your character into whatever style of player your heart desires. Thankfully, the mini-games have been completely revamped and itís a refreshing break from the long slog of the tennis tour. However, another not so welcome addition is the introduction of injuries. While this may make the World Tour more realistic it is an unnecessary inclusion as its only function is to stop you playing for a few weeks and if itís really serious (like having your house burgled into, yes Iím serious) then your stats could drop by quite a lot making the past few hours spent collecting large fruit while avoiding even larger tennis balls, a waste of time.
So since there isnít much Sega could have done to improve the way Virtua Tennis 3 plays it makes you wonder what theyíve been doing these past six years and all it takes is a quick glimpse to find the answer. To put it simply: Virtua Tennis 3 is absolutely stunning to look at. Sega have really utilised the power at their disposal to give the game a more realistic look while maintaining its arcade roots. Player models are for the most part very impressive; stars such as Swiss maestro Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are instantly recognisable while Russian beauty Maria Sharapova on the other hand looks a little plastic. Clothes ripple with every swing and all the courts are well designed, each with their own little quirks giving the matches more life.
Along with World Tour, the possibility of competing against players from all across the globe is the other major pull in Virtua Tennis 3. Unfortunately, my time online is something of a mixed bag. On one side, when youíre matched with a player of equal skill who plays the game in the right spirit and everything is running smoothly then there is no better online experience. Winning is pure ecstasy while losing is utterly crushing. But moments like this are few and far between due to the game-crippling lag and players who care more about winning than playing in the spirit of the game (which admittedly isnít Segaís fault), and this is a shame because it was a potentially brilliant addition that would have propelled Virtua Tennis 3 to another level.
Thereís nothing spectacular about what Virtua Tennis 3 has to offer, itís very much a case of dťjŗ vu throughout but the game is so accessible and so much fun to play that it doesnít matter. You feel the tennis genre has been taken as far as itís legs will carry it and the developers have done the best possible job with what theyíve got. Sega have created a game based on a sport labelled by many as nauseatingly boring, into an extremely enjoyable experience. Youíll have a hard time finding a better sports game this year and Sega have served up another ace. Game, set and match indeed.
Eight out of ten