Virtua Tennis 4 has always been a really fun game and it was one I waited for with excitement every year. With the advancement of technology and the adoption of motion controllers, the expectations of sports games are now very demanding. Can Virtua Tennis 4 appease the masses?
Sadly, Virtua Tennis 4 doesn’t really reinvent itself, and it seems to be struggling to come up with new, fresh ideas, to justify another purchase – those new ideas they did add just don’t seem to work that well, but more on this later. The main tennis game is still intact with a full list of professionals ensuring that kids will pester their parents for the update. Players such as Federer, Nadal, Murray and Sharapova are all well ‘virtualised’ into the game engine and legends such as Boris Becker make a welcome appearance.
The player listing raises some questions however. For instance the Playstation 3 gets an exclusive player in the shape of Stefan Edberg, however we were shocked to see that Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were omitted from the rosters completely. Only one half of the William sisters is included in the game – Venus. What happened to Serena?
Classic tennis gamers will feel instantly at home, because the game strictly follows the tried and tested method for the main arcade mode. Players will try out in a ‘best of three’ series of games against tour opponents, with the goal to reach the Number 1 position. Stereoscopic 3D is a new feature which they added but I didn’t get a chance to try it out.
World Tour Mode is a mixture of practice matches, tournaments, mini games and the like, with the goal of keeping players interested. I might be in the minority, but I don’t find a mix up of games and styles to make for the best overall package. I can understand the need to try and keep players on their toes, but the mode just didn’t sit well with me.
Moving around is a horrific experience, as the player needs to purchase move tickets and in order to enter tournaments you have to have ‘star currency’. Missing a tournament because you only have a ‘two way’ move ticket and not a ‘one way’ move ticket is such a ludicrous system that I can’t even find suitable words to berate it. You can pass an event, but you can’t turn around and go back. Often I missed big tournaments because my player clearly was on a one way course with no means of retreading ground. It is beyond dumb.
Individual players have a super shot ability aimed to give them some individuality. They have a meter which fills up as they play regular strokes. When the super shot is pressed, the camera will zoom in and go into bullet time mode. It only happens every once in a while.
The graphics have received a huge upgrade from the previous title and the environments in particular look much better than the last outing. The players have enough of their personality to be instantly recognisable and it certainly is very appealing to view as a spectator.
All the shot styles are included. Top spin, back spin, lobs, ground strokes are out in full force and generally, they work well. I only had a few niggling issues with net play, which could sometimes seem to be struck dumb with lag when least expected. Overall however, it is well coded.
I played the game with the move controller as well as the pad, and it was an interesting experience. Using the Move lollipop you can play against another human player, if they also have the controller. Obviously a lot of space is required, two people flapping around with controllers can actually lead to some nasty accidents in the wrong setting.
The control system isn’t bad, generally cross court and forehand swings work well, however it appears more tied into the timing rather than an algorithm which monitors the smooth motion of control. Sometimes the Move system falls flat on its ass and other times it is surprisingly good. Moving forward works well for approaching the net for instance, but sometimes it wouldn’t pick up on it for me. Sure, its hard to capture all the movements and controls for such a complex sport, but it was far from a perfect gaming experience.
Serving is another rather temperamental aspect of the game because the motion in which you serve has no bearing in the game itself. This means if you swing really hard, it won’t often translate into how hard the virtual character will react. I found that all the characters play the same with the motion controller system too, removing the traces of personality encoded. Sometimes the regular controller just works better and we ended up using them instead for the best games. Moving too close to the Motion camera can cause issues, but after a while you do learn to adapt a little.
In today’s market it is actually words like ’3D’, ‘motion capture’ that sell titles, and on paper it sounds great, especially with a sports game. Unfortunately they are doing nothing to help with the playability of the title, adding what I would view as a disposable gimmick to the gameplay. The motion is a great looking interactive element for Virtua Tennis 4, but the best games I played were all with the regular controller, it was just easier to get the nuances working properly.
Virtua Tennis 4 is a decent game with some interesting ideas, but the motion system and the other new touches, really don’t add anything to the game, and they certainly won’t appeal to tennis gaming experts. The traditional controller allows for much finer tuning of gameplay and we hope that the development next time might be on enhancing other aspects of the game.