This could well be my first time with a PC game that doesn’t involve building, fighting or casting magic spells.
Being that I am partial to the odd game of Tennis (in the virtual sense of course. The closest I would get to a Tennis court in the real world is when I drive past on the way to a store selling something really unhealthy) I thought that it would be interesting to check out the fourth installment of Sega’s Tennis masterpiece on the PC. This was quite an unusual experience as I have always kept my Tennis antics strictly on the consoles, keeping my PC free for games of the real-time strategy genre. It has to be said, mind you, that it wasn’t a bad experience.
That is to say that the experience improved ten-fold once I had plugged in my Xbox360 controller. Playing a Tennis game with the keyboard was somewhat unsettling, even though the controls are relatively straight forward and comprise essentially of nothing more than basic movement and a couple of buttons assigned to the different shots. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it felt unnatural and, as is stated in the Virtua Tennis 4 manual, the game is designed to be used with a controller, specifically the Xbox360 controller. Once I had plugged that in, everything fell into place and the game could be played as it should. Anyone who has played any of the Virtua Tennis games before will easily be able to pick this up on the PC and play some damn good Tennis.
Packing in the usual roster of famous Tennis names, Virtua Tennis 4 has done it’s best to recreate them on the screen. I have always found that the teeth in these virtual recreations are rather scary, and it is no different on the PC. It is difficult to say how incredible the game looks on the PC as all PCs are set up differently and this will have an effect on how the game is displayed. That being said, on my modest machine the game looked brilliant and played smoothly. I would say how impressive it is, but all of the Virtua Tennis games have looked good so I am not surprised that this one is the same. However, I am surprised at how little seems to have changed, but more on that later.
The usual collection of game modes are present, although this is apparently the first game in the series to offer a dedicated practice mode that lets you hone your skills. There is the World Tour Mode, Arcade Mode, Exhibition Mode, Party Mode and an online offering.
The Arcade and Exhibition Modes, as you would expect, allow the player to quickly jump into the action. Arcade offers a series of matches for one or two players and Exhibition offers a single match for up to four players with a choice of settings. This is pure Tennis without all of the bells and whistles, and works perfectly well.
Party Mode is where the player can find all of the mini-games that serve so well to relieve the boredom after a heavy Tennis session. With a selection including Bomb Match, where the player has to rally the ball with an opponent and try to make sure that when the timer reaches zero the ball is on their side of the court, and Wind Match, in which the player keeps a rally going whilst wind machines blast the court, there is a fair amount of fun to be had here. But the PC is not really a platform that has embraced “party” gaming yet, so I feel that the party mode will remain largely untouched.
Online mode uses Games For Windows Live system to offer ranked or player matches with opponents from around the world. What is rather nice, and has been seen in a couple of other games recently, is that the player can play against an AI whilst waiting for a match.
The World Tour Mode is the career in which the player can create their own Tennis pro and compete through four seasons of tournaments, training and other activities. This is played like a board game with the player being given tickets that allow them to move across the map and participate in activities. As they progress and train in the mini games, take part in exhibition matches that may require playing a match in fancy dress, or just win tournaments, the players rating will increase and give them access to further activities along the way.
Whilst this is all entertaining and finished to a very high standard, Virtua Tennis 4 is still just an arcade Tennis game. I think it is possible to say that it is the best arcade Tennis game available, but it lacks the depth of a more serious simulation, with very simple, and quite easy, gameplay. The gameplay has not really evolved at all since the first Virtua Tennis game, making it both easily accessible to new gamers and, at the same time, unsatisfying for veterans of Sega’s Tennis game.
Frankly, Virtua Tennis 4 is the very best at what it does. But it always has been, and in that there is no sense of progression for the game. I would say that the PC version can perform easily as well as the Xbox360 or PS3 versions, yet it feels more natural sitting on the sofa and playing on the big screen. But it is head and shoulders above the Wii version, which I found disappointing. So, if you are a PC gamers looking for an arcade Tennis fix, then you have come to the right place. Virtua Tennis 4 is the game for you.