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Virtua Tennis 3 (Xbox 360) artwork

Virtua Tennis 3 (Xbox 360) review

"Since the turn of the millennium the Virtua Tennis series has dominated the tennis scene. The past few years may have been a little quiet but Virtua Tennis is back with a bang on the Xbox 360. The game hasn’t changed a great deal since Virtua Tennis 2, but Sega has improved and refined the visual presentation by taking advantage of the Xbox 360’s capabilities. "

Since the turn of the millennium the Virtua Tennis series has dominated the tennis scene. The past few years may have been a little quiet but Virtua Tennis is back with a bang on the Xbox 360. The game hasn’t changed a great deal since Virtua Tennis 2, but Sega has improved and refined the visual presentation by taking advantage of the Xbox 360’s capabilities.

Virtua Tennis 3 is the first Xbox 360 game to support 1080p. 1080p TV owners will be treated to absolutely stunning visuals, but it certainly isn’t a requirement to appreciate VT3’s fantastic looks. On the whole, character models resemble their real-life counter-parts right down to the finest details, although there are some exceptions. While Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal look pixel-perfect, it is puzzling that Maria Sharapova’s face isn’t as stunning and beautiful as the real thing. Regardless of likeness, all the character models look very sharp. Court surfaces include grass, clay, hard, and carpet. You won’t be playing in venues like Wimbledon Centre Court and the Arthur Ashe Stadium due to licensing issues, but the replicas at least resemble them and give you the feeling that you’re there.

The most impressive thing about VT3’s visuals are the fantastic animations. Each of the twenty professional players (including Federer, Nadal, Sharapova and Serena Williams) has the exact same swing and serve as they do in real life. Federer’s elegant backhand and Roddick’s monstrous serve are spot on, and this goes for the rest of the players as well. Player models flow well as they run around the court, and the court itself acts and reacts to the play. You’ll see players slipping and sliding on clay when they try and turn too quickly, and the ball will leave a visible mark when it hits the surface. Sega has really made an effort with VT3’s presentation and it’s paid off in a big way. The sound is another story. A range of fast paced pop-rock tunes play in the background that may sound enjoyable at first, but begin to grate very quickly. Player grunts sound mostly the same, which is a shame when you consider how different the animations are. Perhaps the best thing about VT3’s sound is the announcer. Score announcements are made in the language relevant to the venue, a staple of the series which adds a touch of authenticity.

VT3’s user-friendly control scheme makes it accessible for new players, but the subtle complexity of the gameplay system leaves a lot for dedicated players to master. There are three basic shots; topspin, slice, and lob, mapped to the face buttons. Using these shots in different positions further expands your shot selection to drop shots, running shots, volleys, and smashes. Positioning is key, and you’ll have to anticipate where the ball is going to land before making a shot. Pressing too early will result in a despairing dive for the ball, while pressing too late will return a weak shot. There is a delicate balance and thanks to the well designed gameplay system, you’ll want to keep playing until you find it.

One of the main attractions of all sports games is the career mode. In VT3’s world tour you’ll start off by creating a male or female character to join the Sega Professional Tennis tour. The create-a-player function suffices, but it pales in comparison to that of Top Spin 2, Xbox 360’s other tennis game. It really could have done with more hairstyles, swings, and service motions. After you finish creating your player, you’ll find yourself at the world map menu. Your goal is to become number one in twenty seasons, and you’ll need to win tournaments to boost your rank. Each year is split into twelve months and these are sub-divided into four weeks; you can partake in one activity a week. At first you’ll be limited to the minor tournaments, which are a million miles away from the grand slam events in terms of difficulty. In order to stand a chance, you’ll have to train your player through a variety of enjoyable mini-games. “Pin Crusher” sees you honing your serve by knocking down bowling pins, “Avalanche” has you dodging giant tennis balls to improve your footwork and “Prize Defender” helps your volleying skills by having you protect various prizes. These are just a sample of the varied training mini-games, and they are a fun way to break up the monotony of constantly playing tournaments.

Playing well and winning tournaments rewards you with new gear. You can kit your player out in a variety of different shirts, shorts, trainers and wrist bands. As well as this, you can win all sorts of different rackets that include frying pans and wood rackets. Your racket will impact the potency of your swing, so choose wisely.

Unfortunately, some elements introduced into the world tour only serve to detract from the experience. In an attempt to try and make the world tour more realistic, a stamina bar has been introduced. Each tournament and training session drains your stamina bar, and overworking your player will lead to an injury and time off the tour. Rather than make you feel like a real tennis player, it only serves to frustrate and take time away from the great part of the world tour: tournaments and training. The fact that you’ll only ever play against the same set of pros throughout the entire tour also takes away from the feeling of being a pro tennis player. You’ll be playing Federer and company at rank three-hundred; the only difference is the scale in AI difficulty. Pre- and post-match conversations with your opponent try and add some personality to the players, but they are forced and take more time away from playing the game. It doesn’t seem right when the world’s best players tell you “I couldn’t focus” after you beat them in a final. After all is said and done, there is no cash reward for winning tournaments, just a piece of gear. Only winning wrist bands at what is supposed to be Wimbledon is ridiculous. World tour has its flaws but ultimately is a worthwhile experience. You’ll enjoy playing tournaments and training, especially because you can use your custom player in the exhibition and Xbox Live modes.

If you don’t feel like trekking through a twenty-season career, there is plenty more to see and do in VT3. You can jump into an exhibition match against the computer or with three friends locally (there is even a quick match option which sets up a game at the press of a single button). For the first time in the game’s history, you can play a six-game five-set match which is a welcome feature. The court games mode allows you to compete with friends in some of the training mini-games from world tour, but Xbox Live is easily VT3’s strongest game mode.

You can play singles in both ranked and player matches. Ranked and player doubles matches are also supported, allowing you to take on the world with a friend. A spectator mode has been included (much like Gotham TV from PGR3) so you can watch your friends play or try and get some tips from the better players. A highlights reel features the best matches of the day for all to see. In terms of performance, VT3 runs steadily online. There is little lag, and when there is, a let call occurs and the point will be replayed. This is a novel way to avoid slow-down. Standard leaderboards are supported, allowing you to track your rank in relation to the world or just your friends. A range of quirky and challenging achievements build up VT3’s one thousand gamer points, which include getting a strike turkey in “Pin Crusher” to winning fifty ranked matches on Xbox Live. They are spread out well between world tour, Xbox Live and general play. Some achievements such as “500 Groundstroke Points” are easier to track thanks to a statistics page that contains a very detailed run down of your VT3 career.

Despite the disappointing world tour mode Virtua Tennis 3 has all the attributes of a fun tennis game. The well-balanced gameplay, fantastic visuals and stellar Xbox Live support come together to form a great game. For all tennis fans, this is a must-own game. To anyone looking for a fun and addictive sports game, you couldn’t do a lot better than Virtua Tennis 3.

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Community review by PAJ89 (October 27, 2007)

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