Two main contenders remain in the tennis video game landscape: Tennis World Tour (here the review of Tennis World Tour 2) e AO Tennis, both reached their second iteration thanks to the push of Nacon and the work of Big Ant Studios. Despite their success on PC and consoles, fans linked to the iconic Top Spin and Virtua Tennis have not yet been able to enjoy a simcade experience – perhaps a little closer to simulation – worthy of the name.
Trying to conclude the domination of the Australian studio by proposing a better alternative is a mission that very few developers seem to intend to undertake, given that the only and last attempt is by Torus Games. Also located in the Southern Hemisphere, based in Bayswater instead of Melbourne, the team threw the gauntlet at Big Ant Studios with Matchpoint – Tennis Championshipsa title arriving on July 7 on consoles and PC, which we had the opportunity to try before the review.
We go down to the Melbourne Park field
The Australian derby will officially start in the summer of 2022 but in the past few days we have been granted a non-definitive build to take to the tennis court and challenge professionals of the caliber of Daniil Medvedev and Nick Kyrgios. The first impression of all is that of finding yourself in front of a project clearly designed to embrace a wider user base and through multiple generations of consoles: the menu is elementary and intuitive, perfect for use with a controller, and offers two game modes. main (Career and Quick Match) along with three training modes (Tutorial, Practice and Training).
In addition to the Local tab, where these options are found, there is only the Online section to challenge friends and random players in quick matches or, for those who love competition, in ranked matches. Matchpoint – Tennis Championships therefore presents itself as an essential and simple title in all respects. The introduction offered by the Tutorial takes us to the indoor court to train. In this context, the game is described as a “realistic and professional tennis simulator with intuitive controls“and, as the coach accompanies us in the understanding of the game mechanics, we gradually receive confirmation of this nature less devoted to the arcade game.
We will have at our disposal four types of shots: from the flat shot, straight and powerful, passing through the topspin – from the more arched trajectory and with a slow path – up to the slice, useful to slow down the pace of the exchange to reposition, and the lob. These shots can be modified in turn with a short ball, for the “joy” of the opponent and there is no shortage of volleys, aggressive and defensive play at the net.
The key parameters of each shot are power and precision: the first can be modified by pressing the button of the shot you want to make for a longer time, while the second requires the use of the left analog to control the point where you want to arrive. the ball. During the serve it will be extremely easy to manage both factors but in the exchanges with the opponent we will be forced to pay more attention to the direction rather than the power. Clearly the combination of a more delicate touch with a short ball can therefore result in a more decisive response from the opposite side of the pitch, so you will never have to let your guard down.Returning to the service, it too can be done in four different ways: the flat serve is the fastest and most powerful, with the least risky kick serve and high rebound, the tactical slice serve to give the ball a lateral rotation and finally the low serve, which can surprise the opponent or offer him a more response. easy.
The last control we are shown is the change of camera during the match itself: the alternatives are a more televised view, perfect for a complete overview of the field, and a more immersive close-up, which gives more dynamism and speed to the experience, at the expense of potentially lower precision. Getting used to such solutions in any case is rather immediate and satisfying.
Let’s dust the racket with some quick matches
Concluded the tutorial and eventually experimented the training mode, we just have to show ourselves to the digital public with our challenger. Among the professionals we find the aforementioned Daniil Medvedev and Nick Kyrgios, together with Amanda Anisimova, Garbiñe Muguruza and legends such as Tommy Haas and Tim Henman, for a total of 24 tennis players (6 still being created) with different characteristics.
Once the athletes have been chosen, we can opt for a concrete, clay or grass surface, and set the duration of the match with 1, 3, 5 sets or Super tie-break. At the moment double matches seem to be missing, we hope it is a temporary absence. Going onto the pitch, we are greeted by an all in all clean scenery, between stands crowded with spectators, ball boys and cameramen on the sidelines. However, a big problem emerges from the first introductory animations: the audience looks anything but realistic. We are not only talking about the aesthetic aspect but also about the approximate movements, which maximize the “cardboard shape” effect of the fans in the stands. If nothing else, all of this is almost exclusively noticeable in the short cutscenes. By putting into practice the teachings of the instructor, we launch ourselves into the challenge we have created. Pad in hand, the gameplay is pleasant and each shot stands out for the impact it has on our movements and on those of the opponent, who will be able to respond with cunning and agility to our moves.
In this regard, Matchpoint offers a peculiar mechanic which makes known the strengths and weaknesses of the challenger as we trade a few shots with him. For example, a tight ball could show us a weak backhand, while a short ball would discover its readiness to respond with power, making our recoveries much more difficult.
Weaknesses and uncertainties
On the one hand, Matchpoint – Tennis Championships boasts some interesting playful solutions but on the other hand it presents critical issues on the artificial intelligence front: Regardless of the set difficulty, it has happened to us several times, even consecutively, that the opponent advances towards the net for a close response, leaving us too much space to carry out lobs, flat shots and topspin. Similarly, when we are in control of the pace of play, the combination of slices and topspin on opposite sides can be enough for the player to respond slowly to the first shot and not adjust promptly to respond to the second, which we can do in almost everyone. the cases.
In other words, the fact that a “universal” game strategy can be found risks making the experience not very satisfying. The variations in the physical form of the tennis player, among other things, seem to manifest themselves exclusively in a more or less rapid run and therefore in less rapid and effective responses in situations of fatigue. In itself it is a solution sufficient but perhaps not optimal: Even a newly created career player, ergo with low stats, manages to reach distant shots after several moves from one side of the field to the other without showing the slightest sign of letting up.
On the animation front, if on the one hand the shots are reproduced with a satisfactory fluidity, on the other hand the movements on the field can be unnatural and sometimes give rise to anomalous sliding on the pitch at the time of the shot. Finally, the reproduction of the faces and bodies of tennis players – along with their generation for our character in the Career – has not been able to impress us, at least for the moment.
Career with potential … but still lacking in content
We conclude the analysis with some considerations on Career, which without a doubt is Matchpoint’s key mode. The creation of the character is initially completely random, with the selection of nationality and gender. Later in the process, however, we will be able to intervene at will, modifying the facial preset, hair, sportswear and some other details.
The game then immediately catapults us into the last bars of a match which, once concluded, will determine our position in the MPT ranking. The goal is only one: to grow, improve and become the Number 1 in the world. To do this we will have to train to improve our stats, or challenge random opponents in showmatch to unlock shoes and rackets with a higher amount of bonus points. The kit at our disposal can then be modified in the Player tab, which will allow us to further customize our alter ego or change his coach. Initially it will be possible to participate exclusively in the Auckland Open, although the game also offers the Australian Grand Slam. In this sense, one feels the lack of licenses for official ATP competitions.
However, each tournament will have its own characteristic organization, distinguishable by the number of participating players and the sets per single game. In our test we concluded the Auckland Open by winning it with agility, even though the opponents were of a much higher level. In a nutshell, the hope of finding a gradually higher level of challenge quickly disappeared, proving the problems on the artificial intelligence front.