Things We Like
Let It Be: At its core, Virtua Tennis is a great, fast-paced tennis game built around addictive and graphically appealing arcade-style play. The game's physics work well, allowing users to enjoy the strategy behind serving, maneuvering and shot selection. The CPU opponents largely play intelligent tennis, but you'll catch the computer going the wrong way on a serve return a bit too often. The wide selection of 3D-rendered courts and playing surfaces, meanwhile, work well with the lively crowds to create a solid sense of atmosphere.
Call It a Career: The game's primary focus is the World Tour mode. In it, you begin your career by creating a character with a requisite amount of feature control. The game offers a handful of base profiles to get you started, but as you progress through the career mode you'll end up facing legions of other "fake" players generated from the same core you picked, only with slight variations. It's kind of creepy. Before qualifying for the profession circuit, you must play your way through the rookie ranks. The game measures your career in 48-week seasons, and each week you can decide to play in available tournaments, train and improve your player at the Tennis Academy, play mini-games (which also improve your skills) or rest up. As you progress your player will improve, granting you access to new tournaments and giving you the chance to shell out your hard-earned dough on new outfits and rackets (which improve performance).
VT's Got Talent: Virtua Tennis provides a pretty solid cast of real-life players. The playable men include: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, David Ferrer, David Nalbandian, Tommy Haas, Juan Carlos Ferrero, James Blake, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Tim Henman, while the playable women include: Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo, Nicole Vaidisova, Daniela Hantuchova, Anna Chakvetadze and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The game accurately portrays the player models, mannerisms and skills. But unless you're willing to pit your created player against Rafa or Roger, it's best to use the real players for online play.
Games On: Virtua Tennis features a dozen mini-games (five of which are additions from Virtua Tennis 3) that you can play any time, including online or in career mode. Avoiding an avalanche of massive tennis balls while attempting to scoop up cascading fruit (for example) may seem silly, but it's additive. When played in career mode, the games help boost your created character's skill set. But the real treat is playing these games online or locally with friends, as some (like Alien Attack) allow players to work cooperatively while others (like the aforementioned Avalanche) pit them against one another.
Check out Virtua Tennis in action:
Things We'd Change
Global Warming: The career mode marches you through multiple seasons as you rise up the amateur ranks and toward the pro circuit. The interface includes a home base where you can view the tournament calendar, change your gear and rest. But grab an atlas and study up, because that home is a single spot on a globe which you must navigate to access available events, training and games. Each activity (once you find it) advances you a week into your season, but be careful because select training sessions burn two weeks. While the system is technically logical, it's logistically annoying. A system which displayed all available options and allowed you to act on them directly would be a lot faster than continually spinning around the globe and flipping back to the home base.
Replay It Again Sam: The career mode may be addictive, but it's also not very flexible. As you fight your way from rookie to pro you're going to play dozens of tournaments over several seasons. But the game fails to distinguish between annihilating the opposition and squeaking out a close win. Thus, you can only move up four spots at a time, regardless of your skill level. That slow progression leads to a few drawbacks: The CPU opponents probably won't challenge you until you've logged many hours with the game, and it takes far too long to get to face real players.
Creature Comforts: On the whole Virtua Tennis features solid graphics. However, some of the available skin tones are horribly, horribly wrong. If you want your player to look like he's carved out of granite or lumped together from mud, rejoice. If you don't, rest assured you can select more normal skin tones when creating your player. Still, you'll face plenty of these stone and mud monsters as you play. It's a minor issue, but it's thrown in your face (pardon the pun) every time the game loads a blown-up head shot before a match.
Virtua Tennis 2009 isn't a big enough improvement over Virtua Tennis 3 (2007). The graphics and gameplay are better, but the career mode would benefit from a new interface and needs to take better advantage of the game's real-life players. If you're a hardcore tennis fan, however, this game will satisfy.
-- Reviewed by Rory Moore