Virtua Tennis 3 Preview
Everyone first got a good look at Virtua Tennis 3 during the Tokyo Game Show back in September, but the game was available for actual play at Sony's Gamer's Day in San Francisco. The game missed the launch for the PS3, and is currently scheduled for a March release, but we have some updated news to keep you tennis fans fat and happy until then.
One of the first things one might notice when examining that playable demo is the absurd level of clarity and detail in the character's faces. Sega has clearly gone out of their way to focus very intently on that aspect of the presentation, obviously to lend the title a more realistic sheen...but can the rest of the game reach that same visual plateau? Well, if first glances are worth anything, tennis will have never looked better on a video screen. Virtua Tennis 3 supports full 1080p HD resolution, which means the crisp, clean, and refined palette will come through with brilliant vibrancy. In other words, it should easily outpace the likes of Top Spin 2.
The demo at Gamer's Day featured a simple best-of-three-match exhibition mode and the ever-important versus mode for two players. According to reports, there will be 21 recognizable tennis professionals, but those who went hands-on claim Sega has left room for more to be included. Obviously, the big-namers like Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick will make an appearance, and they should all reflect the real players' strengths and weaknesses. Then again, despite the very pretty graphics, nobody really expects a great deal of simulation from this third Virtua Tennis installment; accessible fast-action fun lies at the core of these titles.
But at least you'll be having your not-so-realistic fun in conjunction with beautiful courts, surprisingly detailed player animations, and some superb color. And while you hardcore tennis fans might be irritated at just how quickly the players move and react, you won't be able to deny how smoothly the game runs. All reports concerning the playable demo have been quite clear- it's smooth as glass, and despite the continuing work being done to the visuals, the game already looks fantastic. There have been some concern about a few of the close-ups and brief cut-scenes, though, as those didn't appear quite as advanced as the gameplay.
Still, that character detail is amazing in any demos you might see. Individual sweat beads glisten on a player's skin, hair actually moves and shifts like real hair, and the eyes are as realistic as possible. There's a great deal of emotion that goes into the game of tennis, and that's clearly depicted in every player's facial expressions and body gestures. After missing a shot, the disappointment is evident, and a satisfied fist-pump will accompany a particularly good shot. So if you're looking for a game that shows you exactly what it's like on a pro tennis court, look no further. Virtua Tennis 3, provided the final graphic build lives up to the sneak peaks, should be one of the best looking sports games to date.
As far as control is concerned, as we said, don't expect much in the way of depth or complexity. Three face buttons will be used to determine each stroke (we assume top-spin, slice, and lob), and as before, holding the button down longer will increase the power. If you're late on a command or simply have a brain-fade and forget to choose a stroke, the game will automatically choose one for you, depending on the situation. So even if you're too late on that overhead, the computer should execute the correct play, anyway. In addition, it seems momentum will greatly impact your ultimate success (the Top Spin games had something like this), as the higher the momentum, the more focused your player becomes. It's a good idea - those who play the game know that "getting in a groove" can really help - but we just hope they don't overemphasize the feature. For example, it'd be pretty silly if our professional tennis player missed half the time until his momentum filled.
We don't yet know if Sega plans to utilize the motion sensing capabilities of the Sixaxis controller, but it's a definite possibility. As is, the controls apparently work quite well on a standard basis, so the motion sensing would be nothing but an added bonus at this point. As for the rest of the gameplay, the expected Career and Create-a-Player modes should also be included along with the other two aforementioned modes. But as with the Sixaxis deal, we're not sure if online play will be available (it's continually in, then out, then in, then...), and that could be a major issue for Sega. After all, this is definitely the kind of game that could get some serious attention on the PS3 Network.
All in all, Virtua Tennis 3 is looking good, and isn't too far off. That March release date shouldn't change again, and it might be a very nice addition to the PS3 lineup. Let's just hope that gameplay smoothness and accessibility really comes through, and all the modes deliver on every possible level; we're looking for top-notch entertainment with this one. Here's hoping!
1/3/2007 Ben Dutka