Game Review - by James Allen
If there has been one prominent sport that has gotten short treatment on the PC, it's tennis. I mean, there are Australian Rules Football games on the et, but practically no tennis simulations! This omission has always seemed strange to me, and, thankfully, Micro´ds has come along and delivered Tennis Masters Series. With no competition in sight, it seems like Tennis Masters Series is poised to take the tennis crown on the PC. Will Tennis Masters Series win the PC et in straight sets, or get aced into oblivion?
Being the official tennis game of the Tennis Masters Series has its advantages, and the computer form of the series almost uses the license. All of the ten events included in the real Tennis Masters Series are rendered and playable in the game, although most of the differences are solely the type of surface, and this is mostly superficial. The point system implemented in the real series is also included. In the strangest act of licensing I have ever seen, all of the sixty-seven players in the game are totally fictitious, although they closely resemble their real-life counterparts. Why they could not include the real tennis players with the ATP license is beyond me. In the game itself, you can compete in the full season of the Tennis Masters Series, or encounter the stiff competition in exhibition matches. If you want to play doubles matches (for two times the fun), exhibition matches are the way to go. Strangely (especially for a game this difficult), there is no sort of practice mode, like you up against a ball machine; that would have been neat. There is also LAN play, but no Internet matching service, so you are stuck to finding friends. I think if you want to include multiplayer, you must at least have compatibility with GameSpy Arcade or some sort of matching service. More options of play (and real tennis pros) could have been included in the game, and thusly the features in Tennis Masters Series are just average.
In keeping with the theme of Tennis Masters Series, the sound is also very average. Each of the four choices of shots you can place on the court have different, appropriate effects. The crowd has a variable level of enthusiasm, dependent on the action present on the court. The crowd announcer speaks French while playing in Paris or Montreal, but a British announcer is present in every other locale. Again, if you are going to include different dialects in the game, why not include Italian and German as well? And, most disappointingly, there are absolutely no grunts (or any other verbal reaction) from any of the players. It's as though the developers of the game decided to stop halfway in the sound making processes. A more complete sound package would definitely benefit Tennis Masters Series.
The gameplay in Tennis Masters Series is ruined by one aspect of the computer AI, which makes it infuriating to play. Before we delve into that, let's talk about all the other good things in the game. There are four different shots you can make in the game, which covers all the bases: flat, slice, topspin, and lob. Just like in real tennis, the effective combination of shot choice and shot placement should result in a victory (more on the "should" in a bit). I really like the movement dynamics in the game: unlike in unrealistic, arcade games, the players move just like in real life in Tennis Masters Series. Say you are running in one direction, and decide to run in the other. Every other tennis game would lead you believe that you can make this change of direction instantaneously, but, as we know, this is totally not the case. You must slow down, turn, and speed back up again: this is what's emulated in Tennis Masters Series. This places an importance on player placement and anticipating the shots of your opponent (and also results in a lot of cross-court winners). I really, really like this system, which needs some getting used to, but rewards strategy over reflexive button pushing.
Now then, the computer AI in Tennis Masters Series is entirely too difficult for one main reason: they can place shots in the corners of the play area with too much regularity. Couple this with the realistic movement of the game, and you have a very difficult time in defeating the computer players. There seems to be absolutely no random nature of where the shots end up once they are directed "left" or "right": they ALWAYS go to the far corner for the best players. This greatly diminishes the play of the Tennis Masters Series season mode, since you will always meet good players. Changing the difficulty settings makes no difference: in fact, I had a TOUGHER time playing at Rookie and Amateur levels than Pro. I played a game between the two worst players on Rookie difficulty and had NO shots out of bounds. Huh? How is that realistic? Tennis Masters Series is a tough, tough, tough game because of this reason, and makes it not fun to play. This really makes me mad, because if they fixed this problem, Tennis Masters Series would be a great game.
The graphics look very good in Tennis Masters Series, and they can rival those found in most any other sports game on the et. On clay surfaces, the footprints of past action can be clearly seen. The players are, in general, rendered believably, although some clipping problems are found with shirts and hats. I also like how the players who sport hats are turned backwards while playing indoors or at night: this is a nice touch in the game. The crowd is, in the interest of speedy processing, blocky, undetailed sprites that show no difference in animation to keep up with the crowd sounds. The lighting effects are satisfactory as well. It is obvious that the most attention was paid to the graphics, since screenshots sell games to the untrained eye. The only thing I couldn't figure out was what the colored tennis balls mean on the score when someone has 40: this is never explained in the manual, and the web sites are absolutely no help whatsoever. Still, the graphics in Tennis Masters Series portray the game of tennis very well on today's PC in the realm of graphics.
Because of the absolute difficult nature of Tennis Masters Series, I cannot recommend it for most normal people in the gaming community. I was really rooting for this game to break the tennis glass ceiling in PC gaming, but the perfect computer AI makes the game infuriating to play. Otherwise, not having the real tennis pros in ATP is a small complaint, and the graphics are fantastic. I really hope they patch the computer AI, because, as it stands, Tennis Masters Series is impossible to play for most of the aspiring tennis stars out there.