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In some ways Virtua Tennis 4 is a good reflection of the modern sport it’s based on and the players who dominate.

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Virtua Tennis 4

Developer/publisher: Sega

Formats: PS3, Xbox, Wii (PS3 reviewed)

Verdict: 6 out of 10 – Too many double faults to be a must-have sports title but a reasonable tennis offering nonetheless.

There is nothing wrong with how it plies its trade, it’s competent at what it needs to do, but there is nothing really exciting about it.

If Top Spin 4 is the Roger Federer of tennis video games, the ace of the pack, then Virtua Tennis 4 must be the Tim Henman.

It’s a trier, a gutsy performer, but it falls short of glory. It’s an able player but not a master of its craft.

At its heart VT serves up what you’d hope for - a decent game of tennis.

You choose who to be from a selection of real-world players, select the type of court and length of match you want, and then face off against a human or computer opponent. Each player has his or her own style of play and speciality of shot.

Virtua Tennis has a light arcade style, rather than being a deep sim. The controls are very simple, with no complicated combinations to memorise, making it very accessible and easy to jump straight into a match.

It’s dependable, being very similar to most other tennis games from down the years.

The main problem is it does nothing to advance the standards of video tennis. In fact, it’s barely an improvement over the last Virtua Tennis game.

Even casual players who will appreciate the basic nature of the game may still find the brand of tennis on offer here to be too pedestrian and limited.

More dedicated sports gamers will definitely feel this is lacklustre and uninspiring.

Virtua Tennis comes across as being very old-fashioned, lagging far behind other sports titles which have created new benchmarks. When you consider NHL 11 with its real-time physics engine or Fifa 11 with its slick TV-realistic presentation, Virtua Tennis’s lack of flair really starts to show.

There is nothing wrong with the game’s visuals. The player models and courts look very good. It’s what it does with these visuals which exposes Virtua Tennis’s shortcomings.

Players’ movement is not wholly fluid, they look somewhat robotic getting around the court. The physics soon become quite predictable, as do the player animations. This is like sports game used to be, where players had a limited number of programmed movements and reactions.

The game never quite captures the high-energy intensity of the sport it’s based on. The ball moves around with more oof than zip, with long rallies being the norm. Most points are decided by a mistake after a battle of attrition. It’s quite difficult to play a killer shot, the kind that fizzes into the corner of the court, giving your opponent no hope of reaching it.

Generally the game is very dated. It’s more a tennis game of a previous generation than the current era.

Developers have tried injecting some innovation into it with a shaking up of the career mode.

Instead of the usual calendar-based system where you move through the year playing different tournament, Vitua Tennis 4’s career mode takes the form of an odd board game.

You travel around the board, a world map, using numbered tokens. Depending which space you land on, you’ll play a match, get letters from fans (who are more like stalkers) or attend events.

Training takes the form of mini games such as smashing clay plates, herding chicks or popping balloons. These start off quite cute but their novelty value wears thin.

The new style career mode is supposed to make you feel like a star, not just a tennis player, but it’s all a bit weird and this is one example where perhaps old is better.

Another innovation is the introduction of PlayStation Move motion controls, although its implementation is rather half-baked.

When using the Move controller, the game switches to a first-person perspective. Player movement is taken away, perhaps sensibly to keep things simple, while swinging the controller hits the ball.

The movement is precise and responsive enough, and adds a new twist to play. However, the magic wand can only be used in exhibition matches, away from the career and tournaments. It’s a shame it’s not more widely available within the game but it still provides an interesting taster of what could be done in future editions of Virtua Tennis and other sports games if developers embrace Sony’s kit.

With Wimbledon well under way now, many gamers’ attention may turn to the tennis titles on the market.

I’d say if you want the centre court champion for this year, the player with flair and swagger, go with Top Spin.

If you prefer the steady but unspectacular journeyman keeping the crowds entertained on the outer courts, then Virtua Tennis 4 is your choice.

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