Virtua Tennis World Tour

The professional world tennis tour is a dark, shadowy organisation. No really, just think about it. We all know about Wimbledon, of course, and the names of Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows (home of French and US Opens respectively) are relatively familiar, but apart from these grand slam events, what do we really know about the so-called professional tennis circuit? Are there really hundreds of players? Do they even really play other events? And if so, how can the likes of Tim Henman (who we know from our own repeatedly bitter experience to be a bit rubbish), attain a place in the top 10?

The answers all become worryingly clear if you believe the view presented by Virtua Tennis World Tour. For starters, in the VT world there only actually appear to be 8 male and 8 female players who actually compete (aside from your own freshly created player), hence every match you play, no matter how obscure the tournament, involves a so-called 'star' player. The game does allude to other players (your ranking starts at 300) but where are they? What's more, the tournaments themselves are rather shorter than those 5 set marathons we're used to seeing every June and July, with few matches stretching beyond 4 games in a single set and none beginning prior to the quarter-final stage. Even more perplexingly, this time saved on competitive games seems to be reserved for bizarre mini-games requiring you to knock down bowling pins and tanks, turnover chips on a giant Othello board or smash through walls of coloured blocks.

Okay, so we're prepared to accept that we might not have rumbled Rafter and co's antics just yet, and that the Virtua Tennis tour setup bears little relation to reality, something which closer inspection of the average visuals will only confirm. However, this does beg the question of exactly what the game is trying to achieve. The imaginative training modes (featuring those crazy mini-games), short matches and apparently easy-to-grasp controls (with 1 button each for slice, top-spin and lob shots) would seem to suggest a more light and 'fun' approach to the racquet sport. Yet this is completely undermined by a difficulty level that bypasses taxing pseudo-simulation and slips straight into bloody hard realism. Indeed, unless you've honed your reactions on the near-identical home console version, you'll struggle to complete any of the training exercises even on level 1 and though you may well lumber your way through a match (especially a doubles game when your partner does a lot of the work), you'll rarely feel in complete control during your first few hours of play.

Jabbing a button when your player is relatively near the ball is enough to make contact (heck, your player will even dive if he has to) and get it back over the net, but it's likely to be returned with interest seconds later. In order to consistently hit winners (or even play the ball in roughly the right direction) you'll need to get your head around the basics of court positioning and shot-timing, master the subtleties of after-touch and generally practise to enhance your virtual player's skills. If you're prepared to put the hours in and you've got a few similarly dedicated chums to help you take advantage of the multiplayer options, then you'll slowly begin to discover why this series has long been regarded as the tennis-sim of choice.

However, it's certainly not going to be everyone's glass of Pimms. If you're looking for more immediate single-player entertainment then the taxing controls and annoyingly truncated matches mean you could well be in for the sort of disappointment usually reserved for the denizens of Henman Hill every summer.

Virtua Tennis World Tour is on sale now.

Virtua Tennis World Tour

Virtua Tennis certainly isn't ace, but if you're prepared to keep returning you'll discover a volley good game