Wednesday, 27 January 2010

PC Game Review - New Star Tennis

Indie developer New Star Games have already brought us the excellent New Star Soccer and New Star Grand Prix, and have now turned their attention to a tennis game called - wait for it - New Star Tennis. So, how does this latest sports games from the NSG stable compare to previous triumphs?

New Star Tennis has you playing the career of a young player making his way into the world of professional tennis. The game is basically divided into three sections - managing your player's life, playing training and recreation mini-games, and playing in the tournaments themselves. I'll look at these three sections individually.

Firstly, you must choose how you're going to spend your time each week. You can either train to increase your skills, shop to increase your lifestyle rating and buy vehicles / property, play darts or go karting to increase your happiness, visit the casino / horse races to win (or lose!) some money, rest to recoup some of your energy, or enter a tournament. The management side of things is kept simple and you can get whatever you want to done quickly, though the interface could perhaps be a little better - sometimes you need to go back to the main screen to then go to the next event, rather than have a smooth transition from one thing to the other. Still there are plenty of options to keep you busy, and it does feel like you're in control of what happens to your player.

Training consists of mini-games - a different one each for serving, forehand, backhand, spin, volleying etc. Complete these successfully and you'll increase your skill level. You can also work on your speed and stamina, though this is not linked to a mini-game so you'll never fail to gain a training bonus on these; however, spend too long without training and you might lose some speed or stamina. The games are quite fun though having to do the same one repeatedly can get a little boring. Each time you raise your skill level, the training for that attribute will require a higher performance to increase the skill further. Karting and darts are also done by mini-games, which add a fun little diversion and change of pace to the proceedings.

There are many tournaments to choose from, though one of the game's weaknesses (at the moment - this may well be patched in the future) is a lack of realism in terms of both the number of players and the level of tournament available. There are only about 130 players, meaning that even before you start winning any points on the tour, you're nearly in the top 100 - since getting into that bracket is seen as such a significant event in the real game, it seems a bit of a let-down to be able to do it so easily in the game. The tournaments seem to be at ATP Challenger and Tour levels, plus Grandslam events and the World Championship season finale for the top 8 players. There is nothing at the LTA circuit level and it's not uncommon to meet top 10 players in the very small tournaments. The tour system in New Star Tennis is well designed but perhaps could be improved on.

The matches themselves play quite well. It's very difficult at first to get positioning and timing right; also quite tricky is getting used to the idea of the player movement keys also being used for shot placement. There is also the ability to add topspin and backspin, though to be honest I found the controls for this a little awkward and rarely used them - not that this stopped me from winning my first title recently! (Note - soon after this review was posted, the match interface was revamped and is now much more flexible.) The algorithms used for the AI opponents must be quite advanced, because the players' movements and reactions seemed quite human. There was a slight difference in playing on the different types of court, and different players seemed to have slightly differing styles; I remain a little unsure as to whether this is purely a difference in difficulty or genuinely different playing techniques.

Matches can range from full length (3 sets, 6 games) right down to 1 set, 3 games. I've been playing the latter and even then individual games can take quite a while. This is where the game faces its biggest challenge - not an issue of coding or game design, but simply the game of tennis itself. You can play 15 seasons in your career, but if you were winning regularly and playing full length matches, you could spend many hours on a single tournament. I'm not sure that most game players would be willing to invest this sort of time unless they were also dedicated tennis fans.

The court and crowd graphics are a little minimalist - there are no visible umpires, line judges etc - but the players are animated very nicely and there are a range of views available. The music and sound effects are good, though perhaps a little limited and repetitive - thought that's not particularly a criticism as the sounds in real tennis of course are also quite repetitive.

Some players might be disappointed that you can't play a female tennis player and that there's no doubles option, but the basic game is good and in a deliberately simplified way gives you the chance to experience something of what it must be like to be a professional tennis player. It can be a bit monotonous at times completing the training challenges etc, but it's also very rewarding when you actually manage to win a tournament and increase your world ranking. To help keep you interested there are a large number of achievements you can reach along the way, some of which you'll do very quickly and others which will take you weeks or months to achieve; not all of them are related to playing tennis itself, you have achievements for your first karting win, first sponsorship, etc.

New Star Tennis is not a particularly easy game to give a rating to - it requires more dedication than some gamers are likely to be willing to give, but out in the effort and it's a rewarding experience. Much like New Star Soccer 4, in fact - so I'm going to give it the same rating, 7/10. Naturally tennis fans are likely to get much more out of it than non-fans.

New Star Tennis Website

CaptainD's PC Gaming Blog

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