How long has it been since the release of the last truly great tennis game? Allow me to put it into some perspective: when Top Spin 4 came out in 2011, Ash Barty was a teenager still playing junior tennis tournaments. Cut to the present day and she’s won three grand slams, reached the women’s world number one ranking, and retired from the sport altogether — and still the wait continues for a high quality serve and volley simulation to emerge as the heir to Top Spin 4’s throne. Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is the latest contender, and although it may be slightly lacking in terms of licensing and customisation, it certainly seems to have a lot of potential where it really counts — out on the court.
Matchpoint just feels good in the hand. The controls are uncluttered and feel extremely responsive, and it only took me a couple of matches on the default semi-pro difficulty to get a good handle on balancing the energetic dashes and pivots of my player with the more subtle steering of the shot reticle. Each point played is also satisfyingly fluid; developer Torus Games claims that over 1,300 unique motion-capture animations are being employed and it shows, there’s a seamlessness between shots that imbues Matchpoint’s rallies with a level of realism that’s been lacking in other tennis games in recent years.
The only aspect that feels as though it requires further tuning ahead of launch is the serving, which at present seems a touch too accurate. I quickly found that I was able to land every serve on a dime like Pete Sampras in his prime, bombing them out wide or down the tee with precision and routinely finishing each match with 100 percent of first serves in. This seemed noticeably out of balance with the general groundstrokes, which I occasionally pushed long or wide if I found myself out of position or got a bit too bold, just as it should be.
While a number of modern tennis’ biggest names are unfortunately absent from the Matchpoint roster, the 16 licensed players included feature top 10 players like Daniil Medvedev, Carlos Alcarez, and Garbine Muguruza, as well as the perennially underachieving but always entertaining Australian, Nick Kyrgios. That said, it’s a shame that the licensed roster is so lopsided as far as the gender divide is concerned, with 11 licensed players from the men’s tour compared with just five from the women’s. In addition, with not a single grand slam win between them, labeling bonus players Tommy Haas and Tim Henman ‘legends’ of the sport seems like a stretch that not even Boris Becker in his prime could fling himself into.
While the uneven numbers between licensed men and women players is disappointing, what could prove to be even more divisive amongst tennis game fans is Matchpoint’s complete lack of doubles play. Some of my fondest videogame tennis memories were forged with three friends gathered around a PlayStation 2 multitap and a copy of Virtua Tennis 2, so the inability to pair up in Matchpoint is as surprising as an underarm serve. Instead, the focus here is very much on online singles matches and tournaments, and a lengthy single-player career mode. While I wasn’t able to test the former as part of my hands-on, I was able to sink a few hours into the career trying to take my created player to the top of the tour rankings.
Tournaments, exhibition matches and training mini-games populate the Matchpoint career calendar, with XP to be earned, branded clothing and racquets to be unlocked, and coaches to be employed. It’s all fairly standard stuff, but there are a few interesting wrinkles that could set the experience apart. The most intriguing of which is the strength and weakness system of your opponents, which can be automatically identified during a match — a bit like receiving coaching from the box. During one contest I discovered via a splash of onscreen text that my opponent had a tendency to lose patience during extended rallies and rush the net prematurely, and sure enough I was able to use that information to my advantage by hanging back in a baseline rally and waiting for the opportunity to nail a passing shot. It’s a system that might yet prove to be as shallow as a heavily sliced drop shot, but I’m certainly keen to see if and how it forces me to adapt my game from one opponent to the next.
Career mode does appear to have its limitations, though. Despite there being some 60 events to compete in, none that I’ve come across so far appear to be officially licensed, with the French Open and Wimbledon being replaced by off-brand alternatives like The French Masters and The London Grand, robbing them of any sense of real-world prestige.
Additionally, the create-a-player toolset is somewhat limited, with only a handful of heads and hairstyles to choose from, and no fine tools for sculpting facial features nor any option to customise things like service motions. Contemporary tennis game rival AO Tennis 2 might not be as fun to play out on the court, but its tools for creating players are significantly deeper than what seems to be on offer in Matchpoint.
Despite these drawbacks, I’ve enjoyed my time with the preview build of Matchpoint – Tennis Championships, since so far it’s delivered a genuinely addictive on-court experience. With an intended release date of July 7 across all the major platforms, tennis fans don’t have long to wait in order to find out if Matchpoint can overachieve in spite of being a little under featured.
Tristan is a video producer based in IGN’s Sydney office. Feel free to give him a serve at @tristanogilvie
Source: IGN Video Games All