Hockey, football, basketball, and baseball are the most popular sporting games, and Electronic Arts has always dominated these divisions when it comes to the PC. Tennis is a sport that is very rarely heard of when it comes to PC gaming, the classic "Pong" is the only title that comes to mind, and that title isn't even really tennis. Well, that is no more, as Microids have revolutionized the modern tennis community with Tennis Masters Series.
Published and developed by Microids, Tennis Masters Series is one of only a few Tennis games produced for the PC. Featuring 10 different stadiums and 67 professional players, Tennis Masters Series offers much for any fan of the sport. Each player has their own characteristics and unique abilities, customized in a variety of fields including power, precision, stamina, morale, and many others.
Tennis Masters Series offers much in the way of options to keep players entertained. Three different modes have been included, Tennis Masters Series Championship, Exhibition, and Multiplayer for up to four players via Local Area Network. The championship mode allows players to select a character in which they will portray for a season. A calendar of events is displayed with all the available tournaments, and you must earn your right to compete. Pre-qualifying rounds will occur before every tournament, and you must succeed in winning these matches before being accepted as a competitor in the event. Conditions are different for each Tournament, some matches occurring during the night and others in the day. Also included is the ability to play singles and doubles matches with a computer controlled partner, or simply another person using a different input device. These options offer much in the way of replay value and increase the enjoyment of Tennis Masters Series.
Gameplay is a key element in sporting games, and Tennis Masters Series features a simple yet effective gameplay initiative. Control can be handled through a variety of means, with support for keyboards, joysticks, and gamepad controls. Players move around the court by using the appropriate axis's on the controllers and swing the racquet using all the common techniques. The character in question will occasionally complete challenging maneuvers, such as making a diving shot or jumping to smash the ball. The final position of these shots is determined by your location on the court at the time of the contact with the racquet, and it can be difficult to position yourself properly to get a good shot off in the middle of a match. Other than this problem, the simple gameplay engine makes the game playable for anyone without requiring any technical or computer knowledge, and makes it a suitable candidate everyone, from diehard fans to the occasional player.
The graphical abilities of Tennis Masters Series are one of its strongest points. Character models are of beautiful detail and superb quality. Motion of the characters is fluent and extremely realistic. Court detail is good as well, with solid light and shadow effects during night matches. Cameras are strategically placed with good action scenes that make for realistic replays. The downside to the beautiful graphics and lighting effects are the very high hardware requirements. To play a doubles match with detail at moderate levels, especially during the night where the shadows are an issue, you will need at least a 1 GHz processor to play efficiently. Singles matches are not nearly as bad however, and these can easily abide to the system requirements on the box. Tennis Masters Series would score very high in this department but the incredibly high hardware requirements are a little too demanding for the average system.
The multiplayer mode of Tennis Master Series requires a local area network to run successfully, and unfortunately, this does not assist those who wish to compete over an Internet connection. This is one feature in Tennis Masters Series that is disappointing, and although the single player mode offers a lot in the way of replay value with the season and exhibition modes, multiplayer via a local area network is not an option for most people. Fortunately however, Tennis Masters Series allows several players to compete on the same computer using different controllers. This option is highly beneficial and something that is rarely seen in recent computer games.
Tennis Master Series features a solid artificial intelligence engine that portrays characters accurately and develops a good understanding of the concept of each individual. Players do exactly as would be expected, an example being a "net rusher" playing using this style. These players are best performing when they are doing what they are suited towards, but they do deviate from their basic strategies to counter any move you make. Even on the simplest modes of play in a tournament, the AI controlled characters are exceptionally good and difficult to beat. Overall, Tennis Masters Series includes a solid AI engine, but it can be a little to advanced at times.
Unfortunately, Tennis Masters Series has a few flaws that degrade the entertainment and realism of the game. Sound effects included in Tennis Masters Series are lacking, and although the game boasts 3D Surround Sound, very few sound effects are actually present. Many of us are used to Hockey and other such sports where the fans are just as involved as the players, but Tennis does not follow this same concept. Very few cheers or boos are heard in the stands, with the only real noise being the ball coming in contact with the racquet. The music included in Tennis Masters Series is not spectacular, but fits in with the general flow of the game. A wider variety of sound effects would be greatly beneficial to the game as a whole.
Overall, Tennis Masters Series is an enjoyable experience for sports fans alike. Although it may not contain as much action as a game of hockey or soccer, it is just as difficult and addicting at times. Microids has done an outstanding job on Tennis Masters series and put a new spin on the genre of tennis games available.