It’s been a while since I’ve played a tennis game that demands physical movement. Not since the Wii have I picked up a wand in anger and attempted to smash a digital ball around a court, yet I remember it being fun. When Tennis On-Court spun into view my first thoughts were back to those mid-2000’s sessions trying not to break the TV or fall over furniture, and I did wonder if having a full VR headset on could cause worse injuries. However, it hasn’t stopped me from finding out what it’s like now that the game is about to be released courtesy of Decathlon and Perp on the PSVR2. Billing itself as the ultimate tennis simulator, can it really be accessible for all ranges of skill and enthusiasm? It seems like yes, yes it can.
First up, there’s nothing overly fancy about Tennis On-Court, even the name feels very pared back. The menus are there to get you into the tutorial, practice, matches or tournaments, and there’s little in the way of frills. Likewise in the environments, courts are good to instill a sense of place, but really the focus is on playing the game rather than watching the crowd (though I do like the part where you’re sat with the spectators when the players come on). Everything here is really about playing tennis, and playing it properly. Whichever your dominant hand is holds the racquet, the other holds the ball, and you simply smash one in to the other to try and score a point. Even control-wise you only have to grip the Sense Controllers and not worry too much about button presses – the key is holding the racquet at the right angle and swinging away. Simple… well, err, no. See, Tennis On-Court isn’t pulling your leg about being a simulation, and if you switch all the assists off you’ll likely feel like you’ve gone several sets with Andy Murray and been thoroughly trounced. Finding your comfort level is the first port of call, and at least there’s a decent tutorial to teach you the basics of playing. The game expects you to know the rules of tennis in advance though, when it’s not flaunting them that is.
Two key things are needed for Tennis On-Court – space and a gentle touch. The first is a given because this is a full bodied VR title that needs you to move around. It’s one where you have to consider how high your ceiling is to be able to serve to your full potential; let alone having enough clearance around so that you don’t start whacking lamps and cats. The second is one that comes with practice because going all out for power means faulting far too often, and you really do have to control the angles and speed of your stroke. The racquet angle of attack is crucial to ball placement, more so than how hard you swing, and it’s the ability to get on top of this quickly that determines your success. In fairness, I had many of the assists switched on so I’m not sure exactly how much the game was helping me out, or whether I really was able to judge the court length perfectly, but that doesn’t matter as it felt good. Playing for and nailing a shot and forcing your opponent to do all the running around the court is very satisfying, and it’s not long before you’re convincing yourself that you should be playing at Wimbledon next year. That’s the time to take the stabilisers off and try to play with full movement, no ball trails or hit markers… it’ll bring you back to reality.
What I like best about Tennis On-Court is the automatic movement. If you’re space limited and know moving around too much in the real world is going to get dicey, the game will automatically move you to a decent location on the court to return a serve or continue a volley. It’s rather lovely without much in the way of that jarring teleportation feeling. It also means you can concentrate on the shots rather than dashing around from end to end, which you can do manually if you’re up for a challenge. Of course, it makes a mockery of your AI opponent trying to wrong foot you, but hey, we’re here to win! The AI itself isn’t too bad, and will return most serves and provide a healthy competition as you go up the tournament difficulties, and you’ll have to contend with learning how to play on the different court surfaces too. Clay, grass and hard are all there to experience and each have their own characteristics. Where the physics model is tweaked with the assists to make the game more accessible – like adjusting ball trajectories and lending a hand with striking – it’s also realistic enough to know that you’re not going to get as much of a bounce from grass as you do clay, yet it will go faster. There’s a lot of fun to be had just lobbing a ball to the other end of the court, having it land just in bounds and knowing that’s exactly where you wanted it to go.
Whilst there’s a lot of good work on the physics, the actual rules and what’s in/out can be a little problematic. More so in the tutorials, the AI has a habit of faulting during one of the drills making me think I’d never get out of there; and on more than one occasion the ball hit the net then rolled to a stop waiting for me to walk over, scoop it over the net and earn a point. Then there’s the AI models that twist out of shape and distract you with their grotesquery before reforming to a human shape (I like to think there’s a demonic possession subplot going on somewhere). Probably more infuriating is inconsistency in serving where you think you’re hitting it with the same power and angle each time and it goes 6 feet too long or 6 feet too short. This is likely more down to the constraints of the assist and my height limited room, though something to watch out for. All said though Tennis On-Court is good fun and will have you absorbed belting balls around your living room for a good few hours. Get online and there’s not only friendly competition, there’s the option for 4 player doubles matches too, and those have real potential when the install base grows. A game is never a substitute for a real sport, but here you’ll get the chance to take centre court at any time you like and see if you’re able to dominate it game, set and match.
A PSVR2 review copy of Tennis On-Court was provided by Perp Games’ PR team, and it’s available from 17th October exclusively on PlayStation.
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