Next Generation Tennis (PS2) - Jason Julier - 6/10

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Next Generation Tennis [game information] Version Tested: PAL Genre: Sports Publisher: Wanadoo Edition Developer: Carapace

The summer brings many things, rain, holidays, strawberries and cream, and as always, the annual drought in the video games industry. This year its also managed to deliver the second tennis title on the Playstation 2, so soon after we reviewed Namco’s playable Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament. What you all want to know of course is, which is the champion?

Next Generation Tennis brings you another opportunity to sample the delights of the ultimate summer sport. NGT offers two official licenses, namely Roland Garros and the US Open, which means that both stadiums are faithfully recreated. You also have a selection of ten professional players from both the women and men’s tour; unfortunately these are not as glamorous as those endorsing Smash Court. Those you may have heard of are Tiger Tim (Tim Henman), Gustavo Kuerten and perhaps Todd Martin. Elena Dementieva, Barbara Schett and Chanda Rubin, will be new to all of us, the reason is why? Apart from perhaps the cost, many are highly rated in the doubles events, which are a poor relation to the singles events in every respect.

Games should not be judged on endorsements, how it plays is paramount and the range of options and modes made available to you is initially impressive. There are two training modes, with one being included inside the Career option, and both are adequate, which is more than can be said for Smash Court. Arcade, Exhibition and Challenge are self-explanatory and common, however Race is where you work against the clock to win as many matches or points as possible in the allotted time. You also have the ability to view footage of those famous players, just who are they?

As with most sports games the career mode forms the main evolving challenge, which will keep players coming back for more. Amped for the Xbox showed what could be achieved in this respect but NGT offers yet another bad example. A modest selection of default characters awaits you, with no ability to customise their appearance except for a selection of shirts and the name. The range of practice/training options is refreshing but these are limited to a specific number of balls, just when you start to experiment, it ends. The actual matches are from four main tournaments from the world, the usual suspects, with no room for the minor trophies that fill the gaps in the real game. Wonderfully, you start each tournament from the Quarter Final stage, thereby losing the need to pre-qualify or work your way through those initial and sometimes dangerous opening matches. This is a fault that needs no explaining and should have been easily rectified but is symptomatic of the game.

NGT was developed for the PC platform, as well as the Playstation 2 and it shows. The initial opening sequence shows video footage of the professional players offered in the game. I have never seen such blocky playback on the format before; it took me back to my Sega Saturn days, when the technology was first introduced. The presentation is below average and no matter what selection you make, loading occurs, making navigating the menus more disturbing than they should have been. The game graphics are nothing special as they fail to take advantage of the Playstation 2. Cut scenes are blocky, lacking detail and display the PC heritage of the title. Whereas player detail is poor, the actual courts are quite good, decent lighting and sound effects create a worthwhile arena, shame about the flat crowds though.

For games such as these, an intuitive control system which is fine tined, is a must have feature. NGT fails to deliver this, not because of the layout but what happens between the controller and the on screen response. On several occasions I experienced a slight delay, resulting in a lost rally, as this sport does not cater for second chances. Needless to say this fault is most infuriating, particularly as it seems to vary in its appearances. This is such a shame, as there is much to enjoy about NGT in comparison to the Virtua and Smash Court Tennis games. In NGT it is far easier to hit the ball for a fault during a rally, depending on how hard you press the buttons. I found this refreshing because the Sega and Namco editions allow a great deal of leniency in this respect. The animation is at times bewildering, many times it looked as if the ball had passed the player, only to suddenly change and a return was made. The control system is also limited, not offering the range of shots or opportunities offered by the aforementioned tennis games.

As you can set the skill level of the AI, overcoming the computer controlled opponent isn’t a formidable task as offered in other tennis games. For what it is, the AI contains many faults; particularly evident in the single player mode is the ability to serve faults on a consistent basis, so much so it loses any sense of realism. This does allow you to view their reactions to such an occurrence, kicking the ground in frustration or cursing their misfortune. Further problems become evident when you play a double or mixed doubles match with a computer controlled partner. Their sense of positioning, mistimed shots and not even bothering to move or swing their racket, for a shot that passes by, is a sign of bad AI programming. Simply, just don’t play either of these modes if you are on your own.

If Next Generation Tennis had been released last year, it may have faired much better, although I cannot help but feel another year in development is needed. Instead its release has come at the same time as Namco’s Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament and it cannot compete, even at its reduced retail price.

Game Score: 6/10 Reviewed By: Jason Julier