Virtua Tennis 2 (DC) - Chris Faires - 9/10

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Virtua Tennis 2 Format: PAL Developer: Sega Platform: Dreamcast Genre: Sports Year: XXXXX game score: 9

The original Virtua Tennis became a stable part of student life a couple of years ago. Back then, it was the best computerised version of tennis ever made, with realistic fully 3D depictions of players, an easy two button control mechanism that even tipsy valley girls could use and a mini-game-tastic one player mode. There wasn't much that could be faulted, although there were certain coding quirks that you’d start to notice- the computer would tend to draw you into a smash making it much easier to pull off, there were moments of occasional slowdown in four player mode, and an element of unrealism in that the shots that you pulled off seemed too accurate to be true.

Virtua Tennis 2 isn't a dramatic overhaul of the original game, but it's been tweaked and tested to truly become a step above on the stairs of sports games, if you know what I mean. It shades the original into the shallow arcade conversion it really is. The changes are small yet significant. Firstly, you can play with girls. Venus and Serena Williams, Jelana Dokic, and five 'close' 'friends'. There's eight boys as well, including the Radio Times’ very own Tiger Tim, Oz’s Pat Rafter and. Old man Jim Courier has been replaced by super Swede Magnus Norman, and there are no fictional players. You can now play mixed doubles but cannot see how one of the Williams sisters would fare in a singles match against a guy.

More importantly the controls have changed. As in Mario Tennis there's now one button for top spin, another to slice, and one more to lob. Your timing and positioning affects the power and type of shot. Press too early, and the ball will just bounce off your racquet, press at the peak- about waist height- and you should be able to smack the ball past almost anyone.

The players move quicker and fall over less often compared to the sluggish sprites in the original, though this seems to be because they're slightly smaller. The player animations are better and smoother and the graphics have been polished so that Tim Henman doesn't look like a dishevelled zombie anymore, in fact most of the avatars are beautifully photorealistic and recognisable apart from Alexandra Stevenson (who isn't that famous anyway). The courts are decorated with line judges, ad hoardings and flowers, while the crowd is still stuck in two dimensions.

Presentation is pretty good. The game has been redone in the style of a TV presentation with logos in the corner and in front of replays. The menu screen has also been jazzed up. Your options here are an arcade mode which has morphed into a tournament mode for up to four players plus computer controlled players can enter, but the biggest change has been to the excellent single player world circuit mode.

Instead of choosing a player and taking them to the top of the world rankings, you create your own. Equality rules state that a man and a woman must be created and their avatars designed. The looks are a bit limited compared to PSO or even Smackdown, and maybe this is a reflection of the more conservative sport of tennis (okay, perhaps not) The actual World Circuit has been radically restructured. Before, it was a case of playing minigames to gain money as a diversion from the tournaments or a way practising your serving, volleying skills etc. In Virtua Tennis 2, your player starts with no skills- they can hardly run, barely manage to get the ball over the net and generally don't know their arse from their elbow. What the minigames do now is train your character up from scratch so that you can feel the effect of the training in the gradual increase of their ability from zero to hero.

This RPG element adds depth and longevity. The minigames are still both fun and challenging and really do reflect vital skills of the proper game, like volleying, serving and footwork. After you start winning you can unlock arenas, clothes, racquets and partners for doubles tournaments (you’ll be surprised how cheap Pat Rafter is)

So is it perfect? No, unfortunately. The music has changed- from rocktastic riffs and licks, to nondescript electronica, for every occasion. It's difficult to tell if a minigame has been completed as the marker for a ‘level up’ has disappeared- you seem to just have to repeat the task and then at some unspecified point it will change. It's still got some quirks- you appear to be able to win a point better if the computer has gone ahead to forty points, the computer AI is variable- players seem to miss easy shots going past them even on high levels, but in the final of the tournament they become some kind of supercharged beasts, even on normal setting. It's also slightly tricky to judge the height of a ball in the air. Finally, you still can't play more than one set or control the replays, two functions that are standard in most other triple-A sports games.

But who wants to be perfect? Virtua Tennis 2 is the best tennis game ever. It’s out on Playstation 2 as well as the Dreamcast, though I find the DC joypad much more comfortable and after several hours trying to beat Tommy Hass your joints will need all the comfort they can get. Excellent twitch gameplay which can induce an almost lucid state of consciousness with a depth to equal it, with enough to last in both single and multiplayer this is game, set, match to Sega.

Game Score: 9/10 Review by Chris Faires