Tennis Masters Series 2003 Review (Xbox)
Take on the world's best players as you participate in the ATP's most prestigious tournaments: the Tennis Masters Series from Microids.
Tour the globe and play on the 10 faithfully reproduced Masters Series tournaments. Travel to the hard courts of Indian Wells, Miami, Toronto and Cincinnati. Visit the luxurious clay courts of Monte Carlo, Rome and Hamburg. Compete on the indoor courts of Madrid and Paris. Try to qualify for the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai and become the world's best player!
Intuitive control system: 4 different shots to choose from (power top spin, slice, flat & lob) that you will be able to combine for more than 60 moves accessed during specific gameplay.
67 different players with their own individual skills (stamina, speed, strength, etc. and their own styles of play (power hitter, baseline, net rusher, etc.) 4 difficulty levels: rookie, amateur, pro and master
The game itself has 2 modes. Exhibition and Season. In exhibition you can choose from 4 different levels of difficulty (Rookie, Amateur, Pro and Master). Season mode has 3 levels (Amateur, Pro and Master). Of the 60+ opponents to chose from you will have the hard hitters, baseline players and and net rushers. As you scroll down the list you will go from good players to bad players.
Players have many attributes including speed, stamina, strength, forehand, backhand, volley and serve. From what I have seen these stats do not change throughout a season mode. So pick wisely who you want to be and how you play with them, as it factors in the whole way through. There is no create a player but you can edit their clothing and racket color. You can not rename them and each character has the same limited options for clothing colors and racket color.
When you go through a season, you play 9 tournaments on the different ATP courts to make your way to the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. You have to be in the top 8 to qualify for the Masters Cup. You have a listing of your ranking, where you start your first season unranked, along with statistics for your season and prize money. Once a season ends you can continue a new season and keep your ranking, yet your statistics and tour money go away.
I could easily handle the lower ranked players on Pro but would only win a few games against the top players as I started out. I started a season on Pro and you select one of the players and then you hit the first tourney. The first tourney you play is a 3 set qualifying match so those who enjoy short games need not apply. The first match was against a lower ranked player and was an easy 6-1 6-0 victory. Fortunately you only have to qualify once and once you get into the tournament you can simulate the early rounds. Of course you are not guaranteed victory so you simulate at your own risk of exiting the tournament. Tournaments are all 3 set matches until you reach the 5 set final. One nice addition is you can save a season at any time. So if you are up 5-1 in the first set with the score 40-15 and you exit to the main menu to save, once you load your season you go back to the exact same point you left. Once in a match your only options are forfeit out of the tourney or go to main menu and save. There is no ability to restart a match.
The game features fatigue which is showed through-out the game using a flat bare with a green/yellow/red status bar. In exhibition it can be turned on or off. As you get into the 3rd set of a match this will start coming into play for both players. You lose a step and your power starts tapering off along with the serve speed drops.
You have 4 shot types to choose from (topspin, slice, power top spin and lob.) It is hard to get a feel how much impact holding down on a button longer impacts the return of a shot, though it does factor in. It feels as if your placement, the height of where the ball is hit and direction you push the analog during the swing are the biggest factors. Lob was not very effective for me but when holding down on a topspin or slice you can get a pretty effective drop shot. Problem is it is best used when a player is in no-mans land or near then net as the AI wants to let it drop and then hit it in the net.
You have 4 serves (flat, kick, slice and kick slice.) In all the matches I played I never got an ace, nor was I ever aced. The serving procedure is far to easy as you hold the serve you want down and let go when ever you want. In theory you can hit a full serve every time if desired. Not that it matters as the AI tends to have no problem getting a good return no matter the placement. You can hit some slice serves that have a break so unrealistic that it was like you are playing into a 50 MPH sidewind. Again this does not really matter as they handle the return fine with a solid return, especially with higher ranked players. In this game you find yourself having an easier time breaking serve then winning your serve, especially if you continually hit a full powered serve and play from the baseline. This is the opposite of simulating the sport of tennis when it comes to a percentage of breaking an opponents serve. To get around this and be successful in the game I used a net rusher and would hit the serve half full or less, as it allowed me to make my way up the court to volley back.
Which leads us to player control, the area where you have the most glaring flaw in the game. The problem is the lateral (side to side) movement of a player when the ball is in play. You can move across the court in 3-4 lateral moves in what feels like a hopping motion. The animation in doing this is not forgiving at all. So even when you are on the baseline if you make a move the wrong direction you are pretty much guaranteed not getting to the ball on a well hit shot to the other direction. You will find yourself begging for your player to dive for the ball or at the very least make some stretching attempt to reach it, as you are only a step or two away. Unfortunately the developers of the game decided to leave out the "E" in effort. Diving and reaching is limited to playing at the net and still a rarity. Some may find this more realistic to the game of tennis but when you make the control unforgiving and unrealistic they should at the very least give you an animation of some type to reach the ball. If you are a baseline player you better invest in another controller as you won't make it very long in this game with the controller you start with.
The AI is also suspect. I cant count the times I hit a shot where the player simply stood still and never made an attempt at certain shots. This even happened with higher ranked players. Unforced errors do happen often with the lower ranked players but when playing a top player they become Mr Automatic and most of their unforced errors are at the net. In season mode you will find yourself simulating games just to get to the top players for the challenge as there is too wide a margin in the abilities of top and lower ranked players. You can always go with a lower ranked player to increase your unforced errors and make the early rounds a challenge, but on Pro or Master you will have an extremely hard time getting a win over a middle to top ranked player. When I used a high ranked player throughout the season mode and would be limited to 5 to 10 unforced errors, the majority being the CPU hitting a drop shot causing me to hit it in the net. Which by the way the CPU will hit drop shots while both players are at the net. How is that for realism? Many times I actually had to swing twice out of shock to get to it and on the second swing would hit the ball. Another problem lies here at the net. When both players rush the net/no mans land (middle of the court) the shots are hit so slowly most of the time it becomes a case of who will get bored first. The CPU can also put a spin on a drop shot and slice curves so drastically in some cases you could never get to it and my player was at the net or close. They also have a bad habit of never lobbing when you rush then net. It almost feels scripted that you have to be pushing forward to the net to get them to lob. Stay a few paces away from the net and the opponent will hit a top spin or slice the majority of the time.
So we have covered singles tennis but what about doubles? There is a doubles mode but only available in Exhibition mode and feels more like an afterthought. Your AI player will not attempt shots at his direction when he is at the net way too often. You also have limited backup when you are playing the net as they tend to stay on the side of the backcourt. You can change your doubles strategies with the triggers and is best to stay in a defensive position so the AI partner will help you out, although still in a limited capacity. Since the season mode is all single player my time in doubles matches was short and frustrating.
Visually the game looks clean and jagged edges which hamper other tennis games are non existent. Player models are mediocre at best especially in game action, but the shadowing of the players and court are nicely done and realistically portrayed to the time of day/night. The lack of animations along with poorly translated animations, take away from the experience.
There are 10 courts made up of clay, hard and indoor carpet. 9 of them are available from the get-go with one locked. Each court has it's own values of rebound height and ball speed. You can also change the time of day (noon, late afternoon for court shadows and night). There are some nice little touches like the serve speed is displayed in MPH on American courts and KM/H on foreign courts. The clay courts show your foot print motions and it builds up for a couple points which is nice but then all of a sudden they all just randomly disappear at once. The game runs along at a nice framerate, until you hit the clay courts. There is slowdown to the point you see the ball stuttering in movement. I can only attribute this to dirt marks that are made during gameplay, though it happens from the first point of a match.
Camera angles galore but only a few of them are usable. There are cameras (near and far 3rd angle perspective) that has the camera pan across as you move , the problem is the camera is really stutters as it moves to your stuttering side step/hoping animation. Not only unplayable but will give you a headache after a few games.
Other then the rare yell from the crowd and your standard tennis sounds there is not much to add here. The only thing that grabbed my attention was a cell phone went off in the crowd once and the announcer made a request to please be quiet. Commentary is in English or French depending on where you play. It is limited to calling out the score and announcing the players name other then the rare occasion like the cell phone incident.
The game is priced at $29.99 and currently the only tennis game in the Xbox lineup. Even at $29.99 I have a hard time endorsing the game as a purchase due to the control issues and problematic AI. If your a big fan of tennis and tennis games like myself, I would suggest a rental if you can find the game. The game is hard to find and was only available for purchase from EBgames. If you are a gamefly.com member, the game is available there for rent. For the casual tennis fan I would suggest holding off for Top Spin to arrive in October.