One of the first games ever to appear on a computer screen was Pong, a version of table tennis with two bats, a square ball and severely limited graphics. It was pretty dire, but since nobody at the time had ever heard of motion capture or texture mapping, they all blithely carried on and had fun anyway. Today’s games players are less easily pleased, so Gremlin has had to up the stakes in Actua Tennis. 32 male and 32 female players from the real world of tennis are included in the game, along with ten different stadiums that include clay, grass and hard courts. 3D effects and textures are everywhere you look, although in this respect the PC has the advantage over the PlayStation version.
Playing the game is reasonably easy. There’s a ‘swingometer’ gadget, such as that used in most golf games, to control the serve and this works pretty well – even playing against other humans, you have to work hard to break serve, which is as it should be. You can choose how and where to hit each stroke, with topspin, backspin and lobs being among the options available. Extra cool players can also try for an ‘extreme’ shot, although these often seem to result in you lying flat on your back with the ball firmly planted in your own court. There are some occasional problems graphically, such as hitting a back-hand shot when the racket is clearly in the fore-hand, but generally this is one of the more playable games of its type.
Interest in British tennis has received a lift recently with the news that one of ‘our boys’ is inside the world top ten. Only just inside, but it’s still an achievement. Odd, then, that it’s the naturalised Canadian whose square-jawed mug graces the cover of this particular game. Not that it matters too much, because it’s pretty hard to tell who’s who when playing the game; the characters may have been motion captured, but they’re too small to recognise. Most of the big names are here, as are several lesser-known individuals, but as with most such games, the greatest amount of fun is to be had when playing against another human. Rounding things up nicely is the commentary by Barrie Davies, Pat Cash and Sue Barker, which is amusingly random at times.