Life is an eternal restart, especially for fans of tennis games. In recent years and after a long period of scarcity, the discipline has returned to the forefront of the video game scene with several titles that have tried to dispute the legacy of the late Top Spin. It must be admitted, however, that we have often witnessed the same scenes: games with some good ideas, but many flaws. So much so that none made their hole, leaving an opening for yet another challenger. This time we’re talking about Matchpoint – Tennis Championships, a game developed in Australia by Torus Games. Come on, we believe it.
Some pretty clever ideas
The first contact with Matchpoint evokes a lot AO Tennis 2. Not necessarily for the wrapping, but more for its gameplay based on a targeting system: we have little control over the player’s movements, very surprisingly, the game encouraging us to focus on a target point that we move on the opponent’s half of the court in order to aim for the area where you want to return the ball. Obviously, this target is only an indication, the precision of which depends both on our placement (because if the influence is minimal, we must still place the player just after our previous move), on the power that the you put in the ball and the type of shot used. Surprising at first sight, as this system takes previous tennis games on the wrong foot (including AO Tennis which also used a target) which bet most of the gameplay on placement, the choice to leave a good part of the player’s placement to the AI to focus on the ball return zone is quite effective. We must avoid being destabilized, so return the ball to an area that will prevent the opponent from being able to place a precise blow, but also play with the vagaries of our target’s mode of movement: it is more or less fast and reactive according to the positioning of our player and it is more or less easy to put a ball close to the line without overflowing according to the quality of the placement but also the preparation of the shot. There is indeed a circle that gradually fills up near our player when we hold down a shooting button, this one having the function of both symbolizing the force of the blow but also its precision. Simple to learn and clever, this first contact is therefore very pleasant. The rallies hold a great pace and you really feel like you’re dealing with tense rallies where you have real influence with every returned shot, whether it’s a lift down the line or a ‘a cross forehand that forces the opponent to expend considerable energy in the hope of looking for the ball. To this, we add a motion capture of the players which is very successful and allows the title to display much more realistic animations than its competitors, where the transitions from one gesture to another are rather controlled to give a real feeling of fluidity.
The career mode, meanwhile, is quite classic: we recruit a coach according to our style of play, we do tournaments and we try to progress in the general classification. That said, the confrontations against the AI have some interesting things, in particular a system of weak points and strong points that we discover in the middle of a match, symbolized by a large map displayed at the top right of the screen: that pushes, when we discover it, to modify our game to insist on a weak point or avoid a strong point (insist on a backhand for example, or avoid the net), pushing either to remain solid in our boots and avoid being influenced by the information sent by the game, or force our game on an element which paradoxically can be our own weak point. Obviously, this does not completely disrupt the exchanges, but it is a pleasant little element which brings a little spice to confrontations which, apart from that, remain quite stereotyped with opposing players who struggle to show that they all have of their own style of play. The AI indeed lacks variety in its game and relies a little too much on this system of weak points and strong points which is, sometimes, very caricatural. As for the customization of our character, it is very limited, with a few choices of predefined faces (all rather ugly, whether men or women) and only three different outfits. In short, the interest is quite low over time.
Structural limits but good hopes
Visually, it’s also very ugly, the courts are quite correct even if there is a phenomenon of color desaturation which makes the whole very gray, but the worst are the licensed tennis players who are mostly unrecognizable . It is the same for the rather limited sound environment, in particular on the noise of the players, the balls and blows or even of the public which is absent. And these defects are all the more obvious as the gameplay on its side quickly finds its limits: the game at the net is missed with characters that are not very responsive, which gives a game that is quite unnatural, while the different surfaces do not have no influence on the game. Indeed, playing on grass, clay or hard courts has practically no impact on exchanges with a ball that is still just as fast. There is therefore no point in adapting your game, any more than there could be any weaknesses of a particular player on a type of court. And it’s a shame for a title that places such emphasis on the strengths and weaknesses of players during exchanges, missing an opportunity to bring more subtlety to a system that is sorely lacking.
However, the game promises so much on its trading system that we want to believe it, but its quickly caricatural aspect prevents the pleasure from being maintained over the long term. The title quickly fell from our hands for lack of finding any depth in it, especially since it also suffers from a glaring lack of challenge. The game is indeed very simple on the whole, even at the highest level of difficulty where the simplicity of the exchanges makes it possible to constantly force the AI to play on its backhand or its forehand, according to the opponent’s weakness, until the push to commit a fault. Faults that multiply during the exchanges, these are often won with patience more than with an exceptional blow. And it’s not the multiplayer that can, unfortunately, change anything: without the possibility of playing doubles, and suffering from a very present lag in most matches, we had trouble holding more than a handful of exchanges.
Like every time a tennis game comes out, we want to believe it, we want it to finally be the long-awaited Grail. And as has been the case with titles like AO Tennis and Tennis World Tour recently, Matchpoint – Tennis Championships is no exception to the rule of “it’s nice but“. There are good ideas on the exchanges on its rhythm and on its aiming system, while its fluidity (ball returns, animations) offers particularly pleasant sensations. But after a few hours the title shows limits that we would have liked to avoid, in particular the simplicity of an AI that is often outdated and too accustomed to faults, a completely failed multiplayer and surfaces that have no influence on the gameplay.Like others before it, Matchpoint is the sketch of a great idea, with the hope that a future iteration or a few updates can strengthen this skeleton of a game that is on the verge of convincing. But here again, as with others before it, we surely gives false hope.
Test carried out by Hachim0n on playstation5 from a version provided by the publisher.