This 2002 PC tennis game builds upon the groundwork established in 2001's Tennis Masters Series. In addition to an ATP Tour license, the game includes a full Career Mode allowing players an opportunity to guide one of 67 athletes up the rankings ladder. Each game earns players experience points used to build speed, power, serve, and other attributes, with bonus points awarded for winning matches.
Updated graphics from the original include an increase in polygon count (from 3,000 to over 5,000 per player), facial expressions, high-resolution textures, and crowds offering a variety of animations. Another new feature is the nine tournaments representing the Tennis Masters Series can now be played in singles or doubles competition rather than just singles.
I was very excited when Sega released Virtua Tennis back in the day in the arcade and for the then soon-to-be-doomed Dreamcast. It was the first tennis game that really captured the fun and strategy of the game, plus it was loaded with so many extras and options that it had the same kind of bang for the buck of the usually more feature-rich sports games like basketball and football. So, with those fond memories in my mind, I had high hopes that Microids' Tennis Masters Series 2003 for the PC would hold similar appeal. I was wrong. Though fairly sharp graphically, Tennis Masters Series 2003 simply has too many shortcomings to demand much time on my PC.
One place the game doesn't come up short is in the graphics department. Tennis Masters Series 2003 is a sharp looking game with plenty of polygons devoted to the players on the court. The lighting, though not particularly dynamic, is well-done nonetheless. The different surfaces of the courts look way too pristine and don't tarnish noticeably as the tournaments progress, but the stadiums are well modeled and nice to look at. Overall, though not as smooth as Virtua Tennis, Tennis Masters Series 2003 is a slightly prettier game.
As far as game modes go, Tennis Masters Series 2003 sports a pretty basic assortment. At start up, players can choose between Season, Career, and Exhibition modes. These are all exactly what most players would expect. Only the Exhibition mode gives players any control of how the matches are set up beyond difficulty level and naming and designing their player. The dearth of modes and options leaves the game rating pretty low on the replay meter, which isn't that big of a problem since I can't imagine too many players begging for more in the first place.
The real problem with the game is the gameplay itself. After experiencing the smooth game play of Virtua Tennis and its sequels, it is hard to take the stuttery, pre-programmed flow of Tennis Masters Series 2003 seriously. The character on screen responds to the controls as if he was taking a moment to consider whether it is the right move or not. Much of the problem is that the game stubbornly refuses to interrupt the character animation, so a player is constantly waiting for an animation routine to finish so he or she can enter the next move. Often, the point is lost through no fault of the player. The on screen characters simply remain one step behind the player's key presses. Now, this doesn't make the game unduly hard because even on the highest difficulty setting the A.I. is susceptible to a number of money plays. This means players will find themselves having to avoid certain strategies in order to coax the game into a close match. I stormed through the game on the highest difficulty following a simple strategy (make deep, hard serves and go to the net on every first serve), and I lost only a couple of sets in my entire career - this after playing maybe three practice games on the demo while waiting for the review copy to arrive in the mail.
Given the low level of challenge and the limited number of game modes, it's hard to believe that Tennis Masters Series 2003 is the answer to any PC tennis fan's dreams. Still, it is a pretty good-looking game and it does a decent job simulating the different aspects of the men's game, so at least it's better than Pong.
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Virtua Tennis, Fila World Tour Tennis, Tie Break Tennis '98, Agassi Tennis Generation, Tennis Elbow, World Tour Tennis, NHL 2004, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07
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