You'd think that of all the spectator sports, tennis would be one of the easiest to simulate on a PC. With a maximum of only four players moving at any given moment, and a play area that's about as small as you'll see in a spectator sport, it's a sport you could lavish with fancy 3D graphics and animation and still have plenty of CPU overhead to spare for ball physics and the AI for computer opponents. And let's be real here: Just how tough could it be to come up with good AI for a computer-controlled tennis player?
So how do you explain the blocky graphics and pitiful computer opponents in Extreme Tennis? Well, either I'm completely off-base with my assumptions about what a tennis sim could be, or Extreme Tennis is simply another budget-priced, sub-par game - but I'm about 99.99 percent sure it's the latter.
The first tip-off is the game's schizoid interface. When you start the game, you're in the Pro Shop; here, you select a player (from eight men and eight women) and pick a racket and shoes. Your choice of shoes, of course, is determined by the type of surface you'll be playing on. But if you're in tourney mode, you often won't know what type of court you'll be playing on until you get to the tourney screen - and that's in an entirely separate part of the program. And I do mean separate: There's a different executable for the Pro Shop screen and the actual game menu, where you see court type, opponent, and so forth.
So here's what you wind up doing: You leave the Pro Shop with shoes and racket, and head to the actual game menu. You click on the next tourney, note what type of surface it is, then leave the actual game menu and go back to the crappy Pro Shop screen and pick out the right stuff. This little tap dance could easily have been avoided if there were a season summary telling you what type of surface you'd be playing on at each venue. Then again, it's no big deal since I couldn't tell any difference in performance, regardless of shoe type.
This split-personality interface makes everything you want to do in the game doubly hard. Let's say you've started two different tourney modes - one as a man and one as a woman. The lack of a traditional save function means it's a real mystery what'll happen once you get inside the game menu: If you choose to continue a tourney you've started, the game might switch to the female player even if you chose a male in the Pro Shop.
But even if the interface were the most elegant piece of work ever, Extreme Tennis would still serve up fault after fault once you're on the court. Just find the right spot to place your serve, and you'll start racking up an insane number of aces and first-serve winners against your computer opponents. Even if they do manage to return your serves, they'll be so out of position that you'll hit a winner nine times out of ten. Trying to play a serve-and-volley game is almost impossible, thanks to constant pauses in the animation. Also, on about every other point you'll find yourself or your opponent diving to hit the ball at the baseline - and these shots invariably land in play. Want to play a five-set match? Better carve out a big block of time in your schedule - the lack of an in-match save means you've got to do it in one sitting.
Things could have been more interesting against a human opponent, but the joystick support option doesn't work, and the idea of two people sharing a keyboard isn't too thrilling. In fact, probably the only reason I ever lost a game was because I had to play using the keyboard; I tried programming my Microsoft Gamepad Pro with the appropriate keystrokes, but the directional pad wouldn't move my player. When I e-mailed HeadGames tech support regarding the problem, I got a reply that said someone would be contacting me within 48 hours - but just like the menu option that was supposed to turn on gamepad and joystick support, it was apparently just a big lie. I can overlook the game's blocky graphics and the absence of real-life players - I sure don't feel like paying extra money so an Agassi or Sampras can rake in even more lucre - but there are no excuses for the muddled interface, stuttering animation, botched save-game feature, and lack of joystick support.
If you're absolutely dying to play tennis on your PC, Extreme Tennis might satisfy for a while.
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