Rockstar is a company that most gamers would have heard of due to its controversial nature of recent games such as GTA San Andreas and Manhunt, both banned in some way in Australia, plus the fact they hit the jackpot with Grand Theft Auto III. So it was of course a huge surprise when they announced last year that a Table Tennis game was in production for the Xbox 360. In fact, it was so unexpected many people put it down to being a joke but as the days wore on it became clear that Rockstar was serious about making this game and now it's finally here. They have once again shocked the socks off us.
There few a few main game modes in Table Tennis but primarily you will be playing either an exhibition tournament or going through the games in-depth single player mode. There have been a few interesting decisions made by Rockstar with this game however, but we'll get to that later. Obviously the exhibition game mode is fairly self explanatory allowing you to choose two players and go for it man on man. The main area of the game is the single player tournament structure where you gradually work through tournaments unlocking new tournaments and characters for other sections of the program.
The first surprising decision is that Rockstar have decided to not include a mode where you take an amateur player, increase their statistics and make them world champion. This was a huge risk but it has paid off as the characters they have included represent a wide diversity of skill and personality and really add to the game. By controlling how characters play and respond, Rockstar has been able to include a lot more atmosphere and emotion in the game. The other interesting decision was not to license official players of world tournaments. In many sporting games difference of strength is only shown in the bars not in the actual play, but in Table Tennis this could not be further the truth.
What Rockstar has chosen to focus on is the realism of the game which is unparalleled. This is a game that Rockstar has always wanted to make but they never felt the technology available would do the sport any justice. Now the 360 is available, they are of the opinion the technology is here. This may sound a bit ridiculous for a Table Tennis game but once you start playing, it is very apparent why they waited. The physics engine of this game is unbelievable.
It is a game which requires incredibly fast gameplay, and it is this reason that the physics were so important. You can actually see the ball float and spin in the air, and how much it does is determined by how the player presses the buttons on the control. Sounds like nothing new, but it really is hard to explain in words how advanced this physics engine is. We were skeptics, but after a few short minutes with the game we knew Rockstar had an absolute winner on their hands. This is the Virtua Tennis of the table tennis world.
They have however had to make one concession to make the game playable and that is to put a colored streak after the ball, indicating to the opponent how much spin and what type of spin has been placed on the ball. With that said though, there is varying difficulty levels for veteran players. The general rule of Table Tennis is to play a ball with spin, and you must counter it with the same level of spin. At the higher difficulty levels this is enforced and it is much harder to play a spinning ball.
The visuals of the game are impressive as well and really add to the game. The character development and structure sets this game apart from other sports titles. They show raw emotion as the match progresses and this is possible due to the fact only two characters need to be on screen at once. The animations continue to surprise as well. It is possible to play this game for hours and hours on end, and all of a sudden see an animation you haven't seen before due to the placement and power of the ball. Sound is a bit lackluster but this is not necessarily a bad thing. There is of course a tune for the theme song but no music players during matches with Rockstar instead choosing to focus on the action. The echo of the ball is different depending on which arena you are currently in which is a nice touch. Crowds also begin to yell a players name if a rally goes on for a while.
Rockstar Presents Table Tennis is a huge surprise in gaming this year. In an era where gamers are complaining of a lack of originality, this is a refreshing game that is being sold at a price which makes it one of the best buys of the year. For half the price of most 360 games, you get one of world's most original games in a long long time and one of the best 360 games to boot as well.