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Matchpoint: Tennis Championships Game review

Game review 11 July 2022, 21:25

Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones

If you wanted to become the new Roger Federer, this game won't help you do it. Really, it's a waste of time. Matchpoint: Tennis Championships is a tournament for clones.

The review is based on the PC version. It's also relevant to PS5, XSX, XONE, PS4 version(s).

I started writing this review still during Wimbledon, and ended up watching Kyrgios and Djokovic sort it out in the final instead. During the two weeks, so much has happened in tennis that fans will have something to talk about for a year. Meanwhile, Torus Games is releasing a new tennis game – one that will try to replace hits such as Virtual Tennis, Top Spin or Tennis Elbow. Will they be able to make history of games? I've spent enough time with the game to firmly answer "yes" – but probably not in the way they wanted.

I propose a thesis: unless you have a large budget, it's difficult to create a sports game. Matchpoint is no exception, as literally everything in the game feels "cheap" – boring or underdeveloped. 16 professional tennis players, with their names and profiles, are supposed to sell us on the game. Meanwhile, Matchpoint is a clone tournament – everything from the players to mechanics to court surfaces feels invariably identical.

‘I have no idea what I'm doing’. - Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - dokument - 2022-07-11
‘I have no idea what I'm doing’.

And that makes me really disappointed – I had high hopes for this game. But I feel like I got a solid beating on the court and lost 6-0; 6-0. It was supposed to be beautiful! I was supposed to serve aces, hit the base line with a strong top spin, play drop shots and finish off my opponent with volleys. And I did it all – the problem was that, after an hour, I didn't enjoy it anymore.

Clone career

Hubert Hurkacz. Really. - Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - dokument - 2022-07-11
Hubert Hurkacz. Really.

I dreamed of a tennis career – seriously, when I was a kid, I had a personal trainer and I visited courts several times a week, oftentimes crying with pain and exhaustion. None of this worked out in the end, but the dream remained. Hence, a tennis career mode is something I've been looking forward to in particular. Meanwhile, the career mode in Matchpoint is a parody. Everything was reduced to a flat and, consequently, unengaging mode, in which our only goal is to climb the ranks of the fictional league (no ATP/WTA license), playing out fictional tournaments on equally fictional courts. And it didn't have to be a disadvantage – after all, I realize how much these licenses can cost. What I don't get is why the devs gave us such a poor mode – nothing is happening there. But let's start from the beginning.

PROS:
  1. It's a representative of an almost extinct genre of tennis games;
  2. Graphics are ok;
  3. 16 licenses from real players.
CONS:
  1. Boring, underdeveloped career mode;
  2. No sense of progress;
  3. Poor animations of character movements and strieks;
  4. Strange behavior of the ball as it bounces off the court;
  5. No tangible differences between court surfaces;
  6. Multiplayer is mostly useless.

First, we create a player – we can choose from only a dozen templates of predefined heads and hairstyles. That's it – forget about creating (or trying to) yourself in this game. You also choose whether you are right or left-handed and whether you use one or two-handed backhand. That's it – it's time to play.

Your entire career is based on a calendar of events – in other words, you see a timeline of different events, often overlapping each other. So that you need to choose between a small tournament of 250 rank and a larger, more important event. And that's really cool. When you go to a tournament, time passes along with other events. In addition, you can also do trainings to increase your character's attributes, or get a new racket, shoes or access to better trainers as a reward for winning. And… that's it. There's nothing more.

Are you afraid of crowds? Don't worry. They are dead anyway. - Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - dokument - 2022-07-11
Are you afraid of crowds? Don't worry. They are dead anyway.

You don't earn any money in career mode. You're not gaining any fame. You don't feel the progress that turns you from an unknown semi-amateur player to a professional hitting the Grand Slam. There are absolutely no events here – nothing that would keep you in this mode for longer. Climbing the leaderboards is only exciting for a short time, because we quickly realize that we're competing with clones.

The worst part, however, is the acute feeling of lack of progress. Imagine that you're a young tennis player, ranked around 400th. You're playing in your first tournament with another tennis player as unknown as you are... playing on a court that resembles Wimbledon's Centre Court... in front of a FULL crowd. So you have a game of two unknown and uninteresting players, yet it looks as if Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic were fighting in some grand final. I don't know if the creators have ever watched a qualifying match, but if not, I'd like to inform you that there are usually 20-30 people sitting at these matches, three quarters of whom are coaches and family. Which – I'm sorry – sucks because it would be great to see the courts change over the course of your career – see the stands fill up with more fans, progressing from academic tennis courts to actual stadiums.

Meanwhile, in Matchpoint, you basically have nothing to fight for. Unless you care about your place in the clone ranking.

Since we're talking about courts – the spectators will reward you with sluggish applause for scored points, but they're otherwise as inanimate as dolls. There's no atmosphere, which we can know from TV, where the public is alive – it reacts to rallies; sighs, screams and shouts. Real tennis audiences do more than just clap their hands – they're people, not clones.

Tennis RPG

They perform the same animation on hard courts. - Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - dokument - 2022-07-11
They perform the same animation on hard courts.

Before the release, the creators boasted that we will be able to develop our players. Now, I can tell you that yes, the characters do have their statistics, but what specific functions they influence, is hard for me to say exactly. The players can determine the parameters of forehand, backhand, serve, volley, power and fitness. In practice, the fact that one player has a forehand at 80 and another at 81 will tell you nothing. The differences are conventional and imperceptible. So much so that once you learn how to play, you will beat every player 6-0, 6-0, even if they are the strongest player in the game.

Rankings don't play, that's what they say in the tennis world. Agreed, but in this case the individual attributes of the player don't play either. What plays are – I will repeat myself like the "brain-dead" commentator in Matchpoint does – clones.

I can almost hear my coach yelling: LOWER ON YOUR FEET! But seriously - what is this? - Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - dokument - 2022-07-11
I can almost hear my coach yelling: LOWER ON YOUR FEET! But seriously - what is this?

It's a pity, and there's clearly lack of focus on the individual – there's an immense amount of room for improvement here. There are supposedly hidden perks-and-traits mechanics in the game – every now and then the game will inform us that we have discovered the weak or strong side of the opponent, e.g. a given player gets nervous during longer rallies, plays poorly near the net or, on the contrary, each their subsequent forehand is stronger. However, the message quickly disappears, and we can no longer look up what it said. So you can't prepare any specific tactics before the game.

What do you need tactics for anyway!? Matchpoint is very simple. After a few hours, you will discover that in order to win each of your service gems, you have to use the kick service (under the B button on the Xbox pad), and after the opponent's return, play to the opposite side of the court. It works almost every time...

Struggling to break? Hold X to charge the power of the flat forehand/backhand and strike a diagonal hit. Eventually, the opponent will make a mistake. AI itself is dumb. Sure, it can surprise us – it can send a murderous return, like Iga Swiatek on Roland Garros. But most of the time, we just know it will be sending balls to places that will be hard to reach for us. It sometimes makes mistakes that you'd never expect in professional tennis – for example, after playing base line, it finds it a good time to go for the net, which means you can easily score with passing shots or lobs. The opponent can make this mistake even 2 or 3 times in a row.

Not quite realistic gameplay

Matchpoint boasts a realistic approach to sport – our players use real techniques, playing top spins or slices – and at first glance, the behavior of the ball in the air resembles the physics of our world.

Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - picture #6

The first moments are fun, too. We discover how the creators rendered all these techniques known to tennis fans, from the slice or drop shot, to the iconic top spin. After a few matches, however, you start to notice that these techniques... are always the same. The animations you will be watching, while they look okay, are not that different, in the sense that Kyrgios' top spin doesn't behave any differently from Amanda Anisimova's top spin.

Meanwhile, in the real world, well, no two moves are the same. I'm not saying that a game should offer an endless number of animations – I'm just saying it needs more. Especially because in real life, there are players who, for example, play great at the net but are worse at service.

I would love to see some custom animations of movement and behavior of licensed players as they prepare for a service, for example. But… you won't see that, because – although I don't have an official confirmations of this – I don't think there were any real players' motion capture sessions. Simply, only their appearance was rendered, and I assume there might have been attempts to customize their behavior... with a rather miserable result; Huber Hurkacz looks like a wrestler with a drug problem, not a slender tennis player. This is another reason that makes it hard to make a sports game without a triple-A budget.

Repetitive animation translates into repetitive gameplay. In Matchpoint, the games of beginner tennis players are basically identical as those of the pros. We still feel like we're doing the same thing. Every game is similar, every game is predictable – it's especially painful once you learn to win. The game becomes terribly boring, to the point where you roll your eyes and look impatiently at the scoreboard. All the fun is lost along the way.

Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - picture #7

The very physics of the ball and the behavior of the characters – although correct – suffer from several ailments. As in older sports games, players can "teleport." If the opponent plays the ball to you 6 feet away from you, all you need to do is tilt the knob in the right direction, press the button, and your character will materialize near the ball and hit it to the other side. This is, of course, the result of trying to translate such a dynamic sport into the reality of computer code – nevertheless, it's apparent and irritating.

VERDICT

It's a pity, because Matchpoint has potential to be a solid average – meanwhile, it's just a poor game, full of flaws, clones and boredom. My trainings in the real world seem more interesting.

What's the most important attribute in real tennis? Power? Speed? Accuracy? Well, not really – it's legs. It's footwork. It's movement. In this game, you don't have to worry about the legs. Just push the buttons and the character will play low or high balls to the other side of the net. It is a pity that we can hit the ball literally from any position of the body, which often takes a strange form, for example a high smash from above the head… from the end of the court. I'm not saying Matchpoint would be better if the focus was more on fine-tuning the movement. Though it probably would be so. But they could at least work on the appearance of the animations, because many times we have the impression that the players we control are swimming, rather than running.

The ball, on the other hand, behaves strangely when it hits the court. After being hit, whilst in the air, it slows down and behaves as if it was waiting for us to move. So I suspect that the idea was simply to give players more time to make a decision, but in practice it just seems artificial.

As a result, the gameplay is simply boring – we've been given the option to top spin, but I don't see why we should even try and do it, if the flat hit goes to the other side just as effectively , without so much risk of hitting the net (in a real game, top spin flies high over the net, therefore there's less risk of error – in Matchpoint players can raise even extremely difficult balls over the net).

Game, set and match

We can talk about the advantages and disadvantages for ever. I have the impression that there is no difference between a grass court and a clay court. The creators remembered to add a few animations of players in the breaks between points, but they do not always start at the right moment (eg. the players hit their shoes with a racket to brush off the sand of a clay court... even if they are playing on a hard court...). While the line umpires are present, there are no ball boys. And there's also a funny thing here – there are no ball boys, but the players have animations where they're asking them for balls.

Serve speed meters aren't really functional – unless my player can only serve at a constant speed of 142 km/h.

Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - picture #8

The instant replays are tragically made and show us nothing (we cannot stop the replay, nor rotate the cameras and see if the ball was perfectly hit with the racket because... then it would turn out how many errors the animations have). It would be nice if the game displayed some statistics after rallies, such as the number of winners – unfortunately, the basic stats can only be viewed after the match.

There are also no breaks after gems, no spontaneous reactions of the audience, no nerves – in general, no emotions. I can understand why all of this is missing – as matches already feel long and tedious, but that's mostly because they all look the same. When we start the next match, we just know exactly what's going to happen – some random stadium filled to the brim and a clone that wants to beat us, but fails.

The multiplayer remains – I deliberately delayed the review to be able to test this mode (no one played in Matchpoint online before the release). And well – we basically get the same thing, but with a higher level of difficulty – humans are less predictable. The problem, however, was with connection – despite the fact that I have a fast and stable internet link, I had the impression that the aiming doesn't behave the way I would like it to. Moreover, if you play single, multi won't surprise you with anything special.

Matchpoint Review: Tennis Championships of Clones - picture #9

Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

It's a pity, because Matchpoint has potential to be a solid average – meanwhile, it's just a poor game, full of flaws, clones and boredom. My trainings in the real world seem more interesting.

Matthias Pawlikowski | Gamepressure.com

Matthias Pawlikowski

Matthias Pawlikowski

A literary reviewer and critic in the past, he has published works on literature, culture and theater in a number of humanistic journals and portals. Somewhere along the way he was involved in copywriting, producing and translating descriptions for Mattel toys. He studied literary criticism and literature. A journalist for GRYOnline.pl since the end of 2016, he first worked in the guides division and later managed it, eventually becoming the managing editor of Gamepressure.com. An enjoyer of old games, city-builders and RPGs, including Japanese ones. He spends a huge amount of money on PC components. Outside of work and gaming, he plays tennis and does occasional charity work.

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