STAFF REVIEW of Tennis Masters Series 2003 (Xbox)


Friday, September 19, 2003.
by Tony Ingrassia

Tennis Masters Series 2003 Box art Touted as the ultimate tennis simulation by Microids, Tennis Master Series 2003 puts you in the middle of the ATP's most prestigious tournament: The Master Series. With 67 very different players to choose from, playing in 9 different tournaments from Miami to Paris. Add Doubles matches (Up to 4 players), cash prizes, and some exciting motion capture moves to the mix, and TMS is an exciting and addicting game for any tennis fan. The Ultimate tennis simulation?............read on.


I think the best thing about this game is the "Pick-up-and Play" factor. Super simple to get going, but when you want to excel you'll need to start mastering some skills on the court. That being said, mastering the skills is not a daunting task, and being the wimp I am, I decided to start my career as you should...a "Rookie". TMS offers 4 difficulty levels, rookie, armature, pro, and Master. I was told once that tennis is a simple game, you serve and then you return. So let's start with the serve. Simple, yes, but TMS offers some of the most subtle tweaks I have ever seen. You basically have 4 different serving styles, all accomplished with 1 of 4 buttons. You can vary the strength of the serve which seems very simplistic until you notice what a difference it can have on your Slice Serve, bending the ball deep into the corner leaving your opponent vulnerable. Subtleties like these are everywhere in TMS. Your returns are just as varied, with 6 different basic returns that can be combined to a total of 60 moves I didn't have the pleasure of exploring fully. The physics of the game are just as impressive, sporting 3 types of courts, Hard, Clay, and Indoor Carpet. I was able to play on the varied courts with the same character and it is amazing the differences the surface makes to ball reaction, all the courts are available from the get go except for the Masters, so you are able to travel around. You do need to qualify for tournaments and you can choose from 67 players divided into 3 types, Power Hitter, Baseliner, and Net Rusher. Net Rusher worked best for me because it cut down the angles of the returns, but you can choose based on more specific characteristics ranging from speed, stamina, and strength of play. Coming from someone whos only tennis knowledge consists of Anna Kornikuova, for obvious non-tennis reasons, I was very impressed with Tennis Masters ability to deliver a solid gaming experience with some replay value utilizing the Doubles options. Best Tennis Simulation Ever, not really sure, tons of fun for tennis fanswithout a doubt.


Graphically Tennis Masters is above average. Solid character models, with some of the nicest motion captures I have seen. (Supposedly over 500 M.Cs in all) The courts and surroundings are nicely detailed although the line judges could have used a little life. They mostly just sit there, even when a ball bounces into them. Real time shadows lend to the experience and are truly amazing when playing on the indoor courts. Tennis Masters also uses the I never seem to get tired of bullet time effect on your more astounding shots, such as the diving save across the court to snag away that ever critical point, or the ill-fated lob you ruthlessly smash into your opponents face. Add to all this a few hot dog moves like behind the back or between the legs returns and TMS is a pleasure to look at.


How much sound is there in a real tennis match? As I played along that question kind of stuck in my head. Aside from the spot on OOOHs and AAAAHs from the crowd I did notice some of those subtle additions in the sound department when we moved indoors. The slight echo from the crowd and the announcers and on the right courts you could even hear the squeak of the tennis shoes.OOOOOOOOOOOH! There really isnt a lot you could really do in the audio dept. of a tennis game but Microids did well with what they had, going as far as hearing a cell phone in the crowd and the ref. Remarking Quite Please. Unfortunately lacking XBOX extras like Dolby Digital, Tennis Masters still deserves Kudos on the finished product.


Suggestions:
I think Microids deserves alot of credit for this game, my gut tells me that the lack of "Star" power, and the comparison to the up and coming MS Tennis game may cause a few gamers to pass this little gem by. The addition of a create-a-player mode and some sort of system link or On-line capabilities would have put TMS near the top of this genre. But kudos for a solid and exciting gaming experience.


Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.2 / 10
Sound: 9.4 / 10

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