"Anyone for tennis?" cried Rod as he strutted into the AA office carrying a racket and wear-ing his shiny new Reeboks. Gasps of "It's January!" and "You can't play!" abounded until he revealed his secret. Pro Tennis Tour from UBI Soft.
Now you may think that tennis is all about mincing around in white and shouting a lot. This couldn't be further from the truth. It's a game that involves skill, hand-eye coordination, fitness, mental toughness, jumping up and down a bit and then shouting. Pro Tennis Tour provides all this for you, bar the shouting, which you'll end up managing quite well on your own.
The game takes you on the Grand Prix Circuit of the Australian Open, US Open, Roland Garros in Pans and of course visits the place whose very name is synonymous with Lawn Tennis - Wimbledon. It may be mid-winter but now's the time to dust down your trainers, re-string that racquet and get ready for some heavy-duty sporting fun. You're about to face countless different opponents on three different surfaces on your globetrotting sporting adventure.
Pro is seen from the stands, as it were, behind and above one player. The two playing sprites, equipped with dapper shorts and racquets, have limbs of rather curious design, but it doesn't stop them moving real fast. Making them play a shot is easy - you simply press the fire button and release it when the balls gets to the right spot.
The most daunting feature of other tennis sims has been the fact that you've been thrown at the deep end. You're not familiar with the rules or the surface and suddenly you're playing the fifth best guy in the world - and getting murdered. Not so in Pro. Here you're given the chance to practise before you ever set foot on court. Those clever UBI Soft bods have rigged up a little machine which lobs balls at you in six different patterns to help develop an understanding of stroke-play and movement.
There's also a deserted court where you can get to grips with serving, so there's no barracking from the crowd when you miss. This is in fact entirely likely, as serving is made realistic - and much harder - by the use of cursor control. Press the fire button to toss the ball up and the guide the joystick left or right and the cursor shows where it would land if you hit it at that moment. Just let go of the button to send the ball racing away. It sounds tricky, but but it's a darned sight easier than it is in real-life.
There are two types of competition to play in - Tournament and two-player. The first takes you on the tour and the second pits you against a friend (enemy?) in a direct confrontation. Two-player mode's great fun, but it gets a little confusing when it comes to swapping ends. The scoring seems a tad strange, too. Tournament play is just a matter of working your way through a tourny' until you meet someone who can actually return your serve!
The whole game is a tennis player's winter dream. The scope for improvement in your own game is vast, and dogged hours spent dodging (!) your opponents' shots will eventu-ally pay off in victory. The practice facilities mean you stand a chance of winning, even after your first few games. It's fun and almost addictive. A well-constructed and programmed game, it means that even the most ham-fisted and physically dyslexic can play.
Yet it can only really have lasting appeal to those with a deep tennis fascination, because of the level of realism achieved. This doesn't mean that others can't play and enjoy this thorough and well thought out sim, it may even make a few converts to this strange game that has the gall to interrupt test match-es on the telly every summer!
Clear as a bell.
Win an 'easy' match.
P. Easily understood graphics.
N. A touch blocky.
P. Nice theme tune.
N. Unimaginative effects.
Grab Factor 83%
P. Simple serving (eventually)
P. Practice makes for skill.
Staying Power 69%
P. Four tournaments to win.
N. Tennis buffs only?
Convincing tennis action.