It's pretty difficult for developers to consistently develop quality titles, but Rockstar in particular seems to have a pretty good knack for it. Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and The Warriors are all quality titles, but for their first next generation title Rockstar have tried their hand at Table Tennis. It's certainly an odd move for a developer that normally creates controversy, but this doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad game. We know Rockstar can develop mature games but with a completely new IP are they just as successful, or is it a case of Pong rather than Ping?
As soon as the game begins the title screen is immediately recognisable and it's hard not to get your hopes up. The game instantly feels like a Rockstar title and the back to basics menu introduces everything the game has to offer. In terms of options it is hard not to feel a little disappointed when only four game play modes pop up. The choices include Tournament, Exhibition, Training Mode and Xbox Live. The Tournament and Exhibition modes are pretty explanatory - it's as simple as choosing a player, then a table and defeating everyone else. There is actually no real career mode, which is a little bit disappointing. It wouldn't have been too hard for Rockstar to add in more of a single player mode and it makes the single player experience a little weak.
Xbox Live is really where a lot of the action takes place. It's possible to play ranked matches or unranked matches. We never had any problems finding anybody to play against, but the game does seem to require a stable connection because we did have a few problems with lag every now and then. The training mode is also included and is pretty self-explanatory. The offline multiplayer mode only takes place on one screen and works brilliantly because there isn't as much of a backcourt disadvantage as in normal tennis. The training mode is actually quite essential though if you want to master all of the controls.
You may laugh and question exactly what sort of controls there are to learn, but the control system is surprisingly deep and there are a lot of control options. There are four basic types of shots; topspin, backspin, left spin and right spin. Each of these moves is executed with one of the face buttons on the controller. The longer you hold a shot the more power you have behind the shot. It's also possible to use the analogue stick to direct where the ball goes. However, if you hold the stick in the one direction for too long then the ball will actually go off the table. You will be adequately warned of this though, as the controller will start to rumble. Those are the basic controls and you can have a good game of ping-pong - but there are actually even more advanced controls to learn.
The game contains a serve meter that is unique and something that takes a bit of getting used to. The serve bar is one bar that contains a rising spin meter, as well as a power meter. The objective is to try and line these up so you get the right amount of spin, as well as the best possible power. It's a very strategic meter that makes serving a bit more advantageous than in actual tennis games, rather than just press a power button you need to actually think about your serving. As well as this, during the actual match the game puts a small colour cue on the top of the ball (which represents the shot your opponent used) and it's possible to counter these shots. It's actually quite surprising how many controls there are to learn and this is all explained in the training mode, so we definitely suggest you take your time to work through it. The core game play in the title is nearly flawless and there appears to be a lot of detail put into making the players seem uniquely individual.
Despite the fact that the game is quite simplistic it is hard not to be impressed with the graphics. The eleven players are all modelled in a different way and have fluid movements, giving justice to the sport. Players will sweat, shirts will move realistically and sweat beads will form on the players. The playing areas all look uniquely different but most of the time all you're really seeing is the player, the bat, the table and the ball. A few times we actually did end up with a few frame rate dips and these were quite noticeable, but they didn't happen enough to hinder the game.
As you would expect the sound is quite minimalist and it suits the style of the game well. Occasionally you'll hear a chant from the crowd but mostly it's just basic noises. When you're involved in a serious rally the game will play some techno music that feels a bit out of place, but it doesn't detract from the experience and does intensify the situation.
The Xbox 360 achievements are pretty well spread throughout offline and online play. There are plenty of unlockables in the game from characters through to costumes and arenas. Single player wise it doesn't take too long to actually get through all that the game has to offer, but online play could definitely extend the lifespan of the game, considering there are online ranked and unranked matches as well as online achievements to unlock.
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis is a game that justifies the score of 8. Whilst the game is actually quite light on options, it's extremely easy to pick up and yet the control system makes it quite a deep game. If you are only in it for the single player then the game isn't quite so appealing, but there are a few unlockables to extend the single player campaign. Rockstar has demonstrated that they can develop all kinds of games. The lower recommended retail price just makes the deal even sweeter.