By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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What better way to unwind after a tough day at the office than by playing tennis against the likes of Roger Federer, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Andy Roddick?
You can -- virtually speaking, of course -- if you own a Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation 3, and the latest sports title from Sega. In fact, the new "Virtua Tennis 3" looks so realistic that TV passers-by might think it's a televised match.
From the main menu, players can choose from a number of game modes: World Tour, where you can create your own player and begin to compete around the globe to achieve top ranking; Tournament, a five-match singles or three-match doubles game against computer-controlled players; Exhibition, a single match mode for one to four players on the same television; Court Games, a collection of 12 minigames for two to four players (including the fun arcade-style Alien Attack ); and Tennis Academy, a tutorial mode with training tips and challenges.
In the Xbox 360 version, the one played for this review, you also can engage in online matches with up to eight friends in cyberspace (via Xbox Live; $49.99 a year), but this option is curiously absent from the PlayStation 3 version. The PS3 version, however, offers "true" high-definition graphics (1080p support), though the Xbox 360 looks about as good.
Both games offer near photorealistic visuals with incredibly detailed players and courts, authentic "camera" angles and ultra-fluid animation.
Serving, lobbing, slicing and smashing the ball are fairly easy. You use the left analog stick to move the player around the court, anticipating where the ball will land and then pressing a button for the desired shot: A for topspin, B or X for a defensive slice or Y for a lob shot when the opponent is near the net.
After pressing the shot button, use the left stick again to determine the shot's direction. When playing doubles with A.I. (artificial intelligence) players, you can give offensive or defensive instructions to your computer-controlled partner with one of the four "trigger" buttons on the shoulders of the Xbox 360 controller.
The World Tour mode is the meat and potatoes of "Virtua Tennis 3," which lets players first build a male or female pro by selecting from hundreds of options for facial features and color, hair, height and weight, racket color and uniform, and even play style (left- or right-handed, backhand style and posture).
Then it's time to create a name and select a home base by rotating the world and picking a country. After that, it's game time: Travel around the world and take on competitors, view your tour calendar and read incoming e-mail from within the game (with advice from your coach and the odd, snarky remark from rival players).
As you win matches and master your volleys and footwork, you also can earn apparel and equipment and unlock other goodies.
The game contains 25 courts to play on (grass, carpet, clay or hard), in countries such as the United States, France, England, Australia, Argentina, Canada and Japan. It features 20 tennis stars, including Federer, Amelie Mauresmo, Roddick, Tommy Haas, Williams and Sharapova.
There's a lot to love about "Virtua Tennis 3" as Sega has served up a gorgeous and challenging tennis game with plenty of modes and customizability.
"Virtua Tennis 3" looks so realistic that TV passers-by might think it's a televised match.
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