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Game, Net & Match (PC) Review

Background Info

While the average year might yield double-digits in the number of football or baseball titles, a good tennis simulation is a rare breed. Heck, any tennis simulation is a rare breed and the reason to see why is simple: tennis simply isn't as popular as the major sports--especially in the U.S. Still, with company after company trying and failing to create a popular racket fest, Blue Byte just might have found the recipe for success with its newest attempt: Game, Net & Match!.

Presentation/Graphics : 79
Visually, Game, Net & Match! (GNM) is a mixed bag. The players themselves look a little cartoonish up-close, but look quite sufficient during gameplay. The courts and props littered around the playing field are also well detailed--especially with a 3D card--and compliment the players very well. Unfortunately, the crowd, which in fairness isn't in view all that often, looks like a sea of colored dots on a cardboard cut-out. Don't even get me started on the skyline, which looks like it was colored by my little sister. The good news is, none of the graphical inconsistencies detract from the overall feel of the game. What really counts is how the visuals are in the field of play and I'm glad to say, they get the job done admirably.

Presentation/Audio : 80
Tennis isn't much of a vocal game. You wouldn't really want an annoying play-by-play man or a loud crowd in tennis. As such, you won't find too much in the way of fancy sound effects in GNM. What you do find is the real atmosphere of a tennis match and what a great atmosphere it is. I've never heard more realistic crowd reactions than in this game. Other companies should take note of the crowd effects in GNM -they are really that good. The crowd will cheer ferociously after you win the match an- will clap after every point. If you make an outstanding shot, they will ooh and ahh, and if you errantly double-fault, a sort of sarcastic chuckling can be heard. Although the crowd really has no bearing on the game, its nice to know that Blue Byte took the initiative to make it this realistic.

Other gameplay sounds are equally impressive. The players grunt after big serves or volleys and the effects of the ball hitting the racket ring through with authenticity. Unfortunately, the voices are pathetic and its tough to figure why considering how good the rest of the audio is. The "out" and "fault" calls sound like the announcer has a hair-ball lodged in his throat. Equally as weak is the boring announcers. Luckily, they only chime in with their pointless and downright stupid comments from time to time so you won't be bothered by them. All quibbles aside, the audio does the job well in GNM.

Interface/Options : 90
Everything about the interface in GNM simply screams EA Sports. The menu system is nice and easy to navigate and as flashy as you could want. The main menu yields an impressive array of options and once you make your selection, starting the desired game-type is a snap. Load times weren't a problem and all options were easy to set.

Gameplay : 82
Its apparent early-on that Blue Byte Software made every effort to make the gameplay in GNM as authentic as possible. Racketeers will be extremely pleased with the available gameplay options and the realism involved in playing the game. Every imaginable shot is available from a sharp slice to a lob to combat those pesky net-huggers. I highly recommend a gamepad for play and if you've got one, pulling off these fancy moves is a piece of cake. Directing your shot is handled with the D-Pad and you can hit the ball harder if you hold down the button longer.

Serving in GNM is easy to learn but difficult to master. With some practice, you'll be firing aces down the lines and once you are actually able to do it, you get a great sense of gratification. Nothing is more fun than blasting a 130 MPH laser right at your defenseless opponent and watching him feebly attempting to hit it back at you.

Once you've got serving down, it is important to learn the different shot types. Often times, you have to decide quickly which shot is appropriate for the situation or you'll find yourself eating the turf as your opponent rifles one past you. It all depends on the opponent. If your counterpart lives by the net, you had better be ready to use that lob to buy yourself some time and space. If your opponent is more laid-back, perhaps you should rush the net and slam it home. Luckily, controlling the game is simple as the computer decides whether you should hit the ball forehand, backhand, or overhead so all you are responsible for is choosing shot type and location. Therefore, you don't have to be a tennis nut to succeed in GNM. Control is responsive and you'll always feel as though you are in complete control of the action.

An intriguing feature in GNM is an option to create your own player when you start a season or tournament. Once you're in the editor screen, you have thirty total attribute points to distribute for your player. These skills range from serving, speed, forehand, backhand, etc. While this is theoretically a great feature, it could have been implemented better. It seems that some attributes offer more value than others. For example, if you put the maximum amount of your points on serving, your character will be able to rocket 130+ MPH serves with pinpoint accuracy. If you fill your character up with speed points, however, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference as the character doesn't really seem any faster. The same can be said for using your points on forehand or backhand. I really didn't notice much of a difference as I added more points. Overall, the addition of the player editor is a nice touch, but it is somewhat unbalanced in terms of effectiveness. Hopefully, it will be improved upon if there is a sequel.

Perhaps the best part of GNM is all the different gameplay options you have to choose from. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can practice, play an exhibition match, start a season or championship, or play the game over the internet. Once you've selected from those options, depending on your choice, you then can pick the court-type (grass, clay, concrete or carpet), create your own player, choose the number of sets, etc. The vast number of options is staggering and tennis fans should be pleased with the variety.

One of the few dissapointments as far as options are concerned is the lack of any sort of license. Therefore, you won't see any of your favorite players out there. All players in the game are ficticious and it would have been fun to have Andre Agassi take on Monica Seles, but hey, you can't have everything.

Difficulty : 85
So the game's awesome right? You should go out and buy it right now right? Well, that all depends if you have a decent Internet connection. Allow me to explain. The AI in GNM is pitiful. The computer opponents all react the same way to everthing you do regardless of their ranks. Players can exploit the sorry computer-controlled players every time by heading straight for the net. The AI is extremely slow to react to your actions and if you mix it up enough, you won't lose a point. On top of this, the AI double-faults WAY too often. For those of you not in the tennis know, a double-fault is when the player fails to get a serve inside the appropriate box in two attempts. In real life, if you miss on the first, you are much more conservative the second time around. Not so with the computer AI. Unfortunately, you can't simply jack up the difficulty setting because there is only one setting available in GNM. Its too bad Blue Byte didn't spend more time refining the AI, they could have a wonderful game here. But wait...there is a saving grace...

Multiplayer : 55
To combat the pitiful AI offered by the computer opponents in GNM, Blue Byte included the ability to play the game over the Internet. Despite some minor lag problems, the game plays rather well.

Blue Byte offers their own service for match-making and the interface is silky smooth. All you have to do is click the Internet Tennis option, answer a few questions, and you're ready to challenge your cyber friends to a hot match.

Yes, this service is simple to access, but for some reason, I had a really difficult time finding someone to play with. The most players I ever found on the server was about ten and since the game is popular in many countries, finding an English-speaking opponent can be difficult.

Once you do find someone, the games get fast and furious. It is incredibly entertaining to play against live players and if you're not on top of your game, you'll have a hard time. Gameplay can be somewhat difficult because some players are from out of the country. Therefore, lag is a problem - especially for those with weak connections. At times, you'll see your opponent swing and miss at the ball but magically the ball comes careening back after you giving you little time to react. Also, after hitting the ball, it seems that it moves in slow motion as compared to the shots coming back at you. This is easily gotten used to however, and you'll soon realize that your opponents is having the same problem. I found that the game was actually quite playable with a modest 31,200 connection.

Overall : 76
GNM is an impressive effort doomed by sub-par AI. The game's features and depth are very impressive and the ability to edit your own player is a definite plus. Realism is top-notch but the AI just isn't what it should be. If you've got a decent Internet connection and at least moderately enjoy tennis, don't hesitate to pick this one up. If you are only capable of poor connections or just plan to play the game in single-player mode, don't bother: you'll be disappointed.

By: Tim Maxwell 9/17/98

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