I can still remember playing Virtua Tennis with my mates on the Dreamcast. Even though the single player game was woefully basic, VT remained a firm favourite whenever anyone came over. There’s something just so satisfying about trouncing a real person rather than a computer opponent, especially since real players have a habit of being far more unpredictable than even the best AI. Multiplayer on VT3 is an even more satisfying experience – because the game looks so stunning, it draws you and your opponent into the proceedings, while the wireless controllers are a definite bonus over the trailing cables that were part and parcel with earlier VT games.
It’s also in this area where the Xbox 360 version of VT3 leaves the PlayStation 3 version for dust. In many respects the two versions are almost indistinguishably similar – graphically they’re both superb, sonically they’re nigh on identical and gameplay wise there’s not much between them. Strangely, the X360 version just seems to play faster than the PS3 release, plus there seems to be more delay from your player when he’s gone to ground on the 360 than on the PS3. But none of those little quirks add or subtract too much from what is a superbly entertaining game. What does separate the two versions by a country mile though, is online play. You see the online play on the Xbox 360 version is fantastic, while the online play on the PlayStation 3 version doesn’t actually exist!
I’m not sure why Sega chose not to include online play on the PS3, but I’m sure there were reasons. Perhaps Sony hadn’t finalised the online service for PS3 at the key point in development, or perhaps Microsoft wanted a key differentiating feature for the Xbox 360 version, but the upshot is that the score at the top of this page relates to the X360 version of the game. If you’re in the market for the PS3 version, you’re going to want to drop a point off that score – it’s definitely still worth getting though.
Playing VT3 over Xbox Live is a thankfully simple process, and you should find yourself on court with total strangers or friends in a matter of minutes. The first thing you’ll notice when playing online is that the speed of the gameplay is considerably slower than in single player or local multiplayer. This isn’t a mistake on Sega’s part, more that the developer has clearly decided that slower gameplay over the Internet is better than laggy and jerky gameplay, and I have to agree with that sentiment. You soon get used to the slightly slower pace and the fact that there never seems to be any network lag makes the whole experience far more immersive and enjoyable.