Virtua Tennis 4 is an ambassador for Sony's vision of the future of gaming, a confident demonstration of the benefits of Move and 3D. And unlike most early ambassadors, it's polished. This isn't a tentative experiment with mysterious new techniques – you can tell that right from the first serve – but a wholehearted attempt at building a professional-looking sports game entirely upon new technology. It doesn't work seamlessly just yet, but it's already doing a lot better than most.
We've been here before, you might be thinking. The Wii MotionPlus was flanked by EA's Grand Slam Tennis and Virtua Tennis 2009 on store shelves in the first week of its release. I think it's safe to say that neither of those changed the world, and Virtua Tennis 4 probably won't either; it's not going to magically convert people who've just never gotten along with the idea of motion control. But for those of us who love the idea but are continually disappointed by the execution, this should instil some hope.
Sony is continually telling us that 3D is The Future – even that it makes us less rubbish at games, particularly racing and sports – but wearing a pair of cheap plastic glasses for a game demo still feels ridiculous. Once the faint sense of humiliation had subsided, though, the 3D effect proved to be very impressive, particularly in the mini-cinematics that punctuate a match. After a point has been won, the scoreboard appears at the forefront of the screen whilst Federer or Murray (the only two playable sportspeople at this very early stage) celebrates or sulks on the court.
During actual gameplay, the effect is more mixed – though it's worth acknowledging that these are very early days, and that wearing 3D glasses on top of my normal glasses really messes with my eyes. After your serve, which you see from behind your player's shoulder, you play the game from a first-person perspective, with the racquet held out in front of you. I'm not convinced that seeing the ball coming towards you out of the screen helps you judge when to hit it any better, but seeing it flash right past you and into a top corner makes near-misses feel even more tense.
More functional is the fully 3D ghost of your racquet as you hold it out in front of you, which adjusts to your every movement as you twist the Move controller around in your hands. You've got to get out of old motion control habits with Virtua Tennis 4; my fallback Wii Sports Tennis technique of letting my arm drop limp at my side and flicking my wrist proved wholly ineffectual within about five seconds. You have to hold the Move controller out like a real tennis racquet, and move into position for shots.
This might sound affected, but it doesn't feel forced. Replicating actual sports in front of a TV screen has always been a bit silly, but the controller in your hand and its 3D, fully moving image on-screen are an adequate enough substitute for a real racquet to draw you in.