Version tested: Xbox
Every so often, a videogame pops up that makes us wish real life was less real, and more like videogames. Usually when we're playing something that lets you ride a hoverboard, or smash very expensive cars into shop windows, or anything which has the words "Star" and "Wars" on the cover.
Outlaw Tennis is one such game - and not just because it makes us feel like we are reasonably good at sport for once. It's because Outlaw Tennis takes all those tennis clichés - the polite handshaking, the crisp white shorts, the strawberries and cream and the hateful "Come on Tim" nonsense - and lobs it straight in the bin. And then replaces it all with tattooed ex-cons, giant-breasted strippers, on-court brawls and matches that take place in abattoirs. Now that's more like it.
In all honesty, we were expecting the novelty of such additions to wear off within an hour or two of playing OT, leaving us with an average - at best - tennis game, which would come nowhere near to matching the likes of Virtua Tennis, Top Spin and Smash Court.
But we were wrong. Yes, really.
The thing is, it seems that developer Hypnotix actually put quite a lot of effort into ensuring that the gameplay in OT was up to scratch before they started worrying about the tits 'n' tats and amusing voiceovers. Hence the controls are intuitive and responsive, the players move smoothly and fluidly, and there's a real sense that while it doesn't take very long to master the basic shots, it'll take a bit of practice to learn the real killer moves and to make the most of the obligatory turbo meter.
You'll find the usual collection of modes to choose from - Quick Play, Exhibition, Tour, Xbox Live and Drills. The latter offers 20 events designed to hone your skills, and you can use the points you earn to improve your character's attributes such as accuracy, power and speed, for playing in the main Tour.
Almost without exception, the Drills are an awful lot of fun - particular favourites of ours include Butcher Block Blitz, which takes place on the abattoir court we mentioned earlier. Your task is to smash balls at a line of butchers as they do the conga across the court, knocking them down and out in the process. Fail to hit them all before they reach the cow standing by the net, and Daisy gets it - succeed and an audience of butchers, complete with horrendously bloodstained overalls, will clap politely.
The twists on the tennis theme don't end there. In Exhibition mode, you can try your hand at new match types such as Pinball (hit bumpers placed in your opponent's court) or Hot Potato (when the meter fills up, the ball explodes - and so do you if you're on the wrong side of the court) and many more. Some match types work better than others, but generally they're well designed and fun to play.
Anyone familiar with the Outlaw series will know that random fists fights tend to feature highly in the games, and Outlaw Tennis is no exception. Once you've earned a Beating Token, it's a simple matter of pressing the Y button to launch a violent and unprovoked attack on your unsuspecting opponent.
Then you just mash the buttons as hard and as fast as you can - no, there's no skill involved whatsoever, but who cares. The first person to win two bouts earns 30 seconds in Hyper mode, which means unlimited turbo shots and lightning reflexes for the duration.
Outlaw veterans will also know that the games feature a wide selection of colourful characters, and they'll recognise the likes of Summer (a sexy stripper with a PhD), El Suave (an Hispanic smoothy with an unfeasibly large bulge in his pants) and Ice Trey (a white rapper who's about as ghetto as James Hewitt). But our player of choice is plucky newcomer Sven Svensvensonson, who sports a delightful outfit based on the Swedish flag topped off with a classic viking's helmet.
Each match is peppered with comedy commentary that's a bit hit and miss - all too often the jokes are nothing more than lazy Carry On-style wordplay (and yes, this from the people who brought you the Giz puns), but occasionally you'll hear the odd gem ("Sven Svensvensonson hails from a small village in Sweden known for its historical re-enactments of classic seventies porn.").
There are also brief cut-scenes between each point which aren't generally worth your time, though watching El Suave wait for his Chihuahua to finish humping his leg before he serves the next ball makes the change from the stupid Sampras-shakes-fist-limply nonsense you get in Smash Court Tennis.
After a while both the commentary and the cut-scenes become nothing more than an annoyance, really, but Hypnotix have thankfully included an option to turn them off, so no worries.
All in all, while Outlaw Tennis is not likely to please tennis purists much, it's a solid, entertaining game that includes some innovative features. Whether you're playing on your own, online or with a friend it's liable to offer even more hours of fun than that poster of that lady tennis player scratching her arse - though possibly not the Kylie remake.
If you like your tennis games of an altogether more serious nature and are already very happy with the likes of Top Spin, thank you, then Outlaw Tennis probably won't do a lot for you. But if you fancy something a little bit different that's highly playable and costs less than twenty quid, this one's well worth a purchase.
7 / 10