Wolf, BF1943, Virtua Tennis, Juarez, GI Joe, Fight Night, UFC, Overlord II.
The cross-platform console games having been gradually piling up over the summer, and it's about time the decks were cleared to best ready ourselves for the upcoming Q4 gaming tsunami. On this particular occasion, eight recent titles are put to the test, including our very first multi-format PSN/XBLA face-off.
As is the norm, the analyses are backed up with a comprehensive range of assets: full 24-bit RGB framebuffer dumps of each game (including 1080p shots where supported on PS3), embedded comparison videos using the very best in h264 compression, along with new high-definition clickthroughs in order to get the full picture. These Eurogamer Face-Off features have been gradually evolving over time, and once more the range of available data has increased: discrete frame-rate and v-sync readings have been added to the HD videos.
This morning we received a tip-off from our colleagues at Eurogamer.de that they had encountered substantial differences in Wii MotionPlus performance on their Wii debug review kit and their retail Wii console. Obviously this set off alarm bells - Kristan Reed had reviewed Grand Slam Tennis on a Wii debug kit.
With the gravity of that in mind, I went out and bought a boxed copy of Grand Slam Tennis and a WMP and hotfooted it round to Kristan's, where we both tested it out. Our German friends were absolutely right: there's a substantial, immediately noticeable difference between the responsiveness playing the game on a retail Wii.
As a result, I'm immediately withdrawing Eurogamer's Grand Slam Tennis review until we will publish a new review based purely on retail console play. The existing text will remain online with big whopping signposts on it that highlight the above, and once the replacement review is published, it will redirect to that.
This is an amended version of a review first published last week, then withdrawn by the editor due to errors affecting our previous review of its main competitor, Grand Slam Tennis. Please see the Editor's blog for an explanation.
Thanks to the release of the Wii MotionPlus, tennis games suddenly find themselves the centre of attention as gamers try to establish the merits of Nintendo's new controller add-on. EA Sports' Grand Slam Tennis got the ball rolling, and now it's SEGA's turn to get us leaping around the living room in the name of science.
As you'll recall, Virtua Tennis 2009 was released a few weeks back on PS3 and Xbox 360, and proved to be a solid update to the series with an improved online mode. On the downside, the wearily unchallenging World Tour mode was a little disappointing, as were the curious player progression mechanics and generally lacklustre visuals. Bolting on motion controls might help inject some life into the series - or could just derail it entirely.
Nintendo said spring from the start, but when the curtain fell on E3 last July, it was difficult to imagine going for nearly a year without Wii MotionPlus. Yet here we are, just over 24 hours away from Nintendo's 2009 conference, and we've only had WMP in the office for less than a week - and won't be able to buy it until next Friday. Even Nintendo - never a company to be rushed - usually acts quicker than this.
Virtua Tennis has almost become a victim of its own success. By nailing the fundamentals with intuitive precision and peerless fluidity at the first attempt, subsequent improvements have been somewhat incremental. The 2001 sequel added female players and speeded up the gameplay a notch, while the third added long-awaited online play and sharpened up the already superb visuals. Apart from updating the roster and perhaps making the online mode a tad more expansive and flexible, there's not much else tennis fans could really want from a 'new' version.
Perhaps not calling this Virtua Tennis 4 is more significant than it initially appears, because what we're dealing with here is a refreshed VT3 rather than a true sequel. The clue is in the choice of developer, with series creator SEGA-AM3 (aka Hitmaker) taking a back seat to UK starlets Sumo Digital (responsible for the Xbox 360 and PSP ports of VT3, and, more recently, last year's SEGA Superstars Tennis). After seeing how well the Sheffield-based studio handled both of those, no one should worry about technical credentials, but alarm bells always ring when a new team takes over a beloved franchise. Does Sumo stay true to the feel, or does its fresh perspective tinker to a ruinous degree in a misguided search for progress?
Initial concerns are laid to rest the first time you pick the game up. Sumo definitely hasn't broken things that didn't need fixing. The overall feel is much the same as it's always been, which is to say instinctive, stripped-down and fluid. The controls work on pure timing, positioning and shot direction, with the choice of topspin, slice or lob shots mapped to the same buttons as ever (and with four configurations available, every preference is catered for).
Now with added MotionPlus. We're the first to try it.
"I understand our competitors are using... buttons?" The SEGA producer demoing Virtua Tennis 2009 to us on Wii (also PS3, of which more later) allows surprise and a hint of scorn into his voice. This, his tone implies, is the brave new world of MotionPlus. Buttons are so last year.
SEGA has confirmed another instalment in the Virtua Tennis series is coming to PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
Virtua Tennis 2009 will feature real-life ballsmashers like Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams and Roger Federererer. New players for this year include Andy "Come on Tim" Murray and ladies French Open champion Ana Ivanovic.
Volleying, serving and net play have been improved, and there's now "player stumbling" to "add a new dimension to matches". Along with traditional singles, doubles and mixed doubles matches, the game will feature the official Davis Cup.