If you're the type who thinks Lleyton Hewitt just isn't in your face enough or that Maria Sharapova needs to show more skin on court, then Outlaw Tennis is probably for you.
Outlaw Tennis is the latest in the series of Outlaw sports games which takes traditional sports and gives them an attitude makeover -- attitude in this case being generous dollops of low brow humour, stereotype characters and plenty of 'wacky' game variations (usually involving explosions or fights). The Outlaw games (Outlaw Tennis being no exception) also feature decidedly un-PC portrayals of women, so sensitive new age guys and girls with any shred of self esteem should probably stay away.
It's this 'attitude' that will ultimately affect your enjoyment of Outlaw Tennis. If a game featuring a guy getting bitten by a dog on his privates, a conga line of butchers as part of a training drill, or girls that wouldn't look astray in the latest Eminem video doesn't faze you, then you'll find Outlaw Tennis a fun package. If not, then go for one of the more staid tennis games on the PS2, like the Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament series. This is a pity, as underneath its schoolboy exterior, Outlaw Tennis is a decent tennis game that's actually a challenge to master.
Outlaw Tennis displays its twisted viewpoint at every level of the game. There's the commentator that makes numerous off-colour jokes. Then there are the characters themselves who make asides after every point scored. There's also the different play styles that pop up regularly, plus the occasional bout of ultra-violence in the form of Street Fighter-like matches. Restraint isn't a word the programmers had high in their vocabulary -- you'll be laughing out loud a lot if you're into its particular humour, even though you'll end up hearing the same lines over and over.
Thankfully, the game offers up plenty of variety with 16 playable characters, all of whom have distinct personalities and plenty of different humourous cutscenes. While you only have three characters selectable at the beginning, winning matches in the game's tour mode unlocks more (as well as new costumes and accessories for existing characters). They don't play altogether that differently from each other, but the game does provide players with upgrade features that can improve a character's speed, power, accuracy and more. Upgrade points can be earned via completing Outlaw Tennis' training drills, which in typical Outlaw style aren't your normal run of the mill training games. You'll face the aforementioned butcher conga line in a drill to test your placement of the ball, for example, while you have to target exploding mines in a drill to test your serve.
Outlaw Tennis may be fun and froth on the top, but underneath it can be quite a grueling tennis game which forces you to play aggressively and intelligently to win. Matches can be tough even at the lowest difficulty settings, and you'll probably find yourself floundering early on while getting used to Outlaw Tennis's controls. The Xbox controller's four face buttons all feature a different shot type (such as lob, flat, slice or top spin), with the left trigger used to provide extra spin. Holding down the right trigger activates a turbo, which sees your character moving at a faster speed. Timing a strike on a ball well while pressing Turbo will result in a super shot -- but even these can be easily returned if not placed on court properly.
Completing the game's training drills and upgrading your chosen character are practically prerequisites before trying any of the game's normal play modes. Going in with a base character in the tour mode, for example, will see you ineffectively batting balls back directly to your opponent simply because your character's accuracy skills are too low.
Solid tennis mechanics aside, the game tries to liven up proceedings by serving up different play styles, some of which are fun, some of which are just annoying or worse. Hot Potato, for example, features an exploding ball on a timer, while Pinball features bumpers throughout the court that you hit for points. Other styles are just normal tennis with different scoring -- Baseball, for example, features exactly the same rules as a normal game except that instead of points you score 'runs'.
Outlaw Tennis is by no means a graphical knock-out, but it does offer high quality player models that feature plenty of detail. The courts themselves are quite varied, ranging from the deck of a naval destroyer to the depths of hell itself. The soundtrack is mainly generic US-college filler, though you will find some gems here and there.
If you're a fan of its particular brand of humour, plus get past the disconnect between its wacky presentation and serious difficulty, then Outlaw Tennis is the game for you. It features a decent gaming challenge, plus plenty of personality to boot.
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