Try as we might, we haven't yet found a 'Hot Coffee' mod for Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis.
Such is the reputation of developer Rockstar Games for gritty, envelope-pushing titles that you're immediately wondering whether there's more to Table Tennis than meets the eye. Is there a hidden backstory to all of the selectable characters? Are there special codes to unlock Uzis instead of ping pong paddles? Or is there a super secret -Hot Coffee" style cheat for naked pong action?
The answer, simply, is no. Rockstar, the innovators of open-ended, sandbox gameplay (as exemplified in their outstanding Grand Theft Auto series), have come up with a title that is notable for its extremely tight focus. Table Tennis is all about getting the game right, and it delivers.
Table tennis may not seem the most exciting game to transform into a next-generation video game, but Rockstar have managed to make a compelling title by focusing on getting the mechanics of table tennis down pat. The controls are simple -- the Xbox 360's left thumbstick is used to move players, while all of the four face buttons can be pressed to return a shot. Each face button is assigned with a different type of spin (top, back, left and right), while the left shoulder button is used for focus shots. Focus shots are more accurate, powerful returns that can only be used when a player's focus meter is charged.
And that is pretty much it. This simplicity is one of the game's strengths -- the controls are simple enough to qualify Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis as a pick-up-and-play title. Most gamers should have no problem playing the game within minutes, something many other sports games definitely can't boast. But underlying that simplicity is enough depth and, believe it or not, strategy, to make this game a compelling one to play against computer or real opponents.
With all of the different spins available for players to utilise, the game becomes a tense affair of positioning and forward planning, particularly between two experienced players. You'll find yourself thinking shots ahead as you try to gradually out position your opponent -- and they'll obviously be thinking the same. This will lead to some nail-biting rallies which will often go for minutes (our record rally so far is 150 hits, though we've heard of much bigger scores out there).
Underlying the fast and frenetic gameplay is a solid physics engine that looks and feels extremely realistic. The ball moves just as you'd expect in real life -- it'll even ricochet off at unusual angles should it hit the edge of the table.
Single player modes in Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis are fairly meagre. The main single player mode consists of three tournaments of increasing difficulty, but most players should be able to get past these within a few hours of playing. There's also an Exhibition mode which allows you to take on computer or human opponents in one on one matches. Players initially only have four characters to choose from, with more unlockable after completing certain game requirements. The characters all differ in skills and expertise (power, accuracy, spin and serve), meaning players will have to set their game strategies depending on the character they're playing. Unfortunately, there's no skills progression in Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis -- all of the characters are pre-made, and there's no option to create your own.
Multiplayer is where this title truly shines. As a single player affair, Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis, frankly, loses its appeal quickly. Play it with friends or over Xbox Live and it comes to life -- the non-stop back and forth action makes for a compelling experience.
Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis truly looks next-generation. The player models are absolutely eye-catching -- they're almost eerily realistic, and move very fluidly. Spiffy next-gen effects are also in play -- the character's all feature textured clothing that move well against their bodies. You'll also see sweat on the clothes and character's as matches progress. The actual tables and stadiums themselves also look good, although you'll never actually see a crowd reacting to matches as you do in most other sports games.
But while you can't see them, the game does present an effective illusion of a crowd thanks to some decent sound effects. During the course of a match, you'll hear individuals yelling out encouragement, booing if you're playing particularly badly, and chanting your character's name should you be on fire. The game's soundtrack also fits in well with the pace of the game -- it's quiet at first, but the longer your rally goes the more intense the music becomes.
Rockstar Games presents Table Tennis also comes in at budget price of AU$69.99 -- budget for an Xbox 360 title that is. Its definitely good value for a title that is sure to become a big hit when playing with a few friends, but it may not be as appealing for those who are looking for a purely single player experience. Table Tennis is fast and fun, but it's definitely something you need to play against friends or over Xbox Live.