Image: Resolution Games
When virtual reality meets tennis, the best-case scenario is something like Racket Club: a VR game where you don’t want to put the racket down.
I’ve never played tennis, and due to a knee injury, will probably never take it up. The latest game from Resolution Games (Blaston, Demeo, Ultimechs) has brought me closer to the fascination of this sport and allows me to enjoy it in my own living room without the risk of injury. With people I like, as if we were actually on the court. Racket Club combines tennis and related sports like pickleball and squash with virtual reality to create something simply magical.
The VR game offers a variety of game modes: there is a competitive singles and doubles mode, a practice mode against AI, a career mode in which you compete against increasingly stronger AI opponents, and a drills mode in which you learn the rules, technique, and tricks in a playful way. Last but not least, there is a virtual sports club environment where you can meet and get to know other players from all over the world. If you want to play a match, all you have to do is select the door of a nearby court.
As you play, you earn experience points that unlock cosmetic items for your avatar, such as sneakers and sweatbands, as well as new rackets. The latter have properties that affect your game and get better as you level up.
A smooth and fun experience from the get to
Racket Club invents a new racket sport, designed from the ground up for virtual reality and optimized for play in your own living room. The rules are easy to understand and can be learned in less than a minute.
The game takes place on a small court and requires no artificial locomotion. A step or two in any direction is enough to hit your opponent’s balls back. You play in a glass box that you can use to your advantage: Balls can be hit against the raised side walls to surprise your opponent. The ball physics are fantastic, and thanks to subtle haptic feedback from the controller, you can feel when a ball hits the racket. Racket Club feels intuitive and smooth from the start thanks to the studio’s fine-tuning.
That’s not to say it’s easy or undemanding, far from it. Like any sport, it takes a lot of practice to get a feel for the game and its physics. I’ve played a few rounds against Ben and a longer against various AI opponents, and I see a lot of room for improvement in my playing and movement technique. And I realized that my backhand is terrible right now.
The mixed reality mode is a game changer
The AI opponents are not pre-animated, but have been trained using machine learning to move and behave like human opponents. Anonymized motion data from real players serves as the data set. This is a fascinating approach that produces impressively realistic movements, especially when the opponents make mistakes or miss a ball.
I played Racket Club with Meta Quest 3 and I really like the game’s mixed reality mode. Your side of the court is displayed in the real environment, while your opponent’s side can be seen through a portal. I only play Racket Club in mixed reality mode because I’m always aware of my surroundings and don’t have to worry about hitting a wall with my hand. This is a perfect example of how mixed reality can be a game changer for classic, motion-intensive VR games.
Finally, I have to address the space requirements. Your side of the field is about 6.5 by 6.5 feet, so it should fit into many, but not all, living rooms. Thanks to an easy-to-use tool and mixed reality, the field can be fitted into your space in seconds. However, it cannot be made any smaller. If you want to play competitively, you should have a 9 by 9 foot playing area under optimal conditions. The reason is that you want to be able to swing your racket safely beyond the glass box without hurting yourself or damaging things around your house. A smaller court is fine for me, and when I want to get crazy, I can play in our garage. But be warned: once you start a round of Racket Club, it will be hard to put the racket down.
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