In case you missed it, Rockstar Games has unveiled the first trailer for Grand Theft Auto 6. The revered studio’s status as a top-tier developer is such that the Internet has worked itself into an expected frenzy.
Viewing figures have been shattered, and though the trailer itself runs a mere 90 seconds, it’s already been broken down in every conceivable way.
But if you can, forget about GTA 6 for a minute. You won’t be playing it until late 2025 anyway, or possibly 2026 if you’re die-hard PCMR. I’m here to tell you there’s another Rockstar game you’ve got to try in the interim.
Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis. Name not ringing any bells? Released back in 2006 as an Xbox 360 exclusive, when Jan Ove Waldner was still in his pomp, the game raised more than a few eyebrows. Indeed, its announcement was met with a sense of bewilderment. The home of some of the world’s best-selling action-adventure games is releasing a sports title. And not just any sport, but ping pong?
Well, it’s true, it did happen, and the results serve – if you excuse the pun – as definitive proof of the studio’s unrelenting pursuit of perfection. What’s just as fascinating is how the game came to be, and the lasting impact on future Rockstar titles.
A Hidden Gem
Development is said to have started in 2005 at Rockstar San Diego, one of multiple Rockstar studios across the globe. The San Diego branch is famed for mature titles such as the Midnight Club and Red Dead series. Diverting to Table Tennis was a shock turn of events, to say the least.
“The backbone of major blockbusters for years to come.”
Legend has it the Rockstar team plays a whole lot of competitive Table Tennis at its various studios. That underlying love for the sport helped nurture a digital recreation, but there was also forward-looking importance. 18 years ago, Rockstar could no longer ignore the value of an in-house-developed game engine.
Such realisation led to the birth of Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE), created specifically for Table Tennis. That same engine went on to become the backbone of major blockbusters for years to come. In hindsight, it was an inspired choice. The character models, small environment and fast pace all combine to create an ideal environment in which to examine RAGE’s capabilities.
Developed early in the Xbox 360 lifecycle, RAGE has gone on to power the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3, RDR2, and GTA V. That’s some legacy, and Grand Theft Auto 6 is widely expected to employ the latest version of RAGE.
It is ultimately impossible to ignore the game’s influence on the larger-world Rockstar games we’ve come to know and love. The next time you play a side game in your favourite GTA, think of it as a mini extension of Table Tennis, as that’s where its provenance lies.
“…feels like Street Fighter with a paddle.”
Put simply, gameplay mechanics carry sheer unadulterated delight. The fast-paced action between two competitors feels like Street Fighter with a paddle. Buttons are mashed when the speed of a rally becomes untenable. Adrenalin kicks up a notch when the lights dim, and the digital beads of sweat on your character will be reflected on your real-world self.
Despite its age, graphics hold up remarkably well, and it remains to this day one of the best-looking Xbox 360 games. Take a look at the player models and you’ll see an unmistakeable resemblance to your favourite GTA characters. The seemingly trivial physics of sweaty t-shirts were a harbinger of things to come, and Table Tennis also excels in the sound department. Wait until you hear the crowd react to your comeback; it’ll get you up off your seat.
Each player’s body is purposely sluggish, placing all the emphasis on your reactions and timings. That’s where rallies are won or lost, and though it’s a game almost anyone can pick up and play competently, there’s an awesome learning curve to take you from competency to I’m-a-ninja-with-this-paddle. Side note: the game was ported to Nintendo Wii, but it’s so much better with the Xbox controller and plays wonderfully on Xbox Series X|S.
But hold on a minute, wasn’t Table Tennis a glorified tech demo for RAGE? It’s easy to see why some held that viewpoint, yet such accusations are wide of the mark. It’s a masterful and unique game, and while content is admittedly slim with regards to storyline and tournaments, the joys of multiplayer offer endless thrills. Rockstar managed to perfect video game Table Tennis at the first attempt, and to the despair of fans, no sequel has been announced.
“If you can’t fit a table tennis table in your lounge (and I bloody can’t), it’s the next best thing.”Tom Bramwell, Eurogamer review, May 2006.
1 vs. 1 Perfection
There’s an unmistakeable twinge of nostalgia, as while Table Tennis does online play extremely well, it’s at its best played locally with friends. It harkens back to those days where we all congregated around the screen, waiting our turn for an opportunity to stop a mate’s winning streak.
The last time I played, I beat a colleague who’s a bit of whizz in real-life table tennis. I won’t mention names, but after beating him convincingly in-game, I announced my retirement from the sport soon after. I remain undefeated.
These seemingly trivial talking points shouldn’t be overlooked. Online gaming is a wonder all unto its own, but there’s a joy to local multiplayer that’s difficult to replicate. Trust me, rage quitting doesn’t send the same message as pulling the cord in the middle of a rally.
Rockstar Table Tennis
“Experience the unmatched intensity of the real-life sport with an authentic physics engine and intuitive gameplay that mimics the exhilarating experience found in true international competition.”
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Rockstar’s unexpected foray is the last in a long line of outstanding sports titles, dating all the way to Pong, through Kick Off, Speedball, and eventually Table Tennis. As with those earlier comparisons, replayability is seemingly endless; all you need is a worthy opponent. AI opposition provides enough to keep you entertained initially, but once you’ve mastered the tactics and mannerisms of Liu Ping and Juergen, you’ll want human challengers to fully test your reflexes.
Given the violent nature of other Rockstar games, there’s a satisfying innocence to Table Tennis. You won’t be bombarded with DLC or paid add-ons, there’s no season pass, and even the up-front cost is low. At launch, Rockstar’s one-and-only sports title arrived on store shelves at £29.99. That was during a period where game prices were rising fast. Today, Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis remains available for £11.99.
If you’ve already played the game, smile knowing exactly where I’m coming from. If you haven’t, well, there’s no time like the present.