Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis is a clunky name, I’ll admit. But it’s also the worst part of the game. Really, the only bad thing about it. Everything else about this realistic take on ping pong is great. This isn’t a silly, parody-filled game covered in fake ads and violence like you might expect from Rockstar. It’s a well-made and sharp-looking table tennis game that just so happens to be published by the folks behind GTA and Manhunt.
Released on May 23, 2006, a few months after the release of the Xbox 360, Table Tennis was our first look at what a then next-gen Rockstar game could look like. It was impressive, to say the least. Characters looked like human beings, not weirdly lumpy action figures with giant hands, like Rockstar games from the PS2 era. This is thanks to the RAGE engine, Rockstar’s custom, in-house engine that powers all their games these days. And Table Tennis was our first look at the power of RAGE and it was exciting.
If Table Tennis had just been a visual stunner, that would have been enough to get folks playing it. 2006 was the early days of Xbox 360. There wasn’t a ton to play or much that would show off the power of Microsoft’s new console. So a fancy-looking table tennis game would have been enough. But Rockstar San Diego went and made a great table tennis game too. It strikes a perfect balance between arcade action and simulation. Anyone can pick it up and play it and within minutes they’ll be having fun and winning a few matches. Hiding beneath is an incredibly precise and responsive table tennis simulation.
Though, to be clear, this isn’t some boring simulation of table tennis. Rockstar San Diego added enough flair and style to make sure you don’t fall asleep while watching or playing. One of my favourite touches is how the longer you keep a rally going, the more intense things get. The music speeds up and gets louder, eventually the world around you and your opponent fades into darkness and the sound of the ball becomes louder and louder. It simulates the way players get focused during long rallies and it works perfectly as a way to signal to any spectators watching you play that shit is getting real.
Now imagine what Rockstar San Diego (or any other Rockstar studio) could do in 2021 with a new table tennis game. 4k visuals, 120 FPS gameplay, custom characters, online leagues, and more. I want that game. I can already feel the PS5 controller’s fancy triggers and haptic feedback reacting to each paddle smack and swing.
Sadly, I doubt we get a Table Tennis 2. At this point, Rockstar Games is more likely to add table tennis as an activity to GTA Online. Besides, Table Tennis served its purpose for Rockstar. It was a way for the developers to get RAGE up and running on a new console, leading the way for GTA V and Red Dead Redemption II.
But maybe, someday, once Rockstar Games has more money than Google from selling people shit in GTA Online, we can get a Table Tennis 2.
Or Bully 2. I’ll take either.