In VR Corner so far, we’ve shown you the many ways that VR can transport you to crazy, adventurous lands. What VR can also do however that isn’t discussed nearly as often, is how it can emulate real life activities; something that, over the last year, has been extremely appealing while we’re all stuck at home. Eleven Table Tennis is without a doubt the most realistic experience I’ve seen in a VR space. It emulates its real-life counterpart so perfectly that there have been several occasions that I completely forgot I was even wearing a headset. It’s so popular, this game, that a whole community of real-life table tennis places have turned to it during COVID, with fantastic results. This is the an example of what the future of sports titles looks like.
The PC version of Eleven Table Tennis was released in 2016, and the game has been continuously developed since then until the version for Oculus Quest was released last year, which means they’ve had plenty of time to refine the experience to what it is today based on player feedback.
The developers of Eleven Table Tennis had the goal in mind to make the “ultimate Table Tennis simulator”, where you can play opponents in online multiplayer or practice against the advanced AI. They went for a completely realistic approach, with physics designed to be as real as the actual sport. The good news is, they have absolutely achieved this in my opinion. It’s so realistic that it doesn’t even overly gamify their approach, unlike other sports games on the market. This is pure Table Tennis, as close to the real thing as possible without having an actual table in front of you.
For context, I do play table tennis in real life. I used to play competitively when I was younger and have my fair share of tournament wins under my belt. While I haven’t kept up with the sport (and now I’m an unfit bloke in my early 30’s), I still play socially and casually with mates where I can at local table tennis centres. If you like table tennis, you’ll love this game, as it is a fantastic carbon copy of that experience. If you don’t like playing in real life though, this isn’t going to be a simple toned-down video game version by any means – so keep that in mind.
Eleven Table Tennis loads in, and the table is right in front of you, some simple menus and away you go. Facing off against the AI is a good way to start, so that you can get used to being in the headset and the way the bat and ball feels in your hands. If you’ve played before, you’ll instantly feel like you know what you’re doing, to the point where I was personally rallying quite quickly with my computer opponent. You can adjust their difficulty of course, so that you can spend as much time as you need climatising yourself to the table, your opponent and the room surrounding you. There’s also mini-games like beer-pong and a practice robot that shoots table tennis balls across the table for you to focus on specific shots, which is super handy.
“The feeling of the ball hitting your bat along with the varying velocity in which it soars over the net is stunningly close to the real thing.”
To put it bluntly, Eleven Table Tennis does exactly as described. I was shocked how quickly I got into the rhythm of playing table tennis in the headset, absorbed just as much as if I was at my local table tennis centre having a hit with my friends. A lot of this comes down to the weight of the ball, which you throw up in the air to serve of course before taking part in a back-and-forth rally with your opponent. The feeling of the ball hitting your bat along with the varying velocity in which it soars over the net is stunningly close to the real thing. If you want to aim for a certain part of the table or put some spin on your shots (and you have the real-life skills to do so), then you can absolutely accomplish that here. It’s not perfect of course (nothing is), but it’s so damn near it that I found myself forgiving the odd forehand that didn’t quite land or a shot that I thought would land well ended up flinging past my opponents head.
There’s also a genuine risk that you’ll be so immersed in the game that you’ll think there really is a table in front of you. Spoiler: There’s not. In real life, it’s relatively common to lunge forward to collect a drop shot, while leaning on the table in front of you for leverage. In VR, of course, there’s no table, and there were several intense points where I did feel the need to lunge forward and… well I didn’t fall over, but I came close to losing balance entirely. Whoops. Something to be aware of for the players who transition from real life to Eleven!
The multiplayer is set up so that you can easily play with friends, or find a random match online. I dabbled a lot in both; of course playing with friends is much more fun, and I was thrilled to experience Eleven Table Tennis with my best buddy who lives on the other side of the country. We often play table tennis when we catch up, so being able to have that experience – one of us in Melbourne and one of us in Cairns – while feeling like we really were in the same room like old times was just wonderful.
In terms of playing random opponents, it’s a competitive game for sure, with a ranking system in place. But, much like playing in real life tournaments, I found that many of my competitors were a delight to spar with. We’d play fair, make sure the other was ready before starting a point, and even applaud each other when the other did a great shot that was unreturnable. So far, it’s proven to be a great community – and for the many of us that either can’t leave the house or don’t have access to a table tennis table of our own, Eleven Table Tennis is literally the next best thing.
Eleven Table Tennis doesn’t really bring a lot of bells and whistles, but the environments you play in definitely are lovely enough. They allow you to focus on the reason you’re here – which is to play table tennis, but you can change from the initial dorm room style you start in to a large room with panoramic window views overlooking a mountain, among others. Opponents head and upper torso kind of float on the other side of the table in that disembodied way we’re all used to from most VR experiences nowadays, so it’s a bit weird at first but you get over it. The presentation across the board is clean, simple and effective, exactly as a simulator like this should be.
It’s hard to describe how good Eleven Table Tennis is until you pick up a paddle and give it a go for yourself. Playing feels as close to the real thing as possible without ever having to leave your living room, and the connection to a large online community (along with your friends) that you can have a hit with keeps it feeling fresh and fun, with plenty of motivation to return for more. In the current climate, where going to play table tennis likely isn’t feasible, or for those of us that simply don’t have easy access to a table of our own, Eleven Table Tennis is an essential purchase for players of the sport. The prospect of bringing this experience into your home with such ease and finesse is, quite simply, too good to pass up.
Eleven Table Tennis is available for Oculus Quest – check it out.