September 24, 2021

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12 years ago Rockstar served up the antithesis of GTA, and it was amazing

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Rockstar’s greatest ever character? There’s no contest, really. He’s everything I love in a video game hero; cool, composed and with a sharply- defined cocky edge. And the best thing is, he never utters a single word.

Good god I love Liu Ping, and going back to Rockstar’s Table Tennis after some 12 years (12 years!) his appeal hasn’t dimmed in the slightest. It’s in his swagger, the strength and style he communicates in even the smallest of movements as he prowls around the table, deftly conjuring impossible shots. It’s in his attitude, the way he holds the paddle angled towards himself, dangling purposefully between thumb and forefinger in a posture of pure purpose. It’s the way he fans himself nonchalantly with that paddle at the end of a point, the raised eyebrow when a game doesn’t go his way or the pursed lips and look of pure determination as he’s about to fire off a serve. He’s a hard-edged angel with a mean backhand.

So much done with so very little, which is pretty much Rockstar’s Table Tennis’ maxim – and which pretty much flies against the maximalist approach that Rockstar typically takes with Grand Theft Auto. Funny, isn’t it, how last generation was bookended by two Rockstar San Diego joints, both of which played fast and loose with the company’s formula. Red Dead Redemption is brilliant in its own way, of course, rightly praised for its relative reserve and emotional maturity when placed in contrast to Grand Theft Auto 4 which preceded it (the contrast is even starker when you put it alongside Grand Theft Auto 5), but Rockstar Table Tennis is something else; a wordless wonder where rivalries are told through nothing more than the tics that find their way into the animation.

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