* Prices may differ from that shown
I have never been the biggest fan of watching tennis but for a number of years have enjoyed playing tennis, wether outdoors or indoors on a console so when I heard that 2K Sports had their next Top Spin offering coming out I was delighted but did it live up to my expectations?
Starting with the positives, I was very impressed with the presentation standards in the game with the feel of the matches and entire package very impressive and professional (in the sense you are playing on the big stage). The game is exceptional in its graphic standards with sharp movement and clear flow allowing you to play the game without needing to be trying to make out what is going on or get frustrated with jolts in the gameplay. The game as always has a good array of the top stars in the game the likes of Andre Agassi, Roger Federer and of course Andy Murray all present in an impressive lineup (although once again focussed on the male game in many peoples opinions) and whilst playing you can see clearly who you are (the likenesses are impressive).
The sound quality is once again as good as you can get with tennis games and this added to the stadiums you are playing in looking very impressive all adds to that big game sense and feel.
AI in the game is impressive and taking on an opponent does take some thought process as you will tire during long rallies and find a number of bad shots will lead to your player performing worse (as in real life due to morale) so being able to outwit as quickly as possible is important and something you quickly pick up as you go.
A simple yet well thought out and implemented control system make learning the game simple but mastering it will still take time and allow some longevity to the title.
The game can on occassion feel slightly slow but this is something that I find positive and more realistic so for me this is a minor gripe from some people who may prefer arcade style games.
Overall a very impressive game with all the positives in the world to make this the choice for the tennis fans out there.
Having played this game for a few months now, I think I am in a good place to review this game, mostly everyone so far who has reviewed it, has awarded 5 stars, and I can see why this would be. Sometimes a game can seem amazing at first, but only once u dig a little deeper do the real flaws start to come to the surface, this is what I will be focusing on in this review.
So for those of you that don't know much about tennis games, it is similar to Fifa with how there is Pro Evo and Fifa, as in Tennis we have the Virtua tennis franchise, and the Top Spin franchise. I won't go into a deep comparison but just make a quick summary which most fans of the games out there will agree with. Virtua tennis is more arcade style, and definitely has its own plus points on that front, whilst Top spin is all about realism and hence most fans of tennis are likely to side with Top spin as is myself.
Usually I tackle price at the end, but I just want to get this out of the way now. I purchased this for £34.99 on offer at GAME, still seems quick expensive right? Well it was only a £5 discount. This game now is dead cheap and can currently be purchased for £19.99 on Amazon including P&P, however you must realise that prices are subject to change, and when you read this the price could be higher or lower.
Let me talk about the good points first. The game play itself has a very quick learning curve, it seems difficult at first, but there is extensive training which takes you through all the basics. It does prepare you slightly technically as anyone who plays tennis knows that only 50% of the game is how you execute the other shots, the other 50% is tactics. Especially in top spin 4 with two very similar players a lot of it comes down to a game of chess. The question often comes down to who is going to crack first.
The game play is quite realistic, considering how it doesn't have a budget the same as other games, and they have created the most realistic tennis game to date. The roster includes all of the top four players in the world, although the inclusion of Del Potro and Soderling would have added a little extra to the game. There are a few legends also in the game with the likes of Chang, Borg, Sampras and Agassi although other legends like Mcenroe and Laver are missing.
The single player offline mode really does shine, and is on another level compared to the equivalent in the latest Virtua Tennis game. You start of as a rookie and have very low stats, and as you win matches, your experience points increase. Before I go on I must mention that the experience points can increase through playing any game mode, whether it is online or offline which is a nice touch.
Now with these experience points you can reach higher levels, as you can improve the statistics of the players ranging from speed through to power through to your forehand, backhand and many more. There are three categories to improve which are serve and volley, offensive play, and defensive play, so depending on what type of player you want to be, you can adjust your style. There are 20 levels, so if you want a highly offensive player, you could put all 20 levels on to the offensive player category, but then this would mean that your serve and volley and defensive statistics are not as good.
As you win more matches and complete the set objectives you then move up the rankings and new objectives are set. Of course the game play gets harder especially when you play on the hardest setting which is the 'expert' mode. I haven't completed all the objectives yet, but that's because I have started to play the online mode a bit more, which I will move on to next.
Ah so to all these people giving this game five stars, please explain to me how you can give a game with a severely flawed online mode a top rating? Surely a game should be based on all aspects, and if one of those aspects has a severe flaw then it simply does not deserve give starts, simple as that.
For a good four months the online mode did not work, however just to be clear I am talking about the PS3 version, I am not sure if there were problems with the Xbox version. What made it worse was that 2k, the makers of this game, gave no update up until two weeks ago, when they finally said they were releasing a patch. So the customer service was terrible, and to be fair they did finally release a patch a few days ago, and although not perfect, at least it is possible to now play a few games online, but even playing online, there are many cheats the players have used to get statistics that are not possible for their players.
Having played online I see that even in the game play there are problems, it is far too easy to just stand five feet behind the baseline and hit defensive shots that are not possible in real life. On top of this drop shots are far too easy plus hitting wide angled power shots over and over. Don't get me wrong there are many great things about the game play, but online this gets exploited by players, that offline the CPU never exploits.
Overall, bar the problems with the online, this is still a very good game, and definitely the best tennis game of all time to date. Unfortunately there are not enough people playing it, and less than 1000 players online. I would still give this game four stars due to the excellent single player and the fact that the online mode is now working, but if the online starts failing again, I may be back to re-adjust the rating.
Top Spin 4 is the most recent installment of the top Spin franchise. Developed and published by 2K Sports, it gained a lot of hype prior to it;s release.
Top spin 4 offers a shallow range of game modes, but what else can be expected from a tennis game? Never the less it does not fail to impress. When you first load load the game you will be taken to training camp, where you are given the opportunity to learn the basics of the game. Once you get into the swing of things (excuse the pun) you can start to play tournaments and games. but we'll come to that a bit later on.
The game has a very polished feel to it. You can tell that 2K sports have developed the game to be very user friendly. When you come to hit the ball, its all about timing. If you want to perform a precision shot, you tap the button, and if you want to perform a hard shot, you hold the button (Flat shot = A, Top spin = B, Slice = X etc). Anyhow, if you release the button your holding too soon the ball might be hit too short, whilst releasing too late the ball might get hit long. Hence the overwhelming emphasis on timing.
The thing i really love about topspin is the realism, you wont see anything on Topspin that wouldn't happen in real life. For example I'm a fan of Call of Duty, but is it real realistic to throw a hand axe into someone face? Erm, I think not. Also Top spin adds another dimension to its gameplay but integrating advanced serves, whereby you can use the right analog stick to serve the ball, a good touch i felt. So, what does the game offer?
A single player mode where you can create a player and rise to the top of the rankings. A little limited though i feel as your player can only increase to level 20, and when you reach level 20 your attributes can no longer increase so it feels a little lifeless (career mode anyway). Also, there are only 20 player s you can select from if you wish to play a quick match, so some of you may be disappointed because your favorite players are not present.
Multiplayer offers you the oppurtunity to play against others. You can enter best of 8, 16 or 32 player tournaments. Multiplayer offers nothing unique, but it does increase the lifespan of the game. You can also play a player match where if you wish to play with real life players (eg Federer, Nadal) then you can.
Each time you play online you are awarded points that contribute toward the global leaderboards. 3 points for a win and 1 point for a loss ( provided you dont rage quit when you lose the first set). The graphics are realistic and the sounds are as good as expected with a tennis game, with the recent arrival of virtua tennis 4 it will be interesting to see who will become number 1??
Definately the Andy Murray of the game world, good but will it ever win a grandslam??
I am a casual fan of tennis and enjoy the sport. It is not my most preferred sport but I still have more than a passing interest in it. I haven't played many tennis video games before but had played at least one version of Virtua Tennis as well as a game on the PS One called All Star Tennis which wasn't very good. Since then there have been quite a few tennis games. The two main series that are currently on offer are Virtua Tennis made by Sega and the Top Spin series produced by a company called 2K Sports. After hearing quite a few good things about Top Spin 4, I decided to purchase this game after seeing it at a pretty reasonable price of £24.99 on Play.com. Top Spin 4 came out in March 2011 whilst Virtua Tennis 4 has only recently come out. The version I will be reviewing is for the PS3 but it is also available for the XBOX 360 and Wii.
The game itself
The game features a number of past and present players as well as quite a few notable licensed tournaments. The players include the likes of Federer, Murray and Nadal as well as Sampras and Agassi. On the womens side you have the likes of Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams. The game doesn't have all the key tennis players but there are enough on offer to make for a worthwhile game. One of the key missing licensed tournaments though is Wimbledon which I presume they did not get the license for. There is though a London tennis club and also a grass court arena in Dublin as well as the major tournaments such as the US Open, Australian Open and Roland Garros. The controls used can be the normal dual shock controller or if you have a Playstation Move controller there is also the option of using that. As I don't have a Move controller I won't be able to comment on how good that is.
The graphics are pretty good and you can see the likeness in quite a lot of the players and also in the courts. The TV broadcast style presentation also helps to bring the action to life with different camera angles and action sequences as well as replays. The sound aspect with the crowd is generally well done but the soundtrack and music is a little boring and repetitive. The menus also seem to be quite dull in appearance but these seem to be minor issues.
When you first load up the game you can go to the start menu or go to a screen where you get to hit back balls from a ball machine in a kind of practice mode. If you are new to the game or even if you are not, it is probably recommended to go to the Top Spin academy in order to learn the controls for the game and the different types of shots and also learn more about timing and other things that will help you to improve your performance when playing an actual game on court. There are four main types of shot (flat, top spin, slice and lob) which are each executed by using a button on the controller. You learn how to hit power shots as well as controlled shots. Indicators also help you by showing where the ball is going to bounce as well as telling you how well you timed your shot ( e.g too soon , too late, good perfect).
Once you have learnt how to control your player and move around the court you can choose from different game modes. The first of these is Exhibition where you can play a single match against any other player in any location and set your own rules such as number of sets.
There is also a career mode. Here you create your own player and start from the bottom and earn experience points and can gradually make your way up to the top and play against the top ranked players. You can customise your own player at the start and choose as well as their physical appearance, their style of play and other characteristics which will determine how they will play and progress throughout the game. I have just started this mode and it seems like it will take quite a while to get near the top.
There is also a King of the Court game mode which is a short-form party game format. Up to 4 players compete in quick Singles tennis showdowns. The loser of each match is replaced by a new challenger while the winner stays on to play again.
Aswell as this there is also the option of playing online. Well the option is there but not right at the moment because of the recent troubles with the Playstation Network. Even though thi is not available currently, there is still quite a lot on offer even with offline play.
This is a very good game and recommended if you are a tennis fan especially or a fan of sports games in general. It is a realistic and accurate recreation of the sport. I would say that it has less of an arcade feel than the Virtua Tennis series. It can be very challenging but it can also be accessible for newcomers. The career mode also gives it lasting appeal. There are a few minor issues with some graphics and sound issues but overall a very solid 4/5 stars.
I initially wrote this review on my forum, so thought I would add it here too. I haven't written a review in quite some time, so it will probably be a little rusty.
Ok, so I've had this for a couple of days now, so thought I'd write you a little report on the game.
In my opinion the graphics are definitely a 9 out of 10. Their extremely crisp, and almost perfect. Player animations are decent too, and the arena graphics are top-notch, especially the Munich Open (The Sun comes and goes, so the course can look brighter or darker at times). Compared to other Tennis games, notably, Virtua Tennis and previous Top Spins, I have to say you can see the general progression here. There is no comparison in my opinion, as they are so much better than last years.
The gameplay can get very technical, unless you just like to hit the ball and win the points as quickly as possible. There are many ways to hit the ball, including the addition of the reverse hit, which is an awesome feature. And, as you get drawn in to the longer rallies, the harder you find it to hit the ball perfect. There is a new timing meter, and if you hit the ball 'perfect' you will feel it. Hit it too late or too soon, and the ball could go out. Again, compared to previous versions, I would have to say that they have definitely made it a little harder, which in turn, makes it a more enjoyable game. I'll give it a 8/10.
Obviously, you are given the chance to create either a Male or a Female player, and from what I've seen the creation mode is pretty in-depth. You unlock more and more clothes by winning tournements in the Career Mode. You can even choose the socks you're wearing. Not a bad Creation Mode, but not a great one. I'll give it a 7/10.
Ok, so this is the part most of you will want to hear about. I've only played six months of the Career Mode, and I can honestly say it's about average. However, that may be down to the fact that at the start you are limited to a training match + 1 tournement, in which the tournement is a Super-Tie Break match. As I say, I've been playing for about six months, and I'm only now starting to get some major tournements unlocked. It'll be a good year or 18 months before entering a Grand Slam I think (I have just found out about the different career modes, where you can select to play full tennis matches, so I refuse to start again, whilst being nearly a year through my career mode already)
You get to hire a coach, and in the training matches, you are given objectives to give you more XP. You can spend your XP on your stats, and they are really hard to get going up. So, you will have to play a lot of matches and do a lot of the objectives from the coach. As I get through the Career Mode, I'm sure I'll start to enjoy it more, as I'll be entering the proper Tennis matches, and not the Tie-Break rules games. But for now, I'll give it a 6/10 in this department.
I find that there is a huge difference in class and difficulty in the Grand Slams over the Masters, so that is definitely a challenging aspect of the career mode, and one which pinpoints that you need to spend your XP wisely.
If you like your Tennis games, you will definitely like this. The graphics and gameplay have been much improved from last year's version, and so has the roster. I suspect that there will also be some DLC, but I'm not 100% sure on that. The game itself, very well presented and quite enjoyable, albeit a bit tedious at times. The Top Spin academy has some tricky challenges, but you'll get there in the end. Overall, I like the game and will give it a 8/10.
As smug as it may sound, I do class myself as a Tennis Gamer A -Lister. In my collection, I own at least twenty five tennis games across many consoles and have mastered many of them to completion. News of this latest release from 2K Sports must have slipped me by, as I was surprised to see it spread across the shelves of my local Gamestation store. Tennis games are great because they capture the atmosphere of the Tennis game, but often come under hefty criticism for their repetitive nature and easy Gameplay. However with a overwhelmingly positive reception from professional reviewers, will Top Spin 4 turn things around for the Tennis genre?
Game Modes and Features
It can be really hard for a game such as this to come up with something new and refreshing when the game is based on specifics such as tennis. The career mode is however where it all happens. You create a player from a set of pre-rendered models and choose behavioural traits and then modify hair styles and facial features. We've seen it all before really, but nonetheless seems to work well here. Unlike previous Top Spin instalments where you wander a globe entering tournaments with specific entry levels, you play a full yearly career here with the option to enter one warm up event and one competitive event per month. This is a little unrealistic, but suits the game well with its structured flow. You start off low in the ranking and have to work hard to rise up the levels to reach the top in where when specific criteria is reached, the more harder, more prestigious tournaments are available to enter.
Warm up events consist of exhibition matches to gather experience points to improve your player's statistics, or photo shoots and grand openings to improve your fan base. It's a little original and starts of rather refreshing, but can die off a little as you progress further in the game, but a nice touch nonetheless. The ability to hire a coach is brilliantly implemented also with each coach setting you objectives throughout the match to complete in order to again raise your stats, which in therefore makes your character more tailored to your play-style. Baseline attacker, Baseline defender, serve and volley etc are all in here and is done really well to create a player with specific good points and specific weaknesses. This means as a result that each player you play has a different play-style and can therefore be a challenge to defeat if you don't adopt the right strategy. There is no point going out for an all out attack and hope to hit winner after winner if you are playing someone with a defensive style of play who can keep the ball in play much longer. If you mix this with difficulty settings and you've got yourself a strategically challenging game on your hands. There is nothing worse than getting use to a tennis game and then thrashing your opponent match after match. I started the career mode on the 'Hard' setting and had to work hard to complete it. There were some very tight matches in where I lost I can tell you - and this goes on to add replayability and excitement.
An online version of career mode is included and thankfully much better implemented than previous game Top Spin 4. Lagging rarely happens and each tournament tells you how many other players around the world are currently waiting for an opponent. This is a handy little feature so you don't have to wait in server rooms simply dying of boredom as you wait for someone, anyone, to join. Loosing a career match means you can longer enter that tournament, whereas winning means you can progress to the next level and build up more points. A leaderbaord can be viewed to see where you are ranked amongst players across the globe.
To offer different features, Top Spin 4 offers you different match ups to choose from in the exhibition mode. So the usual singles and doubles are on offer, but it is the scoring system that can be changed. A normal 'classic' mode can be chosen in where you play X amounts of games and X amounts of sets. Tie breaks, Super tie breaks and Hyper tie breaks can also be chosen as well as a score and serve system may suit some and add a little of variety into the game. It is implemented quite well and does offer something a little different not really seen from many other Tennis games, but I assume most will just stick with the classic style really.
Graphics and Sound
I am delighted to say that the stadiums and players have received a massive overhaul in this latest Top Spin game, with attention to detail highlighting the amount of work that must have gone into the production. Players all look great with realistic facial design and emotion that really comes across in the in-game cutscenes and animation between points. Characters throw their racquets in their bag at rest time, or raise their hands in the air with a fist pump to celebrate a hard earned point, or simply wiping the realistic sweat that builds across their faces as the match goes on. Top Spin 4 really does utilize the power of the Playstation 3 to the fullest to create a realistic approach to the Tennis genre. Skirts and shirts rise up and blow in the wind as you jump up and serve or slide across a clay court to reach a ball going wide across the court. Simple details like this seem unimportant at first, but once realised and mentioned really enforces the issue of 'attention to detail'.
Top Spin 4 really tries to capture the atmosphere of a real tennis match especially the excitement that builds up in the Grandslam events. This is done by drafting each stadium from scratch and place layers upon layers with added lighting effects to really capture the look of events like Roland Garros, Indian Wells and the US Open. Sadly Wimbledon is the only Grandslam not licensed here and so appears as the Dublin Open instead. These stadiums all look humongous - despite the only interactive section is the courts themselves. The crowd all react differently too with cheers, boos and hand raises thrown in to boot. They really come alive with great sound effects as the rally goes on for longer or shouting out in the middle for the umpire to reply 'Quiet Please!'. Tension is created on the important break/set/match points with the crowd going unusually silent and all you can hear is the sound of the ball adding a nervous kind of excitement. It's all great stuff.
A new animation feature is included this year called the 'Signature Style' series where players actually move with even more realism than ever before. If you hit a bad ball, players trip and stumble, hit awkwardly or grunt with annoyance. With more controlled shots, players swing their entire body into the ball, jumping in the air and really connect with the rally rather than previous games where the movement of the racquet usually just seems enough. Extra pre-game animations add electrifying atmosphere too with players waiting in the stadium corridors before entering the court to the commentator, or practicing shots before the match starts. Fluidity is the most impressive force here.
Though on a downside, created players all seem a little too manufactured in the face with cartoon style features that look a little odd. It doesn't ruin the game, but as the career mode uses your own players, you will spend a lot of time playing as them, and it can look a bit weird as your players looking a little off screams 'Come On!' as you play some as realistic as Andre Agassi.
Apparently Top Spin 4 is 3D activated, so with a 3D TV and special glasses, players can become even more involved within the experience.
Gameplay and Replayability
So as well as your created players, twenty five pros and legends are available to choose from to play in other game modes all with their own realistic play-styles. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic head up the male players whilst Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic head up the female roster. The chance to play as many legends will also appeal to a wider generation of gamers too which include the likes of Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and Pat Rafter. The roster itself is a little out of date compared to the current season and rankings, but with a downloadable content option, I'm just hoping that at some point in the future more players will be able to be downloaded from the Playstation Store.
Top Spin 4 is Playstation Move compatible, but as I don't have a Move I can't really comment on this feature.
Using a normal controller, Top Spin 4 utilizes an even more in depth control system never before seen in Tennis games. There are various ways to hit the ball and I am very pleased to say that this all adds a certain depth to the Gameplay. So just tapping the buttons will hit what is called a 'control' shot - a shot which doesn't have much power but can be used to hit nearer the lines and build up a game plan. By holding down the button, a circular sphere appears and when full it adds power to your shot making it harder for your opponent to reach/replay the ball. All have their own upsides and downsides and so the right approach is to know when to use what type of shot and when you mix that with the various shot types such as slice, flat, top spin, drop shot etc it can all become complicated and detailed. You do have to be in the right position to pull of the shot properly; otherwise the ball will simply just hit the net or go out. This is fantastic for beginner players to experience an in-depth game, where it will please veteran gamers who are use to other styles and need to adapt their own style. Serving is just a variable with an added element of the right analogue stick to add extra precision and power to your serve - it can feel a little weird at first doing all these different things with your fingers, but it adds the challenge every Tennis Gamer has been waiting for.
A varied amount of difficulty settings means that you will come back over and over again no matter what your skill level. If you play Serena Williams for example on the 'Normal' difficulty, she can cause you a few problems hitting the ball quite hard, but letting ample chance to get into the rally. On 'Hard' setting however, the power increases and the depth in which she hits the ball means she is really going for those winners and you'll have to come up with your own play-style to beat her.
Unlockables means you will return over and over again just to gain extra stadiums and extra costumes. Ever player has a third costume to unlock with a specific challenge waiting for you in order to unlock it. There are over 40 Playstation trophies to unlock also all differing in difficulty. The replayability therefore is immense.
So does it eventually become repetitive I hear you ask? Well a little if I'm completely honest, what game doesn't? But as every player has a different play-style, some having quick shots, others who like to take a bigger swing means being in the right place to pull of a great shot is different for every player. Timing is everything. The timing for one player is different than another and so hitting the ball too soon or too late can have dire consequences, which as a result may mean you loose the match. Mastering all these styles can be difficult and is not an easy feat I can tell you. You really do have to stay on your toes and be constantly changing your gameplan to match the weaknesses of the opponent you are playing.
Atmospheric TV style Matches
In Depth difficulty settings and control systems
Player AI challenging and strategic
Off looking created players
CPU cannot play as your created player
Possibly outdated roster
Top Spin 4 is a fantastic and excitingly engaging game and really reenergises the genre for newcomers and old timers alike. It has a fresh addictive atmosphere and varied control system which means it will keep you coming back for more. You rarely find a strategic quality associated with the Tennis Genre, but with an impressive player AI system, you can't help but feel challenged when playing different styles of opponents; and a challenge is exactly what you are looking for when playing a tennis game. It really has set the bench mark for others to follow and it utilizes all of features to the fullest. There are a few downsides but ones that neither ruins the Gameplay or halts your enjoyment and therefore I cannot see any reason why this game should not be awarded with five stars. Highly recommended.
Despite not being as mainstream a sport as the likes of football, tennis has managed to generate quite a gaming pedigree down the years. It seems to be a particularly easy target for novelty games, with the likes of Mario and the Sega characters getting involved in recent years, along with past titles such as Anna Kournikova's Smash Court Tennis. However, despite often proving to be fun and accessible, these games have been overshadowed by the two main tennis series; Top Spin and Virtua Tennis.
The balance of power between the two series has tipped a number of times. The original Top Spin, developed by 2K and released on the original Xbox console, was a triumph and one of the best tennis games ever released. However, the series' transition to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 has proven to be rocky at best, with Top Spin 2 & 3 both ultimately sorely lacking in key areas. This has caused Top Spin to become overshadowed by Virtua Tennis, which has maintained a consistent level of quality over the years. Virtua Tennis 3 was an excellent title all round, and whilst Virtua Tennis 2009 was arguably not as good, it was still superior to the disappointing Top Spin 3.
And so we come to the latest tennis offering from 2K in the form of Top Spin 4 , a game which has quite a lot riding on its shoulders. Apart from needing to reignite the franchise, the tennis genre in general seems to be in need of a boost, with recent titles in both main series ultimately not meeting the expectations of fans. The test for Top Spin 4, therefore, is not just to offer balanced gameplay, but also to refresh what is becoming a tired genre.
When you first load up Top Spin 4 you will be greeted not with a menu screen, but with Roger Federer facing a ball machine on a practice court, allowing you to hit some balls without any pressure at all before even deciding what mode you want to have a go at first. This is a screen that you will ultimately decide to bypass as you play the game more and more, but it is an original addition, and the first indication that 2K sports have really thought about this game.
In terms of player choice, Top Spin 4 offers an impressive twenty-five current and former professionals to choose from, ranging from expected inclusions such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Serena Williams, to a number of legends such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg. Each of the players is instantly recognisable and has their own set of individual statistics (in areas such as forehand, backhand, power, speed and reflexes) to recreate their own playing style. Overall this really is an impressive line-up of players, and certainly the best out of any tennis game that I have ever played.
Take one of these players into an exhibition match and you will be greeted to fresh, clear graphics that re create the look and feel of a tennis match as well as you would expect. Crowds are animated, linesmen indicate when a ball is out, and television style replays flash up at the end of particularly good points. There are also plenty of neat little touches that enhance the feel of the game, such as statistics that pop up at random points just as they do during televised games. These little touches don't mean a great deal in the grand scheme of things, and certainly there are far more fundamental areas of the game, but they again demonstrate that 2K have put real effort into this offering, and bit by bit this effort shines through to create a game that, at least in terms of presentation, is spot on.
One area where Top Spin 4 does fall down, however, is in relation to the animation of the players. Fundamentally there is nothing wrong with it; players run around and take shots in a smooth and believable manner, and you will have no problem believing that you are participating in a high level (virtual) tennis match. However, what Top Spin 4 doesn't do is individually animate the players. In recent Virtua Tennis games every professional player has been individually animated, so that you can tell which players you are looking at just by the way they serve or hit shots. This has proven to be a fantastic addition to this series, and consequently it is difficult to understand why 2K haven't adopted the same approach in Top Spin 4. It certainly doesn't make or break the game, and ultimately doesn't overshadow the positives either, but it is something that may irritate purists.
Fans of the Top Spin series will notice that risk shots have been removed entirely from Top Spin 4. Instead the game now offers three basic shot types; flat, topspin, slice and lob, which are initiated by using the four main buttons on the controller. In a new twist to tennis gameplay in general, how you press that button then dictates the type of shot. If you just press and hold the button normally you will hit a normal shot. If you tap the button as your player swings for the ball you will hit a control shot, which is slow but accurate. If you hold the button down for long enough and release it before your player swings, you will hit an aggressive power shot, which moves quickly but is not as accurate as a control shot. The same shot types are also available when serving or volleying.
The trigger buttons are also used to good effect, offering additional ways of playing a shot. For example, one trigger button allows you to play an 'inside out' shot, where the player moves around the ball to get to his or her more effective side. These are more powerful, but require time for the player to move around the ball, and are therefore useless in a quick rally. Another trigger button turns your shot into an approach shot, which will result in your player rushing to the net after hitting the ball. This is an excellent shot to play for players that like to volley, but if the approach shot isn't good you will leave yourself open to an easy passing shot.
No matter which type of shot you decide to play, timing is absolutely key, and you have to either press or release the button at the right time in order to play a good shot. If you press the button too soon, you will only play a normal shot. Press it too late, and your shot may well land out. After each shot the game tells you via a small popup how good your last shot was. The timing can take some getting used to, but fortunately the game provides a very effective training mode to introduce all aspects of the game to the player. This takes about 45 minutes to play through fully, and will help you get to grips with the game with the minimum of fuss.
This new system provides a wide array of different shot types to play around with, and each one of them is effective in the right situation. It is no longer the case that powerful players dominate proceedings, as happened in Top Spin 2 and 3, and there is now genuine choice as to how to approach matches. Players all have different styles, and this translates directly into how you should use them in a match situation. If you play as Andy Roddick, for example, you should aim to concentrate on power shots and overwhelm your opponent with aggression. However, should you decide to play as Andy Murray, you will have to be vary your shots and control points with the aim of wearing your opponent down to secure victory. No one style is clearly dominant over another, giving the player real choice as to how to play the game.
Players' abilities are further advanced by the use of special characteristics. Each player has two or three of these, and they directly impact on their ability with regards to certain shots. For example, Rafael Nadal has the 'Topspin Invasion' characteristic, which makes his top spin shots particularly devastating. Boris Becker, on the other hand, has the 'Spectacular Volleys' and 'Excellent First Volley' characteristics, which make him a particularly fearsome competitor at the net. It is important to take note of these characteristics, both in terms of what your player has and what your opponent has, and they further underline the fact that players can approach matches in a style of their choosing.
Overall, there is little doubt that the gameplay in Top Spin 4 is an absolute triumph. It is accessible for the beginner, but offers a deep and complex experience for those willing to spend time with it. The wide range of professionals available for selection from the off allow players to pick a character that matches the style that they want to play, and matches really do become battles of mind as well as ability and timing, which is exactly how a tennis game should play.
But of course, what use is a tennis game without a career? The answer is very little, and as such it will come as no surprise that Top Spin 4 offers an extensive career mode. This starts with the player creating their own character from scratch, using what is a staggeringly detailed character creation system. Everything to do with physical appearance can be customised down to the smallest detail, and you can even customise your character's animation style and how often they grunt.
The career itself unsurprisingly sees the player take their character through the ranks from absolute beginner to one of the world's best. This is done primarily through entering tournaments, and the more you win the more prestigious tournaments you can enter. At each stage the game sets targets to reach the next 'rank' in your professional development, from Rookie through to Rising Star, Superstar, and ultimately Legend.
Developing your player is done through gaining experience and 'levelling up', as you would perhaps expect to see in a role-playing game. However, rather than allowing you to distribute attributes how you wish, the game requires you to select a style to work on after each level, choosing from an aggressive style, a controlling style, or a serve and volley style. Attributes are then distributed automatically. Whilst this doesn't allow you absolute freedom, it also stops players from becoming unbalanced and forces you to decide how to play the game. In this way, this system works far better than the traditional system that can see players becoming lop sided in terms of their characteristics.
At this stage those who have experience with tennis games will be afraid that the career mode in Top Spin 4 is essentially a dull string of samey matches with nothing to really make the whole experience exciting. And it is true that this lack of invention has plagued tennis games up to this point.
But not so with Top Spin 4. For once a developer has actually sat down and figured out how to make a career mode in a tennis game interesting. And as a result, Top Spin 4's career is packed full of features and touches that will keep you hooked. Each month you can enter one tournament and do one other activity. This extra activity can be a practice match to gain experience, or one of many 'special events' which become available through advancing up the world rankings. These events can be exhibition matches for television, or other events such as extra training, or starring in your own commercial. These can either increase your experience or, for the first time a tennis game, your fanbase. Yes, you read that right. Top Spin 4 tracks your fanbase with every game, so as you win matches you will gain more fans. Becoming a global superstar therefore requires you to think about how to gain more fans as well as simply winning matches.
There are other additions to the career mode that seem so obvious, but have never been implemented before. From an early stage you will be asked to choose a coach. Each coach is individual and will affect your individual characteristics as well as giving your player special characteristics. Your coach will also set you targets within matches, and meeting these will increase the benefit that the coach gives you. A coach specialising in serving may want you to serve a certain number of aces, for example, and in return you will gain the 'Focus Serve' characteristic, which makes your serves more accurate.
I could go on for a long time about the career mode in Top Spin 4, but hopefully the general idea has already been formed. Suffice to say that 2K have finally created a career mode that feels fresh and invigorated, and it is actually worth playing through. This genuinely is an absolute first in tennis games, and very much raises the bar.
And so we come to the crux of not only all tennis games, but all sports games; the multiplayer. In this regard Top Spin 4 offers two main modes; the 2K Open and the World Tour. The former is a simple mode for playing the professional characters against one another. You pick your favoured pro, and play exhibition matches against other players. The not only tracks your own progress through leaderboards, but also tracks who is using which players, which offers a nice little twist as you can see who the most popular professionals are.
The World Tour, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. This is where you take your fully developed player from the Career mode and pit them against created players from all over the world. Top Spin 3 introduced this mode, and the format is very similar. The World Tour is split into different 'seasons', and each season lasts one week. Whilst the game tracks your overall statistics, the main leaderboards and rankings are reset every week as a new season begins. This means that you can jump in and compete in World Tour at any point, because every week on Monday everybody starts on a level playing field.
Every week your can participate in up to eight tournaments, ranging from entry level tournaments with two rounds to Grand Slams with four. If you win the first match of a tournament you then qualify for the next round; if you lose, you are out and cannot play in that tournament until the next week. Every round you are obviously matched against players who have also reached that round, which means that the standard should become higher the more you progress. Even if you are very good yourself, by the time you reach a Grand Slam final your opponent will have won at least three matches in a row, so they certainly won't be a pushover.
Playing in tournaments is the quickest way to gain a large number of points, and is therefore the best way to shoot up the rankings. However, when you have finished competing in tournaments, you can always play quick one set matches which offer far fewer ranking points, but there is no limit to how many you can play.
As a system the World Tour mode is compelling and interesting, and gives real meaning to matches. However, as has perhaps already been intimated, it is backed up by a gameplay system that is far more balanced than anything that has come before it. No longer do powerful players dominate, leading to a real mix of styles that keeps the multiplayer in Top Spin 4 interesting and competitive. With each week bringing a new chance to rise up the leaderboards, the World Tour system is one that carries with it real lasting appeal.
This review would be even longer if I were to point out every aspect, both positive and negative, about Top Spin 4. And indeed it is fair to say that there are negatives. As well as the animation issue, you also cannot play ranked doubles online, which is a baffling omission. There are also other small niggles, such as the colour scheme in the Shanghai Masters arena making it very difficult to see the ball.
However, ultimately these niggles don't really matter, because Top Spin 4 has not only reached the top of the tennis game tree, but it has reinvigorated the genre as a whole. The bar has been well and truly raised not only due to the original thinking in relation to the Career and World Tour modes, but also in the eminently balanced gameplay which casts away the flaws of previous games emphatically. It is not perfect, and there is certainly scope for Virtua Tennis 4 to take the crown back later in the year, but for now Top Spin 4 is the definitive tennis game.