Review: Top Spin 4

Recently the gaming market has been flooded with a barrage of shooting and racing titles, so it’s always refreshing when a game is released that is in a different genre. Enter 2K Sports, who have released the fourth edition of their tennis series Top Spin, not surprising titled Top Spin 4. The first two games were released a while back and were rated highly by the public and the media, however when Top Spin 3 came out it didn’t hit the same highs. The reason for this was a new control method that they introduced, where you had to release the shot button at just the right time to make a successful shot. So has Top Spin 4 managed to turn the series round and serve an ace?

The first thing you will see in Top Spin 4 is that the graphic levels have been vastly improved, with detail spent on the 20+ professional tennis players licensed to the game being especially well defined. The animation of shot making, movement on the court and general gameplay make the game a joy to be playing; there is no cartoon-like play here. The court will wear as you play on it, for example grass will wear out and turn brown, and clay courts will mark up, all adding to the realism of the game. Another thing that has been successfully implemented in to the game is a sense of atmosphere. The crowd will get excited as the points get played out, and the longer the rallies get the louder the crowd become with cheers, oohhhs and aaahhhs. This definitely draws you in to the game to the point you find yourself punching the air in joy when you make a great shot to win the point.

There are a wealth of options in this game, ranging from quick play games where you pick a player from their roster to play a one off exhibition game, online mode to take on a friend or a complete random from the world, and a tournament based game called King of the Court where you have to defeat as many players as possible before you lose a game. However if you are new to the Top Spin series, make sure that you check out the training mode called the Academy. This gives you all the tips and skills to beat the opposition, such as drop shots, lobs and so on.

These are all worthwhile on their own, but the king of the game modes and the one that you will probably choose to play is the career mode. This sees you create a character from scratch choosing everything from height and weight, to the style of baseline approach. This can see you creating a character (if you are anything like me) for a long while to try to get it looking as life-like as possible. Unfortunately I failed a little as my player looks like he should have been the last but one step on Darwin’s Origin of the Species…

In the career mode you start of as a lowly amateur trying to make your way to topping Rafael Nadal or Caroline Wozniacki as the number 1 in the world. At first you can only play in training matches and low rank tournaments, and winning the rounds and tournaments give you an XP and fans boost. XP points are needed to improve your player, and you use this via the player evolution screen. Instead of developing the play in a FIFA style (i.e. changing each skill type individually) 2K have decide that you should have only 3 types of increases. These are serve and volley, offence and baseline. By increasing your serve and volley you make your serves gain speed and accuracy, and also your character will move towards the net faster, with baseline increases including power shots and stamina. Therefore this allows you to choose how to develop your character to play the game in the way you want to.

The real excitement comes when you rank up enough to enter the major tournaments, where you get to play the game of tennis that we have grown up knowing. In these tournaments you get to play against all the top names in the sport that are in this game, and it is a great sense of adrenaline that surges in your body when you see the first big world name. I have to say this is what this game does the best. The anticipation at first is that you want to play the big names, and as you play the minor tournaments you start to wonder just where they are, and then one pops into your game. The sense of dread that I had when I saw Nadal was in the final game of one of my tournaments, me as rank 8 and Nadal as rank 20… how will I beat him?

The arenas that you play on are some of the best known in the world such as Roland Garros for the French Open and the O2 Arena for match play games, showing that the 2K has thought about the venues when making the game. However the downside is that not all the big names are there, as Wimbledon is missing. Any tennis fan knows that the pinnacle of a tennis player’s career is to play at and win Wimbledon, however the closest you can get to this is playing the Dublin Open, the only grass tournament. A sense of anti-climax hits you, so there is still room for improvement here.

Should you wish to venture online with this game what will you find? Basically the same game options are there as on the single player game, however when playing the online career mode instead of using your XP to improve your player to play against the computer, you’ll be playing in a league with other real life players.  This is a great addition to the online as this actually displays your real ranking in the world, as human players are naturally much more challenging than the computer. Remember though that you’ll start off as the lowest rank player and the improvements in your player will be slower than in the single player game. Other than the career above, you can also play as your favourite player in the 2K Open where you get points to for playing and winning matches. These points are collected on your player raking on a separate leader board.

There are a few disappointing factors to this game. The first is the difficulty levels that 2K has decided to implement, being Easy, Normal, Hard and Very Hard. Basically the Easy is like a training level and the others should be knocked down by one, as I managed to beat Nadal (who is ranked 20) with a player ranked 4  within straight set in Normal mode. If you decided to pick up Top Spin 4, I would start on the Hard difficulty as this will give you a challenge and not make it too easy. Secondly the lack of some of the key arenas is, although not game breaking is disappointing. There are also a few odd language choices, and despite matches in France being conducted entirely in French, those played in other regions such as Hamburg are entirely in English, with the announcements when you enter the court given in a very American accent.

In closing is Top Spin 4 worthy of a purchase? The simple answer is yes, very much so. The wealth of options in this game, whether played online on offline are very impressive for a gaming genre that normally only has quick play games and a shallow tournament mode. The level of understanding that 2K Sports has managed to put into the game will interest both tennis enthusiasts as well as tennis novices.

This review was based on the 360 version which is identical to the PlayStation 3 version except the latter also has support to use the Sony Move and navi controllers. I have to say that playing the demo using these controls was great and did add a great feeling on being absorbed in to the game.

So I assure you that this is a game that you should buy or at least rent, however if you are fortunate enough to be able to choose which of the current latest generation consoles you can play it on, then I would say the PlayStation 3 version offers slightly more for your money.

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