When 2K Sports sets out to make their next authentic sports title experience, they rarely only slap on the next number in the series and update the rosters. Such is the case with Top Spin 4, the latest of the series, 3 years in the making. This time around, the focus is really on making a great pro tennis simulation, rather than an arcadey family based game that is becoming popular with the plethora of motion control gaming on the market today. While it is possible for the more casual gamers to pick up a controller and play a few matches, this title is seemingly meant for the enthusiasts.
The gameplay and controls might throw you at first, especially if you have been playing motion control tennis games lately. You may find yourself wanting to wait for the ball to get close to your player and just before it gets to you, start your swing and connect with the ball for the return. This kind of reactive play won’t work here. Instead, it is all about planning your hit and executing your best strategy for the current situation. You still need to time your actions appropriately, but you need to start your hit well in advance of the ball getting within swinging distance. For instance, as soon as your opponent hits the ball back to you (or serves), you can get your player into position, and as the ball crosses the net, you start your preferred hit type. Of course, this is just one example and rarely the case on every rally. You could very well return the ball while in motion and get different results, based on your type of hit. Like previous Top Spin games, you have the standard set of swing hit types in your arsenal with flat, top spin, slice, lob, and drop.
New, for the series, is the ability to control the ball to an even greater degree with Power and Control shots, that put more emphasis on how powerful or precise the hit is, and can really put you at an advantage at any point in a match. Power hits are “charged” by holding down your preferred hit type, while the Control hits are performed with a quick tap of the button. Of course, anything in between a tap or a long enough hold are simply normal shots. Now, these boosts extend into the volleys at the net as well, but are executed by simply pressing the appropriate face button. Serving also has these enhancements, but are carried out by timing where the ball is in the air when you release your selected shot type button. All of these new control options may feel a little overwhelming, but the tutorial mode, Academy, will train you on basic and advance techniques, until you get it right.
The Playstation Move controls work, but don’t really feel like they belong in the game. The actual mechanics all work seamlessly and as described both in the help menus and during the tutorials. Unlike the casual tennis games, Top Spin 4 requires the use of the Navigation controller for player movement and a few other precise controls. Instead of pressing a face button on a controller, you swing the Move controller in a particular direction that determines the type of shot being made. The problem lies with the timing, that you need to use, within the mechanics of the game. If you use a standard controller, you plan your shots and volleys before any contact with the ball is made, and make judgment calls based on player position and where the ball is headed. With the Move controls, you still perform the swinging motion well before you would virtually make contact with the ball, taking any kind of realistic experience away and training yourself to remember you’re only planning the next move, and not actually swinging to hit the ball in real time. It is hard to say whether or not implementing a different mechanic solely for the Move controller would make for a more realistic experience in this game’s case.
The graphics are nothing spectacular, and the crowds and courts are relatively uninteresting, but if you’ve ever watched a tennis match, the experience is not about any cheering crowds or the sports frenzy that can surround other sports. Regardless, simply watching your player on-screen creates a sense of realism that sports titles are really capturing accurately lately. There are a number of unique animations and play styles for each of the pro athletes featured in the game. The sounds also have a big role during matches with the recognizable sounds of tennis balls meeting rackets, the grunts of well-known tennis stars, and the loud-speaker announcer doing things like asking for silence. The grunts can sometimes be a little too pronounced, and there were several instances where an out of play ball would keep making a quick bouncing noise for far longer than you might expect.
The game includes the standard set of online multiplayer matches, but with the new King of the Court mode, the offline experience really flexes its muscles. It can be played with up to 4 offline gamers, and features quick games played to just a few points. Winner stays on the court, and the next opponent takes their chance at victory, similar to what some modern fighting games use to enhance their own multiplayer experience. If that’s not really your style, you can always jump into the career mode for extended replay value. With it, you create your player, and play through events and tournaments, as well as sparring training, on your way to becoming a tennis legend. As you progress, you earn points towards upgrading your skills and abilities, and unlocking other tournaments along the way. Special Events really make the mode interesting by not only giving you exhibition matches and sponsored challenges, but the dream matches against legendary tennis pros will have you really testing your abilities. Of course, you could always opt for some fresh air training, or take part in mock television interviews for some additional XP.
Overall, Top Spin 4 is really a lot of fun for those looking for a more in-depth and realistic tennis simulation experience. The more you play and perfect your own strategy on the court, the more rewarding the game becomes. If you are tired of the simple motion control tennis games of late, then Top Spin 4 will really provide the authentic experience you’ve been looking for.
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*2K Sports provided SlimGamer.com with a review copy.