It has been three years since we last saw a Top Spin game hit the shelves. Sadly, the third instalment wasn’t very well received by all reviewers due to its complex controls and the developer’s focus in creating a tennis game for hardcore sports gamers and as a result left the casual gamers struggling to enjoy the game. With a change in developers can Top Spin 4 provide casual gamers with an entertaining game while still attracting the hardcore?
Let’s get the basics out of the way first: Top Spin 4 includes everything you would expect from a tennis game, with premade pros such as Roger Federer, Michael Chang and our very own Andy Murray. The game also features grass, clay, hard and carpet courts from all over the globe in which tournaments such as the US Open can be played on. The players themselves are actually quite convincing and their statistics are geared towards their strengths and weaknesses in real life, but in order to play the career mode you will have to create a player of your own in the My Player menu.
Once you have messed around with the customisation settings and made yourself a character you will be told to allocate a few points into the different stats, such as forehand, serve, volley, speed and stamina. There isn’t a perfect player in Top Spin 4, so it’s completely up to you where you want to spend your points. From faster serves, more power shots or the ability to serve a deadly curve ball to your opponent. You gain XP when playing matches, where you can level up to a maximum level of twenty, and at each level you can allocate more points to your stats. In addition to this, after a few levels you will be able to choose a coach who will give you benefits in certain areas and give you a set of tasks to complete. Completing these tasks will reward you with more stat boosts or higher XP gains when performing certain serves or shots.
With your player, you can advance through the career mode, which allows you to take part in one training match and a tournament every month. Once your popularity rises you will be allowed to take part in two tournaments, which will allow you to advance through your career quicker. Training matches allow you to focus on a specific area such as serving to gain a stat boost towards this area once you have complete the match. The tournaments are the standard knockout type with competitors being eliminated until two are left to play the final. Aside from the career mode there are two other competitive modes which are Exhibition, which allows you to have a standard game of tennis with however many sets and games you choose, and the King of the Court mode - where once a player loses, a new player replaces them until no one is left and a winner is crowned. To assist you with learning some of the more complex controls 2K have built a Top Spin Academy that allows you to practice various beginners, intermediate and advanced techniques.
Top Spin 4 is one of those lovely games that are really easy to play, but hard to master, which is very good news for all gamers. Whilst you can simply hit the A, B, X or Y buttons to perform different shots, to become skilled at Top Spin 4 will take some precise as you have to hold down one of the shot buttons to power up your shots, and a perfect the release as the ball is about to hit your racket - All this while moving your player's direction with the left analog stick. Getting the timing off will result in a sloppy shot and may cost you a point or even the game. To aid with this there are built in indicators for all the steps needed to perform perfect shots. A spot on the floor where the ball will bounce tells you when the shot is ready to be performed, but don’t think this makes the game super easy because it doesn’t - the real challenge takes place once you turn off these indicators.
The multiplayer features in Top Spin 4 are actually rather good. Apart from the usual singles or doubles matches that can be played, Top Spin 4 features an online career mode that allows you to create a player and take them online rather than against AI. Granted it’s not as extensive as the single player career mode it is a nice addition to the game. There are plenty of players online so finding some quality games isn’t that difficult and people rarely leave games, which was nice for a change. There is also no lag providing you have a stable internet connection and with things such as leaderboards you can play competitively with your buddies.
The game looks pretty nice and plays very well. Apart from noticing some odd things such as the ball boys never moving, there wasn’t really anything to write home about. Apart from looking great the game had some fun features, such as the audience reacting to what was happening on the court, with lots of 'ohhh's as players dived from one side of the court to the other to win a match. Sound effects are also as you would expect with a pretty nice soundtrack too.
Overall, 2K has addressed most of the issues gamers had with the previous game and produced a quality game for both casual and hardcore gamers. If you are looking for a tennis game that delivers a unique control system, coupled with an interesting levelling based system for your created player, and have enough replay value for your cash, then its match point to Top Spin 4.