Last week I was invited to test the latest instalment of the Top Spin franchise from 2K Games, Top Spin 4. I was very interested to see what 2K Games had come up with, as my past experiences in 2K sports games are that they usually have brilliant presentation and attention to detail in regards to its players, sound and environments, but the controls can be quite difficult to learn. Top Spin 3 was seen in this way, but have 2K Games managed to make the correct changes to create a game for casual fans of tennis while still accommodating for their long-standing fans? Let’s find out.
Arriving at the Jetlag Bar in the West End of London, I was greeted by the guys from 2K and told to stuff myself silly with strawberries and cream while we waited for the rest of the attendees. Yummy! It wasn’t long before everyone arrived and we went downstairs where the bar had been decorated with various things relating to tennis, such as giant tennis rackets and balls and some interesting sofas with Astroturf ‘grass’ on top, which were surprisingly comfy. We were given a demonstration of the game and shown how the majority of the features worked before being let loose on the Xbox 360s that they had for two people to play against each other.
With my virtual racket in hand for the first time, I was a little unsure of the control system, and although the developers made it look so easy I had a strong feeling I was going to balls it up, if you’ll pardon the pun. Thankfully, my feelings were tossed aside and the game was very easy to get to grips with, with the player being moved with the left analog stick and having to hold down one of the A, B, X or Y buttons to select which shot you want to play, before releasing them in time. This means that the game is very easy to just pick up and play, but in order to become better some practice must be put in, in order to get the timing just right. However, shots will still count even if you don’t time it perfectly, they will just be a little sloppy in comparison. The only other button I paid attention to was the RB, as this allowed my player to run faster towards the ball. For those who wish to learn how to beat the greatest tennis players there is a very extensive tutorial that teaches you everything you need to know, from the basics to expert shots.
As with most 2K games, there are a variety of different modes available, such as the ‘My Player’ mode, which allows you to create your own tennis player and take them from training to various tournaments, a single player mode where you can just play against the computer in some random matches and various multiplayers mode both local and over Xbox Live. The ‘My Player’ mode was definitely my favourite as you can create whatever type of player you wish, offensive, defensive or an all-rounder. As you progress through the game you will gain experience points for your player, which allows you to level up to a maximum level of 20. You will be given points to allocate into various attributes, such as speed or power, which improve your performance on the court. You are also able to hire coaches who will give you different benefits such as certain bonuses when conditions are met in matches or bonus attributes. With all these customisable features it would very difficult to find someone who has the exact same setup as you when you bring your player online.
Graphically, Top Spin 4 looks quite impressive. There are a number of different courts in the game, all of which look just like their real life counterparts and the players are very recognisable, even for someone who only watches Wimbledon, such as me. The sound effects are as you would expect from a tennis game but the developers have also put a lot of work into making the audience more realistic and having them react to what is happening on the court. For example, if a long rally is taking place you will hear the gasps of fans as one of the players just manages to return a shot, and a huge cheer when one of the players wins. It is these such small details that really added to the overall experience and enjoyment of the game.
For all you tennis fans out there, Top Spin 4 is one to watch out for. Even if you wouldn’t normally play tennis games, or were previously put off by the harsh learning curve in regards to controls, Top Spin 4 is a perfect chance to get into the tennis genre when it releases on March 14th.