Format: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3, Wii
Developer: 2K Czech
2K have been making Top Spin games since the first installment way back in 2003 on the original Xbox, and while not issuing them with the alarming frequency with which EA release their sports titles, they have carved out a solid niche as one of the most accurate tennis simulators around.
Top Spin 4 promises to use 2K’s Illusion Engine to deliver even more realistic gameplay and visuals, and has lots of licensed players which is good news for fans of Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki, and various other spellcheck confounding tennis stars.
Ubiquitous in modern sports games, career mode sets you on your way as a lowly amateur working up through the ranks. You gain experience by playing tiny tournaments in the Ukraine, or sparring with partners as lowly and useless as yourselves. Then you bag yourself a coach, who will reward you with experience points, spent on improving various areas of your game via exhaustive stats and menus.
I can safely say I won’t be troubling the majors any time soon, having lost five consecutive matches before I even won a game, but soon you get so sick of the computer telling you about mistimed shots that you settle into the rhythm of the game. Otherwise, it’s back a sad existence, returning shots from an uncaring robot that doesn’t care if you’re Federer or Fred Basset.
Graphically the game is fine – licensed players still don’t look quite right in the cut-scene close-ups, but the overall look as you play closely resembles watching the real thing on TV, and the sound effects are similarly consistent – the squeak of the tennis shoe on an indoor court, the grunt of a lady as she returns your serve with vigour; the only thing missing is the ice clinking in your glass of Pimms.
Interestingly, the PS3 offers Move support but there’s no Kinect compatibility. Understandably the level of detail in the game regarding choice of shot may perhaps be too difficult to translate to mere movements, but I can’t help but thinking that going forwards, if new technologies like the Kinect, or Move are going to push gaming in a motion-centred direction, then there must be a solution in which the simplicity and physicality of a Wii Sports meets the complexity and sporting accuracy of a Top Spin 4 halfway.
Obviously some sports are more problematic than others, but with tennis, the barrier has already been breached with good results, and to revert back to the control pad for me, felt a bit like an ideological defeat on 360. Virtua Tennis 4, due in a couple of months time, promises full compatibility with both devices and it will be interesting to see how it fares in bridging the gap between playability and realism with the use of motion controls.
Overall Top Spin 4 is without doubt a good game, made with care and quality, but is ultimately just a little boring. I appreciate there’s a gap in the market for hyper-realism within every game genre, especially sports, but essentially it means the overall mechanics stay largely static from installment to installment, and the only improvements in the franchise are either cosmetic or time-dependent.
If you’re a hardcore tennis fan then I imagine this could be the very title you’ve been waiting for, everyone else might just find this a tad dry and dull.