|System: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii|
|Dev: 2K Czech|
|Pub: 2K Sports|
|Release: March 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Sean Engemann
2K Sports serves up the next iteration of their tennis simulation games, Top Spin 4. Fans who dove into countless matches from the third game of the series may be disappointed with the omission of fresh content. But what the game lacks in groundbreaking new features, it makes up for with numerous nice touches, each immersing you more into the game and heightening the sense of euphoria with each point won and the frustration of each ball missed.
The list of professionals you can play as or against is impressive, with Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal, just to name a few. 2K has even added legendary players to the roster, such as Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, and of course, Andre Agassi. Sadly, if you want to see Agassi's vintage mullet sweeping across the screen, you would have needed to preorder through GameStop. Nonetheless, it's a nice touch to have past and present greats square off against each other, just one of the many small adornments Top Spin 4 offers.
Your ultimate goal is to become a tennis legend, working your way from minor tournaments to becoming the champion of Grand Slam events and the #1 ranked player. Of course, as in real life, you'll need practice... and a lot of it. Fortunately, the game sports a great tutorial called the Top Spin Academy, where you'll learn serves and volleys, baseline attack and defense, shot placement, and a combination of everything. It is a lengthy tutorial, which you can quit at anytime, but once you hit the court in a ranked matchup, you'll be glad for the time spent in training. If you need to brush up on your technique, you can always do individual lessons or spend some free time on the practice court honing your skills. When you're ready, you can dive into an exhibition game, where you can play any player, at any venue, with any settings. The interface allows for a quick setup so you can promptly get to playing.
But the meat of the game is in the career mode, where you create your character from scratch using a non-standard and slightly confusing customization tool, but still one that ultimately lets you create a unique avatar. From there you start with a newcomer status, ranked last on the list. Each month of the season, you can partake in one preparation event and one tournament. The preparation events include sparring partners, charity events, sponsor matches, exhibition games, and others. You are limited by your status to which events you can choose, but as objectives are met, these are unlocked for future participation. Thankfully, despite 2K's commitment to true simulation tennis, you have the option to curtail the match length for the events, opting out of the prolonged and straining official format in favor of shortened tie-breakers, where it's basically the first player to ten points. The game's default setting is actually a nice mix, with certain events as tie-breakers, some as abridged matches, and others full length showdowns. You'll also start tournaments in the quarter-finals, alleviating the burden of preliminary matches.
As you progress with your created character, you'll earn experience points. This is an excellent addition (especially for an RPG buff like myself) that allows even further customization of your character and play style. As you hit a level up marker, you can choose between three styles: serve & volley, offensive baseline, and defensive baseline. Each style will adjust individual attributes such as power, speed, forehand and backhand swings, and others. Although the court is open for you to control your character as you see fit, after several matches you'll find yourself invariable sticking to one style. The only problem I had with the leveling is that it was so gradual I didn't notice a profound change in how my character reacted on the court. On easier difficulties this problem is more apparent, as you can handily best any opponent no matter what your level is.
A nice feature when gaining repute is the arrival of coaches. Each coach is particular to a play style and grants a boon to your attributes and experience by keeping to that style. Complete coach objectives throughout matches to augment your skill, and hire on new coaches as they appear. You'll also receive sponsorship deals as your fan base builds, receiving e-mails and unlocking new gear. The assortment of clothing is authentic to all the major brands like FILA and Nike, but all are superficial. It would've been nice to have something extra to work towards, like unlockable rackets that upgrade your attributes.
The graphics are the real highlight of the game, especially with your HD boosted to the max. Not only are the different court types (clay, grass, hard, carpet, etc.) perfectly proportioned, but the backdrops of the plethora of venues brings you right to that location. From the sun setting over the ocean in Hamilton on the Bermuda Islands, or the great shadowing from the latticework at the Dubai Sports complex, to the blue hues of Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, the detailing is exquisite. Even small elements like chairs, cameras, and sponsor banners add to the realism of the location. Equally impressive are the player animations, whether reaching for the ball or slowing down after missing a cross court shot, they all seem as close to what players would do in reality as possible. Finally, the crowd has its own life, a first in the series. Although several cookie cutter images and reactions easily stand out, there's a better vibrancy and believability to the spectators. Top Spin 4 also supports 3D stereoscopic imaging, for those who have the luxury of a 3D television.