Top Spin 4 is the latest update to the Top Spin franchise, and is the first Top Spin game developed by 2K Czech (Mafia series). The original Top Spin on the Xbox brought me endless hours of tennis enjoyment, so I’ve had high hopes for every Top Spin since that initial exposure, and despite a different developer, my anticipation was no different here.
The control system in Top Spin 4 is to be commended as it allows players to pick up and get straight into the game, yet it has enough depth that players will have greater control in how they play the game. The basic shots (flat, top spin, lob and slice) are represented by the face buttons on the controller, but along with modifiers, players will be able to execute drop-shots or charge the net to ready themselves for a volley. The pressure applied on the shots will dictate whether it is a controlled-shot, normal-shot or a power-shot. As the name suggests, a controlled-shot allows the player to have greater control over where they place the ball on the court, whereas the power-shot will apply more grunt to the swing. I found myself using the power or normal-shot most times, but found the control-shot to be useful when needing to land the ball in a specific area.
Top Spin 4 puts a major emphasis on correctly timing shots. Achieving either a “good” or “perfect” rating will raise the percentage of a winning shot, while either hitting too early or late will drastically reduce the odds. Rarely were mistimed shots punished in the matches I played, and on several occasions I was able hit a winner with a mistimed hit.
Top Spin 4 supports the PlayStation Move, and it’s easy to use and works quite well here. It’s quite basic, with the Motion controller used to swing the racquet, with the Navigation controller moving the player around the court. It helped me sensing the weight behind my swings, and actually caused me to build up a sweat. I did experience minor problems with the camera not sensing my movements though, which did take away from the experience.
To fully understand all the different techniques and shots featured in the game, Top Spin 4 features an in-depth tutorial in the form of the Top Spin Academy. The challenges can become laborious, but overall very helpful.
The game includes several big-name players such as Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic. Unfortunately, when compared to other sports games in the market today, the roster number is quite small. And it was noticed that many significant players were missing, especially on the women’s side. Noticeable absentees included Venus Williams and tennis glamour girl, Maria Sharapova. The game once again includes a list of legendary players, like Andre Agassi and Australia’s own Pat Rafter, but alas, no women legends are represented. It would’ve been nice to have former stars such as Steffi Graf or Martina Navratilova as well.
The player models in Top Spin 4 are great representations of the real players, despite the small list of official names. The animation is smooth and realistic, and even captures the style and character of the players; like their swings, celebrations and even their grunts. A nice touch is the crowd chanting player-specific encouragements, as well as reacting to exciting rallies and points. On the other hane, the courts themselves, especially the practice courts, looked too bland. It reminded me of the models used in 3D flythroughs of houses and shopping centres, which uses basic 3D.
The game offers a couple of single-player options like the King of the Mountain mode (which you can also play with friends), where the winner stays on court until a player wins a certain amount of games. But it’s the Career mode that is the centrepiece of Top Spin 4.
Before beginning your Career, you’ll need to use the extensive player creator to wrangle up yourself a player. It offers an abundance of options and the ability to adjust the smallest detail. And right from the start, the game includes equipment and apparel from some of the biggest brands such as Nike, Adidas and Yonex. It may have gone a little overboard with editors, as my created player ended up looking like a plastic surgery nightmare after too much tweaking in the expert face editor.
The goal in Career mode is to achieve the status of “Legend”, and this is achieved by completing objectives like winning a certain number of tournaments. Each month, the player must participate in one preparation event and one tournament. Tournaments consist of the Grand Slams (the game includes the Australian, US and French Opens), as well as smaller events like Indian Wells.
Player growth is achieved by earning experience points or XPs from the above mentioned events and tournaments. These points are then added to one of three strategies – serve and volley; offensive baseline play and defensive baseline play. This is a simple and quick way to allocate points to your skill sets, and is great for those who don’t to want micro-manage their skills. Each time a strategy is upgraded, your player’s level will increase. You’ll need to be wise how you spend the XPs, as the player level is capped at 20, which surprisingly is reached quite quickly.
New and better coaches will become available as you progress in levels. Coaches are an essential part of your career, as they will add extra bonuses to your skill-set as you complete their objectives.
Top Spin 4 is a great addition to the series, and is a seriously enjoyable tennis game, and features a solid Career mode. The major plus for this game is that is can be enjoyed by both newbies and veterans of the Top Spin games, it just lacked a deeper roster of players, a low level-cap and a few other niggly bits to break the eight-barrier.