Top Spin 4 Review (Xbox 360)
We recently changed how we do our reviews. Read about the new process here, then check out the new scoring guidelines and revised scoring rubric.
Article 1: Top Spin 4 Initial Impressions
Tennis has always been one of the go-to sports in my life, so of course I was as giddy as this guy when I first heard that the Top Spin franchise was returning for a fourth installment. But by no means did I expect Top Spin 4 to impress me as much as it has to this point. To put it quite simply, this is the best tennis simulation ever made.
Gameplay is the bread and butter of Top Spin 4. Most games hide flaws with animations and graphics, but TS4 has avoided all of that. All the players have stats for things like their forehand, their volley and their reflexes. Each stat is a lot more than a number, and you will find that out once you play the game.
You must play to your player’s strengths, which can be found in the stat lines. For example, Andy Roddick has one of the best serves ever seen, so his strength is to catch his opponent with his serve and then finish him off with a quick volley or corner shot.
But wait, you still have to be cerebral in the match. So you may be set on using your backhands and slices, but if you don’t take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses then you’ll be flying home very soon.
The opponent AI is also some of the best I have ever seen in a sports game. The AI players are smart and, for the most part, avoid unforced errors on the higher difficulty levels. Every player has a play style, but figuring it out is the tough part. Basically, you have to notice the way your opponent plays in the first set and then go from there. If a certain player likes to be aggressive and play the net, hand him or her a nice lob followed by a quick corner shot for an easy point.
Another thing that really impresses me from an AI standpoint is the way the AI players quickly adapt to your play style. I play a defensive baseline style, which is the slowest but safest form of playing. Its main weakness is when my opponent attacks the net -- it gets tough running around back and forth trying to keep the ball in play. So when I have to start moving around a lot, I start attacking with cross-court shots. But when I do, after three points tops, my opponent has already adapted to how I am playing. The constant change of pace and strategy keeps the game fresh.
Beyond the AI, the game’s controls are a major upgrade. The developers over at 2K Czech have implemented a new button-based timing system this time around. Your shots will range between very late, too soon, good and perfect. It takes a lot of time to get the timing down perfect, but when you do pull off those perfect shots down the line, you will win the point 90 percent of the time.
They have also added in control shots and power shots. When you’re preparing to return the ball, if you gently tap on one of the buttons, you will hit a control shot, which is a safe hit that will stay in play every time. If you hold down a button until the on-screen circle turns red, you will hit a power shot with much more force on it, but it will be more likely to miss those white lines.
The timing mechanic for your serves is still there like in the past, but it is harder than ever to pinpoint. When you get an ace, you really deserve it. On your first serve, you can use the more powerful and tricky right analog stick. The timing on the stick is rather tough to master, but the speed on the serve averages nearly 20 mph more than any button-based serve. During a second serve, it's better to just use the buttons to make sure you don't double fault.
She may be the sexiest, but is she the best?
First of all, the servers are great. 2K has a bad rep when it comes to online servers, but TS4 has remarkable servers that have yet to crash on me. Not only do the servers hold up, they also include one of the more intriguing online modes to date.
World Tour is just like Career mode, except you won’t be playing against CPU Nadal, you’ll be playing against your neighbor's created player. World Tour is set up so gamers across the world can climb the ladder until they’re number one. The Tour is based off of a lifelike season as well, so a new one will always be just a week away.
Another rather entertaining mode for those who like to play as Robot Federer is 2K Open. In this online mode you will be taking control of your favorite professional and climbing your way up the ladder to ensure that everyone knows who the best pro is in today's game. As of now, Nadal has a comfortable lead on Federer and Roddick.
This game looks fantastic. The graphics are beautiful and so are the player models. However, the courts are the best part of the game. When switching from grass to clay, the differences are immediately noticeable. Playing on a clay court is wonderful because you see your player slide around a little more than on a grass court or any others. The streaks are visible, and it causes you to think about your next move ahead of time.
Honestly, it blows my mind that the court surfaces of the game have to be considered when playing against an opponent. And yes, Nadal becomes Superman when he steps onto a clay surface. I don’t know if it’s a mental factor or not, but I have yet to defeat him on his favorite playing surface.
The camera angles are solid as well. But one thing I did notice was how you can never see your opponent's toss (during a serve) when it reaches its peak. It is far from a deal breaker, but it has become one of those annoying little ticks that just bothers me from time to time.
Lastly, it's great to see some on-screen displays talking about some various in-game stats, and the crowd noise can't be overstated. The folks in attendance add a ton to the experience and help to make you feel like you're in the moment.
The simulation aspect of the game stays relatively consistent as long as you do.
The number of winners and forced errors are close to realistic. The problem that most will encounter, though, will be the unforced errors. Tennis is a slower-paced game than most people are used to, so if you get impatient you will try and hit power shots left and right or play the net every single point. Sure, it may work for you once in a while, but the more aggressive and impatient you are the more your errors will increase.
If you don’t think the gameplay is the bread and butter of TS4, then this is probably your choice instead. Career mode is set up a lot like the one from TS3, just with some improvements.
But before getting to those improvements, I first have to point out that the problem with this mode is that you don't have the ability to take control of a professional tennis player and guide him or her through a career. Instead, you must create your own players and build them up from the ground level all the way to level 20, the highest level in the game.
When you first boot up the mode, you will notice you have career goals to meet. There will be three of them consisting of participating in tournaments, winning tournaments and having a certain number of fans. Once you accomplish all three goals, you will receive three new ones that will be much more challenging.
There will be two events per month to complete. The first will be a training session or a special event. The training session is a quick set to three where you choose to battle a certain style of opponent. You will gain experience points based on how well you do and if you win or not. The special event will be the easiest event you have ever competed in. All you do is click a button and you gain points and/or fans. This may sound like a waste of time, but sometimes you need to sacrifice actual playtime and grab a few fans here and there.
The second event in the month will be a tournament. When you're just starting out, you will only be allowed to participate in minor tournaments. Every once in a blue moon only a major tournament will be available, and that means you will just have to sit out. It isn’t fun, but it’s a harsh (virtual) reality.
It also takes a bit to build all the way up to level 20. And even when you get up to the level, the fun doesn’t end. Instead of your goal being just to compete with Federer, your goal will be to beat Federer every chance you get. It’s just like real tennis, once you get the top spot your career keeps going because everyone is going to want to take you down.
Do you have what it takes to beat Roger Federer and be known as one of the best tennis players of all time?
This is the one real blister the game shows off. Outside of Career mode, the modes are not really there. There is an exhibition mode, and the aforementioned online modes, but that is about it.
There is a King of the Court mode, which sounded exciting until I played it. In KofC you rotate between four players while seeing who can stay on the court the longest and win the most. It will take you back to the good old days of king of the hill on the playground. But sadly, I’d rather go to the playground than mess with any other modes in TS4.
The wait for this game was terrible and agonizing, but it was worth it. The gameplay is as solid as any can get; career mode is fascinating; and the graphics look great.
There really is not much wrong with this game outside of the lack of game modes, so you have to give credit to 2K Sports. Simply put, 2K Czech has made the game of tennis what it was intended to be: a chess match.
Learning Curve: The game is very pick up and play friendly, but without practice you will never be great.
Control Scheme: The controls are easy, but it’s the timing that gets tough.
Visuals: One word, beautiful.
Audio: When it comes to tennis, let there be grunts!
Score: 8.5 (Great)