The most realistic tennis game ever created.
Since Pong, Tennis in its electronic form has traditionally leaned more towards arcade style fun than realism. Into this tradition steps 2K Sports with Top Spin 3, a tennis game that dares to make the game feel as realistic as possible at the expense of accessibility. This decision is a double edged sword, as it allows fans of tennis to play a game that more realistically recreates the talent and timing it takes to play the game professionally. However, if you’re a gamer who’s been weaned on arcade style tennis, you will no doubt be frustrated by the realism present in Top Spin 3. Overall the game definitely does a better job recreating the tennis experience than any of its competitors; however a few distinct flaws keep it from being game, set, and match.
As mentioned, Top Spin 3 plays as close to real tennis as you can find in the gaming world. Players have a substantial and realistic inertia to their movement, which makes it more difficult to do the rapid changes in movement you’ll need to chase the bullets Roger Federer is laying in on you. Your player will actually fatigue as well, slowing your movement speed. If your player gets pumped up or nervous, his heart rate (shown by an EKG meter) will speed up, and he’ll have a much higher chance of blasting one out of bounds. These little touches definitely add a great deal of realism to the game, however if you’ve gotten yourself used to playing other games in the genre it will be a shock to your system the first time your player doesn’t get to that cross court shot. The game definitely brings out the strategic parts of tennis, and you’ll be constantly trying to anticipate your opponents next shot instead of simply responding to it.
Making contact with the ball is a little different then you may be used to as well. It’s based on a press and release system wherein you hold the button down for the shot that you want, and then release it when the ball gets close. While this takes a couple games to get used to, it definitely has a good feel to it. I’d like to see future tennis games incorporate this action as well. The right analog stick functions as a shot stick for both serves and drop shots, although if you’re like me you’ll use it much more for the former than the latter. The right bumper allows your player to charge the net to prepare for a volley, which is a fantastic innovation which I’m sure will show up in future tennis games as well. The left bumper acts as a sort of “turbo”, increasing your speed but also your fatigue.
You’ll also have the option to use risk shots to your advantage, although as the name suggests they can come back to bite you if not used properly. The two risk shots available are power shots and line shots (mapped to the left and right triggers), and they perform as advertised. The power shot allows you to add more power (who knew?) at the expense of control, while the line shot allows you to paint the edges, but of course he who lives by the lines dies by the lines (or something like that) and if you use it to much you run the risk of hitting the ball out a lot. I wouldn’t recommend using these shots until your created player gets a decent amount of skill, as they are more risk than reward early on.
Graphically the first thing you’ll notice is that the character models, while not perfect, are well done and a pretty good replication of their real world counterparts. A realistic tennis game would be nothing without great animations between and during shots, and I’m pleased to report that Top Spin 3 excels on this front. The players move and animate very well, and the animations and gameplay never seem to be at odds. Different shots come off the racket in different ways, and the player’s movement to the ball never looks rushed or sluggish. For all that TS3 does right visually, it gets several things wrong as well. Environments and crowds are mostly bland and lifeless. The menu system feels uninspired and bland. Most of your focus will be on the action, so these are minor complaints, but they do keep the game from feeling as polished as it should.
Top Spin 3 features all the modes you would expect, from career mode to online multiplayer. The career mode allows you to create a player, using a robust create feature which should allow just about anyone to make a pretty decent look a like. The career mode follows your player as he (or she) makes his way up the ladder. However, overall the mode feels somewhat lackluster. The main complaint I have is the inability to train off the court, which is present in just about every sports game’s career mode but somehow absent in Top Spin 3. I understand that they were going for a more realistic approach than Virtua Tennis’s somewhat silly mini-games, but they should have instituted something to add to the variety. You can earn experience by playing and winning matches however, which can then be used to improve your player’s skill. Overall, I was expecting a lot more out of the career mode, and hopefully they’ll do more to expand it in next years version.
As is typical with Tennis games, Top Spin 3 is definitely more fun when you’re playing with others, and the online multiplayer is very smooth. World tour mode is a great feature which allows you to take your created player online and compete in tournaments against other players to earn more experience. Offline multiplayer is also great, and a great excuse to bust the game out when you’ve got a few friends over. In terms of sound you’ll get pretty much what you expect from a modern sports game. A decent licensed soundtrack, and sound effects that are pretty faithful to the real thing.
Overall, Top Spin 3 does a great job approximating the real talent it takes to play tennis at a competitive level. In the end, whether you’ll love TS3 or hate it boils down to what group you fall into. If you’re a tennis diehard who’s sick of games like Wii Sports watering down the sport to its most basic level you’ll find a great deal of fun here. However if you’re a weekend warrior who prefers his tennis simple, you may find this game a bit more than you can handle. Hopefully next year 2K can iron out some of the rough spots and flesh out the career mode to turn this series into the undisputed champ of tennis games. As it stands, Top Spin 3 is a very solid step in the right direction.