2K Czech have perhaps developed the most realistic tennis game till date and with the upcoming Virtua Tennis 4, 2011 sure does looks like a great year for tennis fans. Before the game was released, fans were promised a lot of new features like 4000 unique animations and more licensed players and tournaments. I am very happy to report that Top Spin 4 delivers on all fronts and promises resulting in to an experience never seen before in a tennis game.
The career mode is scaled up with an improved Player Creator. The game gives the player an opportunity to customize everything, right from the player’s look to his socks. After you are done with the plethora of customization options that the game throws at you, the player will be presented to a dashboard. Here you can check out your rankings, emails for new sponsors, charity matches and the number of tournaments that you need to win to reach the next level. Top Spin 4 is still about the player beginning from a “New Comer” status to eventually reaching “Legend” status. When you start, you will be at the lowest level and hence will only be able to compete in minor tournaments. The good thing about the levelling system is that it actually tells the player exactly what he/she needs to do in order to reach the next level. More precisely speaking, the number and the type of tournaments you need to win and the number of fans. The game takes you through a number of seasons and as such there is no limit as to how many seasons you can enter. You can actually lose one entire season and level up the next season by winning matches and tournaments. This means that the game can appeal to any type of gamer: casual and hardcore. Obviously the fun lies in levelling up as quickly as possible and facing off against your favourite tennis stars in the Grand Slam Tournaments.
You will also earn experience points by winning matches, attending charity matches and special events. You can then use these experience points to level up your character in the Player Evolution section in three different categories:
Investing XP in these categories will result in to special abilities. As you level up you will also come across a number of people who will want to coach you. There are three levels of coach: Bronze, Silver and Gold. Obviously the best results can be achieved by employing a coach who belongs to the Gold category. There are also coach specific objectives which when fulfilled will result in to more XP.
The career mode is solid but the experience is lowered by the really long loading times. Just for changing the screens, the game goes in to substantial loading times which may buzz off some players. I think the developers can learn some loading methods from sport games like FIFA and hopefully implement them in the next instalment.
Other gameplay modes include the Exhibition mode where you can opt in for a one or one or doubles. Here the player can choose from the already present roster of players which includes giants like Nadal and Roger or select an already created player. There are also a number of match types like:
But the most entertaining of all is the King of the Court modewhere the player can go through a number of quick matches among a group of selected tennis legends. The player who can win a preset amount of matches first will be crowned as the King of the Court. Again, this is nothing out of the box, but still is a nice addition to the overall package.
Top Spin 4 is all about timing and the proficiency you have over your controller. Shots have been defined by four types: Early, Late, Good and Perfect. Early shots will result in giving more time to your opponent, Late shots will probably make the ball bounce out of the playing court, so your best bet is to be at Good or Perfect. The controls are pretty basic with three basic shots: Flat, Spin and Normal, which means that the player should have the knowledge as to which shots should be employed at which moment. The best position is to play from the centre; however that might not be the case every time. Against higher level players and in bigger tournaments like Grand Slam, you have to be on your toes all the time, resulting in to some adrenaline filled encounters.
Top Spin 4 features some of the most fluid animations I have seen in video games. The movement of the players, the way they slide and the encounter near the nets have been beautifully rendered by the PAM engine. The game features fully licensed arenas that have been replicated pretty well. There are also variations in the surfaces like clay and mud but when playing on these surfaces I saw no difference in the behaviour or the physics of the ball. Tennis games are all about concentration so it’s obvious that there is no music while a match is going on, but the crowd does a great job of creating an exciting ambience. However I think the music for the menus could have been better and less repetitive.
The online mode of the game is rock solid. It features the standard exhibition mode and the 2K open which is only for players who have reached level 20. There is also an interesting World Tour Mode where your player will have to rank up. Again, just like with every mode the game lets you gain XP regardless of whether you have won or lost. I experienced a bit of lag, but nothing that was game breaking.
Top Spin 4 is a great addition to the franchise. With an excellent and an open XP system which is not restricted to one mode, the game should appeal to new comers as well as veterans. Overall, a must buy if you are a tennis or a sports fan in general.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Tennis at its very best, Excellent character animations, Lots of tournaments to compete in, Great roster of players, Courts are well designed and Crowd reaction to nail biting finishes is amazing, Player can gain XP from every mode in the game.
Long loading times, Menu music gets repetitive
Top Spin 4 is a marked improvement over Top Spin 3 including some really fluid animations and solid gameplay.