Review by carverx19

"Pure Tennis"

The Top Spin series has always provided an authentic tennis simulation. However, previous installments of the series (namely Top Spin 3) included complicated and difficult control schemes, which many players found inaccessible. Those concerns are a thing of the past. Top Spin 4 has a reasonable learning curve that can be achieved in a game or two. The control scheme is extremely intuitive and anyone at all familiar with tennis will feel very comfortable. However, despite the simplistic interface, Top Spin 4 provides an incredibly nuanced experience in which different players offer radically different play-styles. If not for mediocre presentation, this game would be flawless.

GRAPHICS AND PRESENTATION: 7/10

The game looks great. Most players bear a strong resemblance to their real-life counterparts, though there are exceptions. Beyond their appearance, the players move and swing just like the real thing. Nadal's grunts sound perfect, Roddick's serve looks identical. The only thing missing is Djokovic bouncing the ball 20 times before each serve (a touch I'm glad they left out). The character animations are not only authentic but seamless. The way the players slide on clay and stumble on hard courts, the way they hit the ball at difficult angles, nothing feels contrived. The players react to points and calls, celebrate and hang their heads after games.

Graphically, the game is solid but by no means exceptional. The character creation system is fairly comprehensive and the game offers a wide variety of clothing options, many of which need to be unlocked.

Unfortunately, the music and presentation are both major problems. The game features an extremely limited soundtrack, including far too much MIDI music. There is no option to filter the music to your liking, though there wouldn't be much to choose from anyway. The menu system is atrocious and painfully bland. The stadiums look predominantly good and the French-speaking chair at Roland Garros is a nice touch but the crowd is a little formulaic at times. When they gradually swell during a long rally it feels just right, but when they applaud identically after every point it becomes tiresome.

The loading times are brief but overly frequent. Even going from the career main menu to the my player menu requires a short loading sequence. Finally, the replay system is severely lacking. You're given to the option to view a replay after each point and the game often cuts to them automatically but there is no way to view a replay from multiple angles or control the speed. There is no way to save replays. These features are practically standard in most sports games and their absence here is disappointing.

INTERFACE AND GAME DESIGN: 9/10

As previously mentioned, the control scheme is brilliant. The left stick controls your movement and the angle of your shot, making it simple to aim for any spot on the court. The four face buttons are mapped to your different types of shots: flat, top spin, slice and lob. Power and/or control is based on how long you hold the button while accuracy is determined by how well you time your release. Releasing the button at the right time is the hardest part to get used to, but after a few games, it begins to become second nature. Releasing too late or too early will throw off your shot, making fast or difficult balls realistically harder to hit. Slower balls that hang up in the air give you lots of time to line everything up and are routinely simple to crush. The face buttons are also used for serving, but the best serves can only be achieved through the use of the right stick. Serving manually is less forgiving but equally easy to master. The intuitive controls make for nearly 1:1 control over your player.

The stamina system is flawlessly executed. Running around the court and using power shots will inevitably drain your stamina until you're moving slower and taking longer to charge up your shots. After a taxing point, you'll find your player's stamina still depleted on the next. It will recover, but a grueling match will take its toll and your stamina bar will gradually shrink over the course of a match. Stamina is not the only important statistic, all of the eight stat categories (forehand, backhand, serve, volley, power, stamina, speed and reflexes) play a vital role in every game. Players with high speed can run down more balls, but without high reflexes they will often be caught on the wrong foot. Players like Federer can easily tag lines with the forehand all day, but give them something on the backhand side and they'll struggle mightily. Volley may not seem important to most baseline players, but try playing a doubles match sometime and see how you do. The stat system is, in part, what makes the real players so true to life.

There is an option to play using Playstation Move, Sony's answer to the motion-controlled Wii. However, without the necessary accessories, I must reserve judgment.

GAMEPLAY: 10/10

This game is a triumph of sports simulation. It is quite simply the best approximation of tennis to ever be offered on a virtual platform. All too often in sports games, players feel like they input the commands to the best of human ability only to be stymied time and again by "the stupid game." Gamers are ever at the mercy of predetermined animations and mysterious glitches. Top Spin 4 is literally devoid of anything resembling these issues. At no time do you feel anything less than total control over your player. If you lose a point, you know what you did wrong. It is never the game's fault.

If that weren't enough, the game is fun to the point of addiction. Hitting winners feels spectacular and five-deuce epic games keep you on the edge of your seat. One of the things that makes the game so enjoyable is that each opponent offers extremely different games. The difference between playing Andy Roddick and Andy Murray is like night and day. Andy Murray makes it impossible to hit a winner, getting everything back in play and he can hit any spot on the court. But it's the less accurate Roddick who will have you six feet behind the baseline awaiting his monster serve. What's more, all players possess a few special abilities that make them unique. Murray is equipped with particularly devastating slices while Roddick gets more powerful over the course of a match. No two players offer exactly the same obstacles and the simplistic but effective character building system allows you to customize your strengths and weakness to suit your own play style. You also have a wide variety of coaches to choose from, each providing with you with different stat boosts and special abilities. In short, you can create almost any kind of player you can think of and still meet with challenging opposition.

The game features an array of difficulty options for the casual player to even the most dedicated gamer. Expert mode, which can only be unlocked by winning a slam on Very Hard, is next to impossible while Very Easy is exactly how it sounds.

DEPTH AND REPLAY VALUE: 8/10

The game includes a great deal of scoring options including Classic Tennis, Serve and Score, Percentage Tennis and every kind of tiebreaker from 7 to 50 points. Sets can be as few as 3 or as many as 6 games and matches can range from 1 to 5 sets. Doubles tennis provides a completely unique experience and the character selection, while modest, is fairly comprehensive. Notable absences are Soderling, Monfils and John MacEnroe. Why these players were left out for guys like Simon and Davydenko is a mystery.

The career mode is simple but engrossing. Each month, you have the option to participate in a training event and a primary event. Training events range from simple sparring matches to movie shoots while primary events are the tournaments in which you participate. As you win more tournaments, your ranking along with your popularity grow until you reach new levels of notoriety, eventually rising to the level of tennis legend. Sadly, you experience all of this through repetitive menu screens that eventually become tiresome. Building your character and rising to #1 in the world is fun but the view from the top is disappointingly dull. The game becomes repetitive after a few seasons, but you can always start a new character with an entirely different style.

Multiplayer works just as seamlessly as single-player, though playing on the far side of the court can present a significant challenge. The King of the Court and doubles modes allow for large groups to play together and the game also features a complete online experience.

OVERALL: 9/10

This game really deserves a perfect rating. It provides an absolutely perfect tennis simulation. However, the game's presentation is severely lacking and ultimately detracts from an otherwise flawless experience. But please, don't let that deter you. The game is quite simply amazing to play and endlessly enjoyable.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 03/29/11

Game Release: Top Spin 4 (US, 03/15/11)


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