Tennis may be the only sport in the world where grunts are common practice with each successful play of the ball. However, does Top Spin’s transition into the next-generation on PlayStation 3 happen to be grunt worthy for tennis fans and enthusiasts alike? We happen to think so, and though there’s a steep learning curve for new faces to the franchise, it doesn’t prevent this game from inexorably becoming quite an entertaining affair.
I would just like to point out to our readers first and foremost that I am not a tennis aficionado; I don’t watch the sport nor do I pretend to possess a great deal of knowledge on the subject. I know the base set of rules and the general guidelines of tennis etiquette, however that has never stopped me from enjoying virtual tennis on a home console. This review is completely from the eyes of a virtual Tennis fan and that alone. So let’s jump right into things and start off with all of the new options you’re going to be given with Top Spin 3.
One of the coolest new aspects to the Top Spin franchise is the added interactive tutorial mode called Top Spin School. This school will grade you and coach you through the various types of skills that you’ll need on your way to becoming the best player in the world. This latest addition is particularly significant to the franchise, as it proves instrumental in nullifying Top Spin 3’s otherwise steep learning curve, allowing newcomers to properly home their skills before stepping onto the court as an amateur.
From the school you’ll be able to practice your baseline skills, volleying, returning, and servicing skills just to name a few. This will not only coach you and guide you through how to master them in their simplest form, but will also teach you how to properly direct your shots accurately and how to make the best of a touch situation. You’ll also be given the option of learning some special shots, which will give you an edge over your competition if he/she was foolish enough to skip out on the tutelage. From here I was ready to start my dominance of the world.
After successfully completing my education in the new intuitive controls (more on this later), I decided to start my career. However, before I was able to do this, I was required to create my player. The new CAP features on Top Spin 3 are absolutely incredible. Not only do you have near unlimited possibilities when it comes to deciding on your haircut, style, eye structure, body build, weight, height, etc., but you also have the new “morphology” technology. This new technology allows you to sculpt your players face to look almost identical to yours if you choose to put in enough time to do it. Once you’ve made your player into the next Andre Agassi, you’ll be ready to start your career.
While the Top Spin series is renowned for its expansive career mode option, this latest instalment ultimately fails to live up to previous iterations, delivering a somewhat subdued experience compared to that of its predecessors. Unlike past games, Top Spin 3’s career mode features no globe traversing, no off-court activities and no practice abilities. Instead, you’re thrown into a repetitive spiral of playing one opponent after the other, in hope of achieving tennis dominance. You’ll still gain experience and shop points in order to evolve your player and purchase new gear, but it almost feels as though the career took a step back in terms of an “in-depth” experience.
Despite career mode lacking that in-depth touch, it does provide a lot of playability for the title and makes it a game still worth coming back to every so often if you’re not such a die-hard tennis fan like myself. Outside of the career mode, you will have two other modes to play around with, coming in the form of standard exhibition matches as well as tournaments. While both of these modes are your generic offering, they do add some pick up and play possibilities to the title, though it has to be said these are few and far between (a factor largely attributed to the new gameplay mechanics and subsequent learning curve they create.)
The biggest downfall of the game is undoubtedly the sluggish feeling that emanates during gameplay; it’s as though the title fails to react to the player’s commands on-screen, and thus takes a few seconds to recognise your actions. Fortunately, while this may sound like a huge blow to the game itself, it isn’t necessarily as bad as it seems. After a few hours of playing, you start to fall into the groove of it and everything starts to feel as though it flows naturally which is how any game should feel. Outside of this small minor annoyance, the gameplay overall provides a realistic experience.
One of the things you may not be accustomed to is how much momentum plays into the game. If you happen to twitch your analog one way too much, you’ll end up completely removing yourself from perhaps making a play on your opponents return. Though this does add quite a bit of realism to the game, it may perhaps actually be taking it a tad too far in terms of sensitivity. I sometimes found myself frustrated because of the outcome a slight twitch too far would create. On top of adding a much better system of momentum, they’ve also made volleys and returns very realistic in terms of swing times and when you have to press the button in order to accomplish it. This is where the issue of a steep learning curve truly comes into play.
Elsewhere, 2K Sports has done an incredible job bringing the real-life tennis feel directly to your PlayStation 3. The fluid animations and the realistic sound of the ball hitting your racket are very authentic to say the least. Furthermore, if you happen to be using a DualShock 3, you’ll be notified of a great shot whenever the controller happens to rumble, which is a nice touch.
Outside of the offline play, you can also pit your skills against others with the option of participating in online matches. Aside from engaging in a standard match with other players around the globe, you’ll also be able to join the World Tour using the character you created offline. The World Tour works in two-week intervals and allows you to play in tournaments, where you can obtain experience and points depending on your performance. While this does add a substantial amount of replay value to the game, it would have been nice to develop actual Tour leagues for you and your friends. As for the online play itself, the controls have a slight delay though fortunately the games are genuinely lag-free (minus a bit of slowdown every now and again).
Another disappointing issue with Top Spin 3 is the presentation. Considering 2K Sports’ past efforts in this department, TS3 in comparison has completely dropped the ball. The crowd feedback is virtually non-existent, subsequently rendering any victories you stack up utterly devoid of meaning. As such, where your efforts would typically be met with copious and exuberant applause there awaits nothing but a dead silence, accompanied only by your player’s victory walk.
Ultimately, despite its flaws and disappointments, Top Spin 3 nonetheless managers to offer up a realistic tennis experience applicable to both die-hard and casual fans of the genre alike. Though newcomers may be put off by the steep learning curve, they’ll find that if they put enough time into it, the game can be a very rewarding experience.