The tennis season has started back off in full swing at the moment, with the first Grand Slam of the year, Australian Open, currently taking the limelight. So with that in mind, we went out to check the latest iteration into the Top Spin franchise, Top Spin 4, hoping that it will make us feel a little bit better about being stuck in London, instead of Melbourne. And to be quite frank, Top Spin 4 looks like it could very well be the most accurate representation of the sport to date.
There have been many tennis games down the years, but quite a lot of them fall into the same trap. Yes, they have a wide range of shot types, from the classic flat shot, to top spin, slice, lob and drop shot. However, matches don't generally play out how a real match would. Rallies can go on for an infinite amount of time, and at the top level, they're usually won by one player getting bored of trying to win the point.
It's one thing that 2K Czech wanted to avoid when they made Top Spin 4, as almost every gameplay mechanic has been designed to have a degree of imperfection. Yes, it's possible to play a perfect shot every single time, but it's unlikely, and with the new fatigue system in place, it's even less likely.
There are numerous things that have been implemented to make sure this is true. Firstly, the timing of shots. You can either do a quick shot, which has increased accuracy, but diminished power, or the opposite. But each of them require timing to be pulled off effectively. For a power shot, you need to hold the button and release at the correct point, for accuracy, you need to press the button quickly at the right point. If you don't, the shot could go out, or it could be so weak that your opponent has an easy winner. It's surprisingly harsh too, so it's perhaps not that great as a "pick up and play" experience, you really do need to practice.
The second mechanic is the fatigue system. Each player has a stamina rating, and this rating affects their base performance throughout a match. If they keep getting caught up in long rallies, where they're constantly trying to do powerful shots, they'll get tired. And getting tired means that they won't run as fast, their shots will get worse and it means that overall, they will be significantly easier to beat.
These elements actually make the whole experience a lot more dynamic. It means that different play styles actually have a purpose in the game and someone like Michael Chang, who had weak ground strokes and great fitness, can actually beat someone like Andy Roddick, who has very powerful ground strokes, but doesn't necessarily have the fitness. All he has to do is stay in the points until Roddick starts to tire, and take his opportunity.
It might all seem a bit imposing to new players, and to make it easier to get into the swing of things, 2K Czech has put in quite a few feedback devices. For example, it will tell you how good your timing was, it will display stamina meters, and it will let you know where the ball is going to bounce so you can get better placement.
For those out there who don't necessarily want to play as Andy Murray or Andre Agassi, who's appearing in a game for the first time in a decade, Top Spin 4 also offers the chance to create your own character. However, it's not possible to create a perfect character. It's been designed so that your character must have weaknesses. Now, this could be that your backhand isn't so strong, or that you're an all rounder with no speciality, which in itself might be considered a weakness to some. But the idea is that any player should be able to beat any other, and that how they're played makes all the difference. Your player can also be augmented by coaches, who will improve certain stats if you complete challenges that they set. However, they will only boost a few stats, so it's up to you whether you decide to get a coach to improve your best stats, or to boost up your weaker areas.
Top Spin 4 looks like it could be the real deal. It's been a while since there was a tennis game that broke the mould and provided a more realistic experience with justification, but with Top Spin 4, it looks like we might just have another title that pushes the tennis genre forward. It's releasing on the 18th of March, 2011 on PlayStation 3 (with Move), Nintendo Wii (with MotionPlus) and Xbox 360. So be sure to check it out for yourself then.