Most tennis aficionados will name Top Spin as the top franchise on the market; Sega’s Virtua Tennis has never been as authentic or realistic. Therefore, with 2K’s Top Spin 4 set to release in less than two months time, we’re interested to see how the series had advanced. Developer 2K Czech has promised a variety of upgrades and alterations, which should equate to the single most in-depth and rewarding installment yet. They’re also tossing in the biggest player roster to date; legends like Pete Sampras, Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi will be included, and the front of the box will feature Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Ana Ivanovic. Perhaps most intriguing is the team’s emphasis on pitting strength versus weakness in a player vs. player scenario. This is a step up in terms of simulation, as past entries were more about the ground game versus volleying; individual pro traits weren’t as recognizable.
For instance, while Andy Roddick has always had his laser serve, 2K has developed his game to the point where it’s easily recognizable; i.e., the tennis fan will go, “yup, that’s how Roddick plays.” Although he has come into the net a bit more often in recent years, he still prefers the baseline and likes to amp up the power to ridiculous levels. So when he sets out to play someone like Nadal, who relies on heavy spin and immense quickness, the two contrasting play styles will be in full effect. Roddick may pound the ball from side to side while Nadal plays defense, until he finally flicks one of those huge top-spin forehands – at a supremely difficult angle – past Roddick. In other words, not only will you have to understand the basics of the game, but you’ll have to do your homework; you’ll have to know how certain pros play in order to gain a strategic advantage.
In terms of gameplay, 2K has taken a more user-friendly approach to TS4. Perhaps one of the biggest complaints gamers had with TS3 was that while it was mostly realistic, there wasn’t much in the way of assistance. Basically, after grasping the controls and hitting the court, you’d just have to use trial and error to master your game. 2K has lowered the learning curve and provided in-game prompts that let a novice know where he stands; this includes a first-bounce indicator, a timing assist that tells you if you were late or early in striking the ball, and an enhanced fatigue gauge. The latter was included in past entries but it didn’t play much of a role, which is hardly authentic. From a tennis follower’s standpoint, I’m hoping this doesn’t mean they’ve dumbed down the entire production for the sake of newcomers. Assists are fine, but the hardcore will be able to turn ‘em off and play as usual, right?
Top Spin 4 will also boast a new emphasis on the Career Mode, and you can pick up valuable experience points by playing both online and offline. You can even hire different coaches depending on the skills you desire to have: if you’re more of a net rusher, you’ll want a coach who’s schooled in the areas of serve and volley. If you want to sit back and smack the ball, you’ll need a great groundstroke coach. The cool part is that you can switch up coaches at almost any time during your Career, thereby allowing you to become a diverse and dangerous player. All of this sounds great, although we hear that in terms of overall control, 2K may have changed a few things… For those who are used to the same mechanic since the original title debuted, that may sound like a bad thing, but we’ll have to wait and see. While I’ve always liked it, there was definite room for improvement. The game arrives on March 18 and we’re hoping a demo might show up on the Store some time before then.