Top Spin 2 Review (Xbox 360)
The Top Spin series is back, and as a tennis fan, I have to say that I’m very happy to see it return. I have been a sports gamer for almost twenty years and I’ve played practically every tennis game looking for a realistic and fun representation of the game. That game finally came in 2002 with the release of Top Spin. While the game was in no ways perfect, it did present the most accurate game of tennis ever seen in a video game. The series was on life support when Microsoft pulled the plug on its sports division, but 2K Sports did the smart thing and purchased its rights last year. Now we have Top Spin 2 and its debut on the Xbox 360. The only question is can 2K Sports build on the foundation that was left with the original version?
One thing that I’ve always found lacking in the Top Spin series is the sound, and this year is no different. 2K Sports has play-by-play commentators and color commentators in every game they release, so I am confused about why they refuse to add a color commentator to Top Spin. Tennis broadcasters don’t talk during points, but they do comment on points after they are finished, and it doesn’t seem like an incredibly difficult thing to add. One other issue is that the crowd reacts incorrectly at times. It’s very disappointing to have an exciting 15-20 shot rally and have the crowd barely shout at the end or to have the crowd roar when a player hits a shot into the net. There are a lot of good things about this title, but the sound isn’t one of them.
Graphically, Top Spin 2 looks great, as most Xbox 360 games do, but the graphics don’t jump out at you like other Xbox 360 sports games do. If this game was released for the one of the current-gen systems, I would be raving about how Top Spin 2 looks. However, after seeing games like Fight Night Round 3 and NBA 2K6, Top Spin 2 pales in comparison. I was also surprised to see that 2K Sports decided against using the sweat visual effect seen in NBA 2K6 and College Hoops 2K6. That effect would work perfectly in this game, because tennis is such a high-energy sport.
Top Spin 2 is very similar to the first version of the game, and that’s a good thing. The control scheme and risk shots meter are very similar to the original version. One big difference in this version is that momentum is taken into account whether a shot is in or out. Even if you stop the risk shot meter at the very top, if your player is off-balance, he or she will not land the shot. This plays a big role in the realism of the game, because it can lead to many unforced errors. The lack of unforced errors is something that I have complained about since I began playing tennis video games. Top Spin 2 finally got it right. On every difficulty level, you will witness the CPU making mistakes, whether it’s hitting the ball long or double-faulting.
With the exception of a few top tennis stars like Serena Williams and Justin Henin-Hardenne, the player roster includes most of today's top tennis star. Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, Venus Williams, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova are among the many greats featured in this game. I am disappointed that 2K did not increase the number of tennis stars from 24 or add a way to create current and past tennis greats. Another great touch is that every player has his or her own specific style. Players that are baseliners in real life will be baseliners in the game. The same thing goes for players that approach the net. Roddick has an almost unreturnable serve and Federer is extremely well-rounded and can do almost anything he wants. This sort of variety really adds longevity to the exhibition mode and online.
Career mode is much improved in Top Spin 2. The biggest addition is something that would seem small, but its exclusion made the original Top Spin’s career mode unbearable. In the original version, you had to complete a tournament before being able to save your game. This made it impossible to play the career mode without setting aside time to play an entire tournament (4 or 5 matches). Top Spin 2 features the ability to save after every match in a tournament, and while the original version should have included this feature, I’m glad to see it in this year’s version. The player creation function is very similar to the one found in the original Top Spin, but its definitely deeper. There are many licensed clothes and rackets available from the onset. The calendar in this year’s version is slightly different. Each week, you have a choice between training, or entering a tournament or a special event. In order to build a well-rounded player, you have to find the right balance between building your player’s skills through practice and his or her ranking through tournaments. One thing that I love is that you can no longer "max out" a player’s skills. The most that can be earned is sixty skill points, and you can use those points to develop your created player’s skills in any way you wish. The point limit ensures that no one can create a super-human tennis player. In this game, even the best player in the world like Roger Federer has a weakness. Top Spin 2’s career mode is the feature that is going to keep you coming back to this game. This is one of the few sports games that has a winning combination of great gameplay and an immersive career mode.
There is a lot to love about this game, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The loading times for this title are way too long and occur too often for a next-gen title. Also it seems as if 2K Sports removed the replay function from the sequel. I find it disappointing that after a great rally, there is no way to relive a fantastic point. One major negative in career mode is that every set is only three games. While I appreciate that some people prefer being able to speed though a match, there are some of us who would prefer having the option to play six games a set like they do in real life. This is kind of surprising that they would leave this out of the game when they have done so much to make this game appear and play realistically. I noticed a few problems online, including some lag. It wasn’t enough to ruin the online experience, but it was distracting. Also, using the unranked quick match function made it tough to find an opponent for a match. This doesn’t bode well for online if the game has only been out for two weeks and there aren’t many people in the online lobby.
Seven paragraphs and I haven’t even discussed the best part of the game: The price. This game is listed at $39.99 - which is twenty dollars less than most Xbox 360 games. If you are a tennis fan, you have no reason to not pick this game up. Even if you aren’t a huge tennis fan, at this price, it would be a shame if you missed out on this great game.