Top Spin 3 Review (Xbox 360)
The original Top Spin is the benchmark many people judge all other tennis games by. It made a lot of people forget about Virtua Tennis because it offered a more sim-like gameplay style, as well as solid online play. However, Top Spin 1 is not like Top Spin 3, and I said as much in my preview of the game. I also essentially said that it was refreshing to see a sequel being reinvented, rather than just being iterative. But while it may be refreshing it also makes Top Spin 3 a divisive title among existing fans. But if existing fans can push past their nostalgia and embrace the new control scheme found in Top Spin 3, then there is a game here worth checking out.
The new control scheme found in Top Spin 3 destroys your sports video game comfort zone and makes you re-teach your brain to handle the foreign controls present in Top Spin 3. For comparison’s sake, I’ll relate the new control scheme to the way you usually hit in baseball games: When you are about to hit a pitch you tend to tap a button to swing. Now imagine that to hit a baseball you need to be holding a button before the pitch is on its way; then once the pitch approaches you release the button to hit. That is essentially how swinging works in Top Spin 3. How you hold the button is just one part of the new system though. The other two parts are getting your feet set before the ball approaches and timing the release of the button to get maximum power and precision. It sounds complicated but it works so well once you get the hang of it.
For those who stick with it though, they will find that the gameplay is incredibly deep and rewarding -- especially online.
It works on multiple realism levels too. You can't try for an aggressive shot after struggling to get to a ball down the line, you simply have to get it back over the net. If you do try to get greedy you will hit the ball out or into the net. For the first time you tend to understand why you had an unforced error. Time your shot wrong and the ball won't go where you want it to, simple as that.
All the shot types and modifiers are still there so that’s still a comfort zone, but Top Spin School (a glorified tutorial mode) is still your friend. I personally always try to skip tutorials, but honestly it’s imperative to go through “school” so you can get a grasp on the controls in less time. Still, there will be frustration at the start and that’s going to turn some people away before they get over the hump. Combine that initial period of pain with the difficulty some will have in the Career Mode, even on the normal difficulty level, and you have a recipe for frustration.
For those who stick with it though, they will find that the gameplay is incredibly deep and rewarding -- especially online. Playing with people hundreds of miles away is when the game is most enjoyable. You still will make as many enemies as friends, much like with the other Top Spin games, but that’s to be expected. The new World Tour Mode will only increase the amount of time spent online as you can battle over a two-week period to try and be the best. I don’t really care about being number one, but it’s just something that hangs there to keep people playing, and that’s what it’s supposed to do. It’s equally as nice that you can earn points for your created pro online, so those who don’t want to play offline don’t have to. You’ll probably get destroyed by the pros with higher attributes but at least it’s an option.
The graphics look rather good in Top Spin 3, minus the faces.
And customization is what makes games great anyway. But with that being said, it’s strange that the Top Spin crew gives you plenty of options when creating a player -- the deepest found in a tennis game to date, and a step below Tiger Woods overall -- yet when it comes to the Career Mode you can’t change how many sets you play. It seems like the game should let you play the main single-player mode however you want, but that’s not the case here. It is nice that the mode tracks your career stats though.
The other big negative is the presentation, or lack thereof. It’s not just the lack of atmosphere while playing, but it’s also how the game is presented in-between points, and even before matches start. The crowds at the U.S. Open should be going bonkers during big matches; the framerate should not be sputtering at the beginning of a match while the court loads as it completely takes you out of the experience; and there should be more dynamic cameras and more cuts to the crowds and players to really push the excitement. Without these types of things, the experience on the court feels a bit stale.
In the long haul though, those types of negatives stand out more because I expect the rest of the game to be on the same level as the gameplay. That’s not the case but how the game plays should trump all for most, and as long as people are not too stuck in their ways, they should have a good time while playing Top Spin 3.
On The Court: It says a lot about a game when I find myself ignoring a lot of faults because the core gameplay experience is so enjoyable. It’s a hard but fair game, and just battling in a five-game-set against virtual Federer can be more exciting than most other sports video game experiences.
Graphics: The “Evolutionary Visuals” really stand out when playing on clay since your player gets dirty, footprints show up as you slide around the court, and your player sweats and gasps for air during the fifth set at Roland Garros. Yet, it seems like the development team went halfway because the faces of the tennis pros look a bit off.
Sound: The grunts and groans are great. The crowds need some serious work though, since the atmosphere is severely lacking in this game.
Entertainment Value: Playing online is where you will find the most enjoyment. The Career Mode is a bit light in the depth department so if you aren’t into playing others then you will be playing the Tournament Mode the most. There could also stand to be more tennis pros in the game.
Learning Curve: Some people will give up before they get over the hump. Stick with it though and the new control scheme can be rewarding.
Online: World Tour Mode should drive the community to keep battling for a long time, and it’s an added bonus that you can gather experience points online. It’s a bummer that you can’t do doubles online unless you have a friend with you on the same console.