Top Spin 4 is a lot of fun. Top Spin 3 swung a bit too much toward unforgiving sim, and Top Spin 4 comes back with a much better compromise between sim controls and arcade controls. The physics are handled well, the create-a-player interface is top notch, and both the offline and online play are streamlined and fun.
Tennis is a game about endurance and timing, and both elements are present in Top Spin 4. As the match wears on, your player will get more and more tired. This is evident in run speed, shot strength, and for the AI, an unwillingness to chase a long shot across the court. What this means to people who play tennis is that the same tactics that work on the court in real life will also work on the court in Top Spin. It is worth your time to aim your shots and make your opponent run left to right for each shot, as eventually he will get tired and you’ll have an easier time sneaking a shot by him. The physics are realistic as well. Different court surfaces produce different ball performance and player speed. And the players can’t turn on a dime. You take off at full bore in one direction and there’s a slip and some slowdown when you try to turn 180 degrees for your next shot. Controls feel deliberate without feeling clunky and responsive without feeling unnatural. Regardless of whether you win or lose, you’ll feel like it was your doing that got you there and that you weren’t fighting the game along the way.
Create-a-player systems are an odd beast. They allow you to help develop the game you’re playing, and players who love them really, really love them. Top Spin 4 has an excellent create-a-player system, and it all focuses on one area – the face. It is amazing just how detailed an avatar I can make just be selecting preset facial features and then tweaking how the system has stitched them together. After you’ve created a face, there a decent selection of body types and swing styles to choose from as well. However you want your player to look and act, Top Spin 4 can accommodate your wishes.
Offline career is full of exactly what you want to do when playing a tennis game: tennis matches. Minigames governing training are gone, and Top Spin 4 is better for it. I don’t care that real tennis pros dodge barrels or go bowling or any other thing that makes them better at playing tennis. If I wanted to do those things, I would find a game about them. I want to play tennis. The folks over at 2K Czech get that and have filled Top Spin 4 with nothing but tennis matches. There are goals to be met, stat increases to earn, and tournaments to compete in. You still have a player to manage (the aforementioned stat boosts), but you don’t have to worry about things that don’t matter like finances and whether fans like you.
Online play closely mirrors offline play in that career and quick play are available. You’ll find yourself matched with players outside of your skill range, but the trade-off there is that matches are quick to find in the interest of allowing you to play matches instead of watching a search fail, expand its range, fail again, expand again, etc. until a “suitable” match is finally found. You’ll get better by playing better players, and everything feels good enough that it is possible to have fun even if you’re losing.
Top Spin 4 is a great tennis game. Everything should be so aware of exactly what it is, cut away the unnecessary bits, and present its core concept to the player so well.
Pros: Great physics, player stamina system, well-streamlined product
Cons: Skill level mismatches in online play