We string our rackets tight for a hands-on look at the latest tennis game from 2K Sports.
Tennis is set to make its next-generation console debut with the upcoming release of Top Spin 2 for the Xbox 360. The game has been in development for some time now--our first glance was at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo--and now that it's nearly ready for showtime, we took it for a quick spin to see just how far it has come.
The first thing you'll notice about Top Spin 2 is its graphics, which on a proper HD monitor look great. Player models are very lifelike and authentic looking, especially the models based on the many famous tennis pros that are playable in the game, including Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, Venus Williams, and Maria Sharapova. Furthermore, the environments themselves benefit greatly from the Xbox 360's graphical horsepower--the textures on both grass and concrete courses are more detailed, and the light and shadow effects are far more impressive than what we've seen on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. The backgrounds are more alive than ever before too--as you play in a local park, for example, you'll notice folks jogging by the tennis court or simply hanging around the court watching the action. The courts show off a lot of design variety as well, from slightly run-down regional parks, to splendid country club courts, to the famed Wimbledon Centre Court in London.
Gameplay in Top Spin 2 should feel familiar to those who have played previous games in the series. Shot types are spread out over the four face buttons--A for regular shots, Y for lob shots, X for slice shots, and B for top spin shots. Regular shots will never go out of bounds--as long as you can make contact, you're in good shape. The rest of the shots in your arsenal, however, have a degree of risk associated with them. A great slice shot, for example, can really slow the game down and give you a chance to reposition yourself, but there's always a chance of knocking it out of bounds. You'll need to pick your spots when using these kinds of shots, but once you've mastered the timing and the positioning, they'll become vital parts of your game.
The balance between risk and reward plays a huge role in Top Spin 2's gameplay. This is most apparent in the numerous risk shots that are available to you. Each shot can be modified into a risk shot by holding down the right trigger. When you're attempting a risk shot, a meter appears onscreen, and your goal is to hold down the button until the cursor rises to the top of the meter. Let go at precisely the right moment and you'll successfully pull off the modified shot, which is often good for a quick score on your opponent. Of course, the timing on these risk shots is delicate and requires quick reflexes--you'll spend a huge amount of time in practice simply trying to get the timing down. In actual matches, the complexity of using risk shots becomes even more dramatic, as you'll have to worry about not only positioning your player correctly, but aiming your shot and working with the timing of the risk shot mechanic. It sounds complex but, hey, that's tennis.
One thing we were definitely impressed with in our brief time with Top Spin 2 was the tenacious artificial intelligence, which we found challenging very early on in the game. While you can expect pros in exhibition matches to hit hard and make good placement choices right off the bat, we were challenged even against the chumps early on in Top Spin 2's career mode. During our first match in our debut tournament, for example, we didn't need to use anything but the standard A button shot to win handily. By the finals of the same tournament, however, our opponent quickly adjusted to our standard shot. After many deuces, we finally had to risk some slices and drop shots to take home the victory. Sure we won the match, but it was hard-won, which speaks well of the game's long-term playability.
Top Spin 2's game modes include exhibition, tournament, career, party, and multiplayer modes via Xbox Live. You can play both singles and doubles matches (including mixed singles and mixed doubles) in both exhibition matches and online. We expect that we'll be seeing plenty of Sharapova-on-Sharapova online matches once the game hits store shelves. Tournament action lets you set up either a singles or a doubles tournament, choose the number of human players involved, and customize other aspects of the tournament, such as number of sets, games per set, and rounds in the tournament. Party game mode includes three fun minigames--time bomb, wall breaker, and splash court. Time bomb features a clock countdown--the clock keeps moving until you score a point, which then starts your opponent's clock. Whoever runs out of time first explodes. Wall breaker has you trying to knock down your opponent's defenses before he or she knocks down yours. Finally, splash court challenges you to cover your opponent's side of the court with paint by winning points. The first one to cover the other side of the court wins.
The real meat of Top Spin 2's gameplay is found in career mode, which plays similarly to the career mode in previous Top Spin games. You first create either a male or a female player, customizing things like facial features and hairstyle, and then you head to training with your coach. She will drill you on various aspects of your game through a series of training exercise minigames, which usually involve hitting the ball to certain sections of the court. Your coach will also give you the finer points on shot-making and risk shots. Each lesson you take will cost you money, and before you know it, you'll need to earn some cash. The best way to do that, of course, is to enter tournaments. You won't be able to access most of the tournaments right away--because your ranking is too low--and thus begins the long uphill climb to tennis superstardom.
The career mode is set up in a calendar format--from week to week you'll have different tournaments available to play. Because you won't be eligible for them all, your best bet is to always keep an eye out for upcoming tournaments in the calendar and make the most of your training in the meantime. If you're tired of your current coach, you can always hire a new one. Different coaches have different approaches to your training; some are focused on controlling the baseline, while others make a point of maximizing your shot power. Decide what kind of player you want to be in Top Spin 2, and then hire your coach accordingly.
One of the best parts of being a famous tennis pro is all the endorsement deals, and that will be available to you in Top Spin 2 as well. You start off the game with a Fila endorsement (which bankrolls your early training), but more deals will come your way--from the likes of Adidas, K-Swiss, and others--as you move up the rankings. You'll be able to take all that cash and spend it on an assortment of tennis gear, rackets, and accessories from brands such as Dunlop, Head, and Prince. The gear doesn't seem to offer performance bonuses early on, but perhaps that changes as the game progresses.
With plenty of courts to play on, real-life tennis stars like Lindsay Davenport and Lleyton Hewitt to play as, and challenging AI opponents to play against, Top Spin 2 looks to be a fun and fast-paced tennis game for the Xbox 360. We'll have more information on the game leading up to its April release, so stay tuned.
- Release Date: Apr 7, 2006 (EU)
- PEGI: 3+
- Release Date: Dec 1, 2006 (EU)
- PEGI: 3+