Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
7/02/2008 11:33:00 AM
Review: Top Spin 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
Top Spin 3
Reviewed By Jared Zwerling
Image Credit: 2K Sports
Things We Like
It's Game, Set, Match For Realism:Top Spin 3's developers were pitching the realism of the game for months leading up to last week's release, and after just a quick dry run of gameplay, I'm sold. It's not just the players' striking features, from their distinctive eye lines to the contour of their calf muscles; their serving, forehand, backhand and return-of-serve motions are scripted as well as their post-point reactions. In addition, all the players are adorned in their actual sponsored clothing and accessorized with their authentic brand racket. True story: When a friend arrived at my apartment while I was in the middle of a match on a grass court, he asked, "Wimbledon's on? Who's playing?" (more on Wimbledon later). During your match, you'll notice during instant replays that the players are sweating and their shirts are starting to soak through. If the setting is a clay court, watch as your player's shorts and sneakers absorb brush strokes of clay. Sometimes I wonder, Why do I still crawl up on my couch and watch real sports when I can control the action in such a realistic environment?
Player Creator Is Now Player Sculptor:Top Spin 3 has redefined the meaning of player creator; gamers can now sculpt almost every body section of their customizable character. For the face, there are multiple dots you can click on to expand or retract your chin or cheek bone, for example. If there was a doctor's blueprint in a futuristic operating room, this is what I would picture it as. Here's how obsessive I became trying to clone myself perfectly: I pulled up one of my pictures on my laptop as a placeholder, and whenever I had an urge to double check my surgical skills, I bolted to the bathroom for a look at the mirror as if to avoid getting sued for virtual malpractice. Once you're ready to have your player fitted, you can customize his outfit and playing style -- right down to the grunting routine.
The Greats And The Greatest Take The Court: In addition to the current roster of tennis' titans: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal (only in the PS3 version), Andy Roddick, James Blake, Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin (who recently retired) and Amelie Mauresmo, you can now play with a few of the game's greatest: Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker and Monica Seles. Pick your poison: Federer and his nasty one-hand backhand, Roddick and his ridiculous 140-mph serve or Sharapova and her distracting grunts.
Gameplay Is An Ace: While you're playing, if you want to simply hit the ball back over the net with the tap of a button, you can do that no problem, but you'll become a bulls-eye for your opponent's slam winner. But if you expect to hit a power shot crosscourt or down the line with the same lazy-chair mentality, chances are you'll lose the point. Gameplay in Top Spin 3 takes into account your player's timing and preparation on the court. For example, if you're running to the ball, the computer won't slow your momentum so you can hit the ball balanced and square off two feet. In the game, you have to react to the direction of the ball, prepare your backswing while getting in position, get there in time when it bounces, stop for a second and stroke away when the ball is near you. Another example is when you're tossing the ball on your serve, you'll have to make sure to hit the ball right when it's coming down or the ball may go long or hit the net. The gameplay feels just like real tennis. If all this sounds complicated, don't worry, Top Spin 3 offers an expansive training school where you can learn the in's and out's for every tool of the game. But trust me, you just want to learn the in's.
The Little Things Are Grand Slams: Right from the start-up screen, it's very easy to navigate the different areas of Top Spin 3's interface. Just like the previous version, there are six essential features: a training session, an exhibition match, tournament mode, career mode, player creator and basic online mode where you can play a quick match, create a custom match or join a custom match. While you're playing you have more camera views to operate than Top Spin 2, including a "Zoom Close," putting you in the place of the line judges who actually stick out their arms to signal when the ball is out. Depending on which court location you choose, the main judge calls out the points in the native language of the city (for example, at Roland Garros in Paris, you hear French). Speaking of the match setting, more details have been added, including the ball boys at the net, the fans showing various cheering emotions and authentic advertiser signage in the backdrop.
Check out Top Spin 3 in action:
Things We'd Change
Famous Fortnight Forgotten: This is completely mind-boggling: Top Spin 3 hit stores the week Wimbledon started -- OK, great timing, you think -- but Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is not in the game! There's no excuse, especially since the video game series' predecessor, Top Spin 2, included it. Interestingly, when Sports Illustrated polled professional tennis players last summer about their favorite tournament, Wimbledon came in third after the U.S. Open and the French Open, respectively. But the lore of Centre Court is too great to pass over. This is a real downer.
The Player Menu Features Only A Few Favorites: Federer as the central face of Top Spin 3 definitely validates the video game's equity -- like if Michael Jordan was the cover athlete for a basketball game -- but there are significant roster holes. Federer doesn't have Pete Sampras to duel with at Madison Square Garden, nor the likes of Andre Agassi. We want more options so Bjorn Borg can rematch against John McEnroe at Flushing Meadows, or Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova can square off. Hopefully more classic, and current players, will be realized in Top Spin 4. When you browse through Top Spin 3's player roster, you'll also notice that men's No. 3 overall seed, Novak Djokovic, and the popular Williams' sisters, are on the non-active list with a condition known as "no computer-generated image available."
Gameplay Does Have Its Unforced Errors: Although there are several difficulty levels, they don't necessarily correlate to the gameplay. Whether you play at "Easy" or "Hard" (yes, your opponent will be weaker at "Easy"), there won't be any meters on-screen to help you regulate your power and accuracy. The entire playing aspect of the game is designed for feel where over time you have to get used to each player's style. Gameplay is authentic, but for a video game there should be an option to use playing guides. Two other issues I had while playing was that overall the ball hitting felt a little slow and, occasionally, the frame rate in-between points during loading and instant replay was choppy.
The Little Things Are Also Left Out: Mostly there are audio deficiencies. First, the game's playlist is too short (only seven songs) and a bit outdated (Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat" debuted nearly 10 years ago). Before the match starts, the player introductions are without the public address announcer and during the match there is no commentary. (I'm waiting for the day John McEnroe licenses his voice.) Another muted setback is that the only player noises during gameplay are the grunts; it would be fun to hear players, like Marat Safin, yelling at themselves after losing a point. A few other random blunders include not being able to choose a day or nighttime setting or adjust the weather for the match, and the lack of in-game graphics featuring stats, records and fun facts about the players.
Top Spin 3 delivers a huge winner for graphics, and even though gameplay has some minor flaws, game presentation really does feel like an actual match. While the song selection is shaky, this is not a EA Sports title (rather 2K Sports) so I wasn't expecting a hot soundtrack to begin with; what I was anticipating was playing my first match on Centre Court with Wimbledon in mind, so that was a big disappointment. Also I would've liked to see more of tennis's past and present stars in the game. But overall, Top Spin 3 offers a tennis gaming experience that will catch your friends off guard thinking it's a real match and ask you, "Who's on top?" Your answer: Top Spin 3, of course.