Top Spin 3, as any right-minded racquet fan will tell you, pounded Virtua Tennis 3 into submission, giant fruit and all. It was a near-perfect sim.
We say near-perfect because it assumed - well, demanded - a level of tennis knowledge that many gamers didn't possess. Oh, and you needed to have longer digits than ET to pull off some of the more advanced shots.
2K Sports got it, so they set about crafting (another) sequel that'd marry the hardcore, er... core to a more user-friendly stroke-making system that also bundled in a pseudo in-game tutorial. It's brilliant, and so is Top Spin 4.
We'd love to go on about the inspired way the new power bar and timing feedback (simply represented by a glowing red dot and 'too early', 'perfect' and 'too late' cues) translate to helping shape your on-court play but that'd be dull.
Instead let's talk about the dizzying rushes of adrenaline the tense on-court battles will inspire once you've got the hang of this fresh set up. For the first few hours, we were convinced serve-and-volley-ers had been shafted in favour of baseline sloggers, but once you've got used to the nuances of approach play Pete Sampras and his ilk suddenly become forces to be reckoned with.
TS4's like that; you're constantly learning, and the depth is dizzying. The enhanced Career mode, beefed up by the hiring of coaches to enhance player attributes, certainly adds value to the always-competitive single-player set up, but it's in multiplayer that TS4 excels.
Singles matches are desperately strategic; get two talented players together and attempting to break serve becomes as tortuous as it often is in real life. Nerves play a major part.
Thumping baseline exchanges contrast compellingly with cat 'n' mouse crosscourt slice-fests as players jockey into position to pull off winners. Doubles is frenetic, requiring solid teamwork to prevail. It's genuinely some of the best multiplayer we've ever experienced - though in 3D it will break your eyes.
While we're waxing lyrical, the motion capture is astonishing, whether you're playing one of Fed's deadly trademark one-handed whipped backhands or sending down a 130mph first serve with A-Rod's iconic action.
Alas, in terms of pure technical grunt, Top Spin 4 still doesn't have anything like the cojones of the truly AAA sports sims like FIFA 11 or Madden, or NBA 2K11 and that's a shame - with some proper financial investment this could really shine.
Top Spin 4 definitely isn't perfect. The noticeably more arcadey feel might not sit well with series enthusiasts, while players sometimes have an irritating capacity to simply leave achievable shots for seemingly no reason.
We've also seen regular smash returns and net pick-ups which, if pulled off in real life, would be hailed as all-time- great shots. That they happen so frequently gets right on your nips after a while. It's also near-impossible to pull off cross-court passing shots, which is - to coin a phrase - some bullshit.
We've always loved Top Spin, though, and this outing is its strongest showing yet. Whether you love tennis or just appreciate magnificent multiplayer, this is a must buy.
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Top Spin unites casual gamers and tennis fanatics in the best game in the series
- Fabulous shot making
- Casual friendly
- Shallower than TS3
- Occasionally spotty AI