LEIPZIG, Germany--There's not a glut of big-name tennis games out there these days, but one of the most well known is 2K's Top Spin series, which will move into its third iteration with the upcoming Top Spin 3. We had a chance to check out a work-in-progress build of the game today at the 2K Games booth here at the 2007 Games Convention and, based on the brief half-hour demo, it's clear that the team behind the game is focusing on improving the already solid tennis game with some authentic new touches.
One of the big areas of focus with Top Spin 3 has been character animations. Right from the get-go, it's easy to see the qualitative leap the game has taken since the last entry in the series, which was no graphical slouch to begin with. Not only are there a host of new animations for serves, shots, and crosscourt moves, but all the animations string together in a fluid, lifelike manner. In addition, the developers behind the game have been focusing not just on how the characters move during their rallies, but how much they move as well. As the producers pointed out, Top Spin 2 characters moved far more than your typical real tennis player might: sprinting from one spot on the court, stopping, taking a swing, and then sprinting to another spot on the court to take their next shot. In reality, players are looking to conserve as much energy as possible on the court, foregoing a full-on sprint when a sidestep or quick jog will do the trick.
As a result, that's the model for character movement in Top Spin 3 as well. Instead of sprinting at top speed to get to the ball, slight movements of the left stick will cause your character to shift a few steps, resulting in a more natural look. In addition, and unlike in Top Spin 2, as your character moves around the court, he or she will always be looking towards the net. Developers are also playing with the idea of putting a fatigue model in the game; after all, using the advanced graphical prowess of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, your characters will already work up a nice sweat after a few sets. They key to whether a fatigue system makes it in the final version of Top Spin 3 depends on whether the team can find a balance between a realistic approach to tiring characters without it becoming a frustrating burden. In other words, fun trumps realism, and there's little arguing against that logic.
While many of the controls will feel much the same as in previous games, there are a few changes. You'll still control your character with the left stick, and you can use the different face buttons to put different types of spin on the ball: B for top spin, X for side spin, Y for lob, and A for a normal shot. In addition, more advanced players can use the right stick to serve the ball, first pulling back and then pushing forward with the proper timing to put the ball in play. If you move the right stick up in a clockwise motion, you'll add top spin to your serve; moving it in a counterclockwise direction will put side spin on it.
Risk shots were a big part of Top Spin 2 and, if you managed to master them, you could easily take over a game. The problem was that the pop-up meter that appeared was overly difficult and also unrealistic. For Top Spin 3, risk shots have moved to the triggers, which act as modifiers to your different shots. Hold down the right trigger in order to put the ball close to the sidelines, or hold the left trigger for some extra power on your shot. You can actually combine the two for an even riskier shot, one that will be quite difficult to return if it manages to stay fair. Obviously the margin for error when using risk shots is significantly smaller than your average shot, but then, that's why they call them "risk" shots, right?
In addition to 20 real-life tennis pros to play as, and more than 40 venues to play in including Dubai, Chicago, Atlanta, Moscow, Houston and more, Top Spin 3 will include what seems like a flexible character creator. While we didn't get to see the feature in action, we did check out two of the characters created with the tool, and they looked good (one of them had a vaguely Mike Tyson thing going for him that we appreciated immensely). As you might expect, you'll be able to earn new accessories and outfits for your created character, as well as experience points in both the online and offline portions of the game, which you can put towards your character's attributes.
We don't yet know which real-life ATP pros will be in the game, though it's probably a safe bet to say that some of the best players in the world from locales such as Switzerland, Spain, and the United States will be in the game (are those good enough hints?) In addition, producers suggested there might be an end-boss character you could play against who sounded an awful lot like Björn Borg to us. We'll know these kinds of details and more in the coming months as we lead up to Top Spin 3's release next spring, so stay tuned for all the details.