Top Spin 4 First Impressions

We take to the court with a first look at 2K's latest tennis simulation.

2K's Top Spin series has always erred toward realism, and while that approach has been well received, much of it has come at the price of accessibility. Its steep learning curve made it difficult for more casual tennis fans to pick up, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by developer 2K Czech. Top Spin 4 attempts to address those difficulty issues with an improved tutorial and new shot assists while appealing to the hardcore player with in-depth character creation and tactical gameplay.

The new features start with the on-court assists, which are known as "helpers." They're designed to help with different aspects of your game, including timing, shots, and ball placement. The timing helper tells you how well you've timed your shot by placing an indicator above your character's head, with such ratings as good or bad displayed. The better your shots are timed, the more likely the ball will land where you want it to, making it harder for your opponent to return it. With practice, the helper is supposed to improve your timing to the point where it's no longer needed.

That same principle applies to the shot and placement helpers. The shot helper is displayed beside your character in the form of a circle that fills up to indicate the power of your shot. Holding down the shoot button fills it up, where it eventually turns into crosshairs to indicate a very powerful shot. The placement helper simply displays a yellow cross on the court where your ball is going to land, helping you to nail those lobs. Each of the helpers can be used in conjunction with a stamina bar, which is useful for knowing if you've dropped too many hard-hitting volleys for your character to handle. All of the helpers can be turned off at any time, so you can easily adjust them to suit your skill level.

If the helpers aren't enough to send you on your way to tennis stardom, Top Spin 4 also introduces an improved tutorial mode to teach you the basics. It starts with simple lessons, such as how to move your player across the court, the different types of shot you can deploy, and basic tactics. More advanced players can dig into a deeper tutorial that delves into different serve and volley techniques, as well as offensive and defensive baseline tactics. Tactics will play an important part in the game and tie in directly with your character's attributes.

There's lots of detail on players' faces.

The character-building features from Top Spin 3 make a return, albeit with a number of improvements. You build you player up in the same way, earning experience points in offline and online matches, which you can spend on different attributes of your character. These are divided into two types: technical and physical. Technical attributes are such skills as serves, volleys, and backhands; physical attributes are such values as strength and stamina. However, instead of applying experience points to each section individually, you can now change them based on one of three tactics you wish to improve. These include serve and volley, offensive baseline, or defensive baseline, depending on your style of play, and each of them automatically assigns experience points to your character's attributes.

There is a level 20 cap on your character, ensuring that you can't create the perfect unbeatable player, but you can continue to improve by using coaches. You can choose from a variety of coaches, each of whom can improve your character via attributes or by skills. Skills are earned by completing different objectives with your coach, such as performing 10 aces against your coach in a game. Those skills then give you boosts in matches, such as performing better serves when ahead or more accurate shots. You also have the option of switching coaches at any time to gain different skills, though your character's attributes change when you do so.

Alongside all of the gameplay improvements, 2K Czech is making enhancements to the visuals. These include better motion capture and enhanced crowds. In our brief demo, we saw Nadal face Henman in a match. The detail in each of their faces was impressive, and they were instantly recognizable. Stepping out onto the court, we also noticed the audience members, who were all individually animated, albeit not at the same level of detail as the players. Nadal and Henman looked realistic, with some of their signature movements implemented into the animation. Many pro players are included as playable characters, and such venues as Wimbledon and the US Open are officially licensed.

Always make sure to colour-coordinate your outfits with the court.

With more accessibility options, Top Spin 4 is shaping up to be much more appealing for casual players, though we've yet to have some hands-on time to see how well the improvements work in practice. Those aching for some motion-controlled action will be pleased to hear that Move support is included in the PlayStation 3 version, as well as on the Wii. However, there are no plans to include Kinect support, with 2K Czech blaming the difficulty on being able to move your character around precisely without buttons. Top Spin 4 is due out on the PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360 later this year.

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Discussion

34 comments
Fokoli
Fokoli

If you want proof that the move is better then the kinect.... read the last paragraph of this preview....

marko_mi2
marko_mi2

It looks awesome! And the most interesting thing from this video to me is jump-and-shot move which both male and female players have. Can`t remember it in Serena`s or Murray`s arsenal...

Forsaken_Demon
Forsaken_Demon

OMG, what's with Top Spin series and Caroline Wozniacki? She looked nothing like herself in Top Spin 3 and now in Top Spin 4 too. She is current number one 2K and deserves a lot more attention.

bostadskontrakt
bostadskontrakt

Hey, do you wanna buy the fourth in the series that we dumbed down so that more people that really aren't into tennis will buy it? No thanks, Topspin 3 was fabulous, I'll stick with that.

marcocsb
marcocsb

I've played several tennis videogames, like virtua tennis 2008 and 2009, top spin 1 & 2. I got bored with all of them. But not top spin 3, i still play it because the games never gets boring even when you use a legend rank player you can still make mistakes and the games get really exciting even against the machine, and my brother and i love to play doubles versus the CPU at the maximum difficulty.

Magic_Panda92
Magic_Panda92

If it being "overly realistic" has been noted by the developers...WHY has it taken them 3 attempts to change that!

pabloxiaoyi
pabloxiaoyi

Great !! it supports Move controller... I'm getting this and VT4 :-]

zicolofoo
zicolofoo

Agreed that "3" was almost perfect, only short of recognized top players. The preview's characters don't seem to have much improvement from the last title though.

DirtyAl
DirtyAl

pull back on the analog to load up your shot and push forward for a bullet shot... or pull back and push forward quickly for a lob shot... pull back and push forth and to the right for spin while still using the left analog for direction... something smooth yet effective...

DirtyAl
DirtyAl

All I want is an option to use analog controls for the game... Anything else is what it is... Some off the court antics wouldn't hurt the game either... Some pickup tennis matches in various urban settings... maybe a wall practice to get your timing down... Something different...

zslot
zslot

Why AI cant move the character? Why cant combine kinect with controler?

MoneyBagsUK
MoneyBagsUK

Top spin 3 would of been damn near perfect in my opinion. What held it back was the lack of well known players and the god awful career mode.

AverageGamer99
AverageGamer99

I think more attention should be put on new game modes, say make a carrer where you go from college to the big time. You could have a trainer and drills to make your guy better. I had to listen to the video twice just to hear over that strong accent. I see this down the line getting better.

ahpuck
ahpuck

Caroline Wozniacki's model looks nothing like the real life Wozniacki, it looks more like Justine Henin. At least they got her game right, look at how she runs after every ball! that girl never gives up.

DKant
DKant

Movement is looking pretty impressive. I like how the characters' pace is adjusted depending on how far the ball is - I can't imagine how much of a technical challenge it must have been mixing that up with the right 'balancing' and positioning animations - unless they're going with AI movement (like it was in LucasArts' Euphoria technology), which would in fact be even more awesome! Of course it still looks a little rough, but impressive nonetheless.

toyota22
toyota22

Good! They finally stopped (messing) around and got two of the best players Serena, and Rafa. Rafa is in top spin 3!

toyota22
toyota22

i am getting it to, love tennis:)

TheMacbeths
TheMacbeths

I'm still getting it, just because Top Spin is the best tennis simulation franchise using buttons.

TheMacbeths
TheMacbeths

>>mickyfinn84: There's no need to run around. One step towards the direction would be enough...the same way one touch on a button is.

TheMacbeths
TheMacbeths

>>CrazyLeyther: I agree. Using buttons can also be flawed in motion controlled sports games. Top Spin 3 has a Wii version, with very far from perfect controls... But 2K took the risks and made it. There are ways to make it for Kinect. The same way you point a directional control to run, you could just step on that direction you want to run. Kinect can recognize front, back and side steps... It's a shame. I'm very disappointed to hear that 2K won't even try. They are missing a great opportunity to create a different game.

EasyToTalkToIty
EasyToTalkToIty

Played and enjoyed the first 3 so will get this one asap.

CrazyLeyther
CrazyLeyther

Kinect does have full body motion tracking, they could have implemented it if they'd tried hard enough. It's not going to be 100% accurate 100% of the time at the moment, but it would still be good enough, at least I think so. Disappointed to hear them dismiss it like this

felixcch
felixcch

The best tennis game ever~

nomarserab
nomarserab

Good! They finally stopped (messing) around and got two of the best players Serena, and Rafa.

solus909
solus909

I'm not really a tennis fan, but I really liked this franchise and got a ton of mileage out of the first two games. I could never get my hands around the controls in Top Spin 3 though and gave up pretty quickly (which I normally never do in games.) I hope this game at least gives the option for the more simplified controls.

serginho_scp
serginho_scp

that's all very nice ..but honestly ..i only hope i will be able to send the ball twice to the same spot on the court or even send the ball precisely to were i want ..cause that was not even close to be the case on top spin 3 ..it was almost impossible to be honest.. plus i really lack the possibility to be able to run freely and not just upwards or downwards on the field .. i want to be able to run in diagonals please.. top spin 3 could have been a good game .. but it wasn't because it was almost impossible to control with precision the trajectory of the ball making the all experience too impredictable and frustrating..and yes i did the tutorials with care cause i really wanted to play the game ..but i ended up giving it up.

mickyfinn84
mickyfinn84

What do you expect people to run around there homes? Having no buttons was always a stupid idea.

laffTrax
laffTrax

"There are no plans to include Kinect support, with 2K Czech blaming the difficulty on being able to move your character around precisely without buttons." THIS is certainly an interesting statement. Aren't we being told Kinect has full body motion tracking?

SadPSPAddict
SadPSPAddict

Great. Going to give this a try I think :D