Top Spin 2K25 Review – Painting The Lines

  • First Released Apr 23, 2024
  • PC
Justin Koreis on Google+

Top Spin 2K25 gets the fundamentals right with fun tennis gameplay but the rest of the barebones package doesn't reach the previous highs of the franchise.

Tennis, at its core, is a game about legacy. Names like Billie Jean King, Pete Sampras, and the Williams sisters are immortalized through legendary matches, on-court triumphs, and tournament dominance that have shaped the history of the sport. It seems appropriate, then, that the Top Spin series has lived on in similar reverence since Top Spin 4, which was released over a decade ago to critical acclaim. Now, with developer Hanger 13 at the helm, Top Spin makes its long-awaited return. It serves up an ace in the all-important gameplay aspects, but double faults on content and troubling microstransaction focus mean it’s still far from a grand slam.

Gameplay takes center court in the newest entry and it's excellent. Moving around the court feels great thanks to a strong sense of momentum and weight. That's especially true on different surfaces, as the firm footing of a hard court gives way to sliding around on clay. It looks authentic, and factoring in the different starts and stops on the numerous types of surfaces is an important consideration when playing a match.

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Different shots are mapped to various buttons and do an excellent job conveying just how sophisticated volleys are. Whether you are hitting a hard straight shot, curving slices, or smashing a ball right up the line with hard-to-handle top spin, the various options are meaningfully different. A simple timing system lets you tap for controlled returns, or hold to generate power, with both options depending on releasing at the right moment to determine accuracy. It’s straightforward, and rewarding to execute . There's a place and application for each, like intentionally hitting a slow rolling shot to give yourself an opportunity to reposition yourself on the court, or sending a lob high over the head of an opponent who has creeped too close to the net.

That strategic element of tennis is Top Spin's biggest triumph. Trading power-shots as you send your opponent all over the court expending energy is exhilarating thanks to the sense of speed and impact. Breaking yourself out of the same situation by returning a ball in an awkward spot with unwiedly spin, creating a fault from the other player, is a diabolical joy. There's a "chess, but with rackets" quality to the game of tennis that translates well to Top Spin 2K25, and dominating on the court is as dependent on decision-making as it is on pure stick skills.

The most substantial mode is MyCareer. Here you create your own tennis pro and build them up from newcomer to champion. Your time is divided by month, and each is broken into segments for Training, Special Events, and Tournaments. Training is a mostly good setup, as you are thrust into minigames that challenge you to execute particular shots, and does a decent job refining basic skills. Special Events are one-off matches, often with a specific goal in mind, like hitting 10 target areas during the game. These can be a solid choice for XP farming, and can also unlock sponsor packages, which in turn increase the selection of the purely cosmetic items in the Pro Shop that are used to dress up your character.

The main feature is the tournaments, where you take on other top players to battle for victory and a chance to climb the tennis ranks. There are different levels of tournaments, and gaining access to more prestigious events involves increasing your status, making your way from Unknown up to a Legend. Improving your status requires accomplishing a checklist of goals, and can contain things like winning a certain number of tournaments, successfully completing training, or working your way up the tennis ranks. The system is well-tuned and does a good job of ensuring that, by the time you are ready to take on higher-level tournaments, they are challenging but not insurmountable.

Building XP and leveling up your character gives you points to spend for increasing your player's attributes, including speed, stamina, and reaction speed. Your maximum level is capped at 30, so you won't be able to max out every category, which is a limitation that encourages building with specific goals in mind. Boost your player's serve, forehand, and power, for example, and you'll be capable of dominating the court with overwhelming smashes, while a speed/volley combo can wreak havoc with angles and positioning. But no one player can dominate in all facets of the game.

As you progress and win Special Events you will earn Fittings for your racket like strings or a new frame. These confer attribute bonuses on your player and come in three quality tiers, with higher tiers offering greater boosts. Hirable coaches have a similar effect, conferring boosts after completing a few on-court objectives. Together, these systems reinforce one of gaming's great unwritten rules: sports games are secretly RPGs. And in the case of Top Spin, it's a pretty good one.

One of the key considerations comes in the form of a fatigue system that adds an interesting layer of long-term planning. Every match takes away from your player's fatigue. When it drops below a certain level, they gain the potential for a minor injury, which reduces certain attributes until it heals. If you keep playing without resting, it can lead to a major injury, sidelining you for multiple months. There's an engaging risk/reward to deciding when you can push through another event, and when you need to take a break to recuperate. After all, burning th candle at both ends for too long could mean you're forced to miss a career-defining tournament down the line.

There's no prefabricated story mode, and I think that is for the best in this case as not all sports games need to be scripted to provide engaging drama. Top Spin does a great job creating an environment for on-court stories told through the game of tennis to shine. At one point, my player was run down after back-to-back tournaments and had just picked up a minor injury. I was all set to rest him for a month or two to recover, but then I realized Wimbledon was the next event. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, leading to the most challenging five rounds of matches I had played. Taking on the best players in tennis with my power game diminished by the injury meant I had to rely on subterfuge, finesse, and good old-fashioned moxie to make it to the end. Fighting through the challenges to grasp victory in a hard-fought final far exceeded any contrived storyline.

The problem with Top Spin 2K25 is there is little to do in MyCareer other than continuing to rotate through the three monthly activities, and the threadbare presentation wears thin quickly. It doesn't take very long to develop your player far enough that you can easily win any match, at which point it really feels like you are just going through the motions over and over again, checking off objectives to increase your status and sitting at the top rank. Every tournament--from the small cup contests to the most prestigious Major--has an identical victory cutscene, with the same person giving you the exact same trophy. There's no announcing crew, and ball-tracking graphics packages like Shot Spot are used exceedingly sparingly, which is a shame. There are eventually some interesting surprise matches we won't spoil, but those are limited, and don't appear until very deep into the game.

The options outside of MyCareer are extremely barebones. It's somewhat understandable for what effectively amounts to a fresh launch for the Top Spin series, but it stands out when other sports games, including NBA 2K, have so many more modes. Outside of MyCareer, local play is limited to list single and doubles exhibition games, and the Top Spin Academy tutorials. The latter is narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe, and while it's a good overview of how to play, it doesn't offer much value after an initial run through,

The online assortment isn't much better. The exhibition mode is restricted to one-on-one matchmade games. No option to play against friends or team-up with them for doubles play is a huge miss. The 2K Tour lets you play ranked games to climb a seasonal leaderboard, but the small roster of 11 men and 14 women is missing many notable athletes, including the #1 player from the men's rankings, Novak Djokovik. There also aren't any apparent rewards for placing well in the tour, leaving no clear incentive to play other than bragging rights.

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World Tour is the online competitive arena for created players. It is fun to go online and see how someone you built compares to another player's athlete, and the cat-and-mouse game on the court versus a human offers unique opportunities to use feints and other misdirections that AI-controlled players tend not to respond to. Unfortunately, this is where Top Spin's biggest sin comes most into focus as well: microtransations. The Centre Court Pass is the de facto battle pass. Thirteen of the 50 tiers are free, but the rest require you to buy the paid premium pass. That would be okay if the items were purely cosmetic, but it also contains boosters for XP, which leads to increased levels and higher attributes, as well as offering VC, the in-game currency. VC can be earned through normal gameplay, but accumulates at a slow rate. That's a problem when you are required to spend almost 3,000 VC to respec your character if you decide you want to redistribute their attribute points. You could spend hours grinding matches to make that much VC, or you could drop about $20 to get just enough points to pay for it. It's simply egregious.

Top Spin 2K25 gets the most important piece right: It plays great. It wonderfully combines smooth and responsive gameplay with the engaging tactical aspects of tennis to create something that is a joy on the court. It's too bad the presentation is barebones and the suite of gameplay modes is limited. Ultimately though, it's the onerous microtransactions-- once again front and center in a 2K sports game--that truly hold it back and keep Top Spin 2K25 from approaching the series' former glory.

Justin Koreis on Google+
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The Good

  • Outstanding moment-to-moment gameplay
  • Developing your player in MyCareer feels rewarding for a while

The Bad

  • Repeating cycle of MyCareer grows tired quickly
  • Glaring omissions in a small roster
  • Awful microtransaction focus

About the Author

Justin first played this series when Top Spin 2 came packed in with his copy of NCAA Football 2005. He spent more than 20 hours on the virtual courts with 2K25. Review code was provided by the publisher