With Top Spin 3, 2K Sports delivered a tennis game that didn't play like all the others. It wasn't just a re-skinned Virtua Tennis, instead offering a more nuanced control scheme that relied heavily on precise timing. Almost three years later, Top Spin 4 tweaks the system and introduces a number of helpful guides in an attempt to better convey the game of tennis. The result is a title that, while not breaking any fresh ground in the genre, is more refined and likely to win over die-hard Virtua Tennis fans.
Top Spin Academy is your first port of call, from which you can learn everything there is to know about playing a perfect game of tennis. This straight set of instructions and drills will seem a little dated compared to some tutorial systems, but it teaches you what you need to know and is essential if you want to become competent.
Timing indicators pop-up after every shot and tell you whether you swung too early, late, or perfectly and, while some players may find it getting on their nerves, the constant reminder that you're crap should drive you forward in a quest for perfection. Similar on-screen markers show how much power you're swinging with, and all of these can be turned off once they're no longer needed.
The basic system of one button assigned to each shot type - standard, top spin, slice and lob - remains, with you holding down said button to add extra power to the swing or releasing instantly to perform a controlled shot. This time you won't miss completely if you don't release the button, however; your timing will be wrong, meaning there's a greater chance that you'll skew your shot wide of the court. Serving is similarly based on precise timing, but it's the aim of your serve that's hardest to master, relying on holding down a direction for a certain amount of time.
Once you've got the controls and tactics down pat, it's time to create your own player and start a career. My first player, the aptly named 'Tom O,' began life as a fairly poor performer. The goal was to turn him into a world-beating baseline player - fairly weak at the net and not a brilliant server, but excellent at returning and completely dominant in longer rallies.
Where 2K Czech has really got things right is in the player stats, with a general levelling cap meaning you can never max out everything. You're forced to create a player who is either average across the board or excellent in certain areas. You earn XP every time you use your custom player, which you can then use to level up in areas relating to serve and volley, alongside offensive baseline play and defensive baseline play.
Becoming good at Top Spin 4 isn't just about learning timing, but also how to best approach certain opponents. It's pointless trying to out hit Nadal, for example, while someone like Becker or Sampras (numerous legends are included in the roster) will clean up if you let them control the net. Just as your player has weaknesses, the AI opponents (including many well-known male and female faces such as Murray, Federer, Nadal, Serena Williams, and Anna Ivanovic) equally have their own specialities.