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Xbox 360 Review: Top Spin 3

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More realistic tennis titles have always had to take a back seat to their arcade counterparts. However, with a newer generation of consoles that could produce even more realistic graphics, the more realistic tennis games are doing a better job of duplicating the professional circuit.

2K Sports has noted this in bringing the Top Spin franchise to the new generation of consoles with Top Spin 3, focusing on making the game look and feel real to the touch. Having not played the previous Top Spin titles, I found Top Spin 3 to be enjoyable, but still lacking in several areas.

Top Spin 3 and its competition in Sega's Virtual Tennis series are both created with one thing in mind: to create as realistic a professional tennis experience as possible. It would probably be good, then, to include more than a handful of tennis pros on both the male and female sides. The big names are sure there, like Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, and Maria Sharapova, but outside of roughly ten male and ten female players, the other pros look like they came right out of create-a-player mode. That's probably because they did. The lack of actual tennis stars is a little disturbing and makes the game feel a little less realistic. I'm not sure if this is the result of not having enough money to cover each tennis pro's licensing rights or if some just decided to withhold their likenesses from the game, but when you're playing against a bunch of no-names in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, things seem a little fake.

Top Spin 3 really doesn't have a whole lot of surprises. Along with your basic exhibition mode, an options menu that's pretty basic, and a tournament mode are career and create-a-player modes. These are the two areas you'll probably be most focused on, as they do go hand-in-hand. The create-a-player mode offers a fair amount of customization, including the ability to alter clothing style, face and body shape, hair, and tattoos. While you can get kind of creative with this mode, the number of different styles you have to pick from is rather small, leaving create-a-player mode a little shallow.

Career mode, though, is much more fleshed out and offers a real challenge to gamers. Choosing one of your custom players, you begin their rise from the amateur ranks to becoming a full-fledged pro. Along the way, you earn experience points and points that can be used in the shop to purchase new items. While career mode starts off easy, once you get to pro level, things change quickly. Depending on how you level up your player, and depending on your style, certain types of players will present problems at all levels. For example, I ran into issues with people who were able to charge the net and drop short shots until I got better with my long shots. Once you reach world number one status, though, the even tougher legend mode opens up, challenging you to win all four major titles and beat Hall of Famers on courts of their choosing. There's not a whole lot of replay value when you beat the entire career mode, but it's long enough to keep you busy for quite a while.

Top Spin 3 is certainly not a game for novice players at the outset. I don't suggest playing this game without at least trying out the tutorials, because the controls can be a little complex. There are three different shot types, each mapped to a different button, along with learning to pull off lobs, drop shots, risky shots, power shots… let's just say there's a lot to learn here. However, once you get used to these controls, playing becomes second nature, and in fact, rather easy. Sometimes the game's auto-positioning option (left bumper) puts you right in the way of the ball rather than in position to hit it back to the net. Another interesting note is that the right thumb stick can also be used for serving. If done properly, the result is a much faster and more accurate serve. If not… well, you are basically screwed if you don't do it with pinpoint precision. These manual serving controls are probably the biggest area where control could be improved.

Graphically, Top Spin 3 looks good; the character models all match up with their real-life counterparts, as do the tennis courts plucked from the real world like Rod Laver Arena in Australia or Rolland Garros in Paris. Player animations also sync up with how they move in real life, for which 2K Sports should be applauded. Another nice touch is that players become visually dirty and tired as they play, a nice little touch that adds that extra sense of realism. However, there are some areas where things don't look as good. The audience members, for example, do not look their best and only seem to have a few canned motions. It also doesn't help that some of the fictional courts are a little lacking in the graphics department, either looking a little too barren or having a few slight glitches.

The game's soundtrack is a bit of a letdown, featuring the same seven songs that are just cycled through again and again. They're good songs, such as Franz Ferdinand's "Do You Want To" and Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat", but the lack of a fuller soundtrack is noticeable. In-game sounds, though, sound authentic, though the audience does at times sound a bit dead.

In regard to online, there are singles and doubles match modes, as well as a world tour mode. World tour mode lets you play as a created player in a career-style mode, but the biggest issue seems to be finding enough people who have Top Spin 3 and play it online to actually make use of this. Achievements in the game cover a range from the simple to the painfully difficult. Some will be unlocked within minutes, while others will require you to grind out hours of game play for just a handful of points.

Top Spin 3 is really a mixed bag. Career mode is pretty good, but the game seems to lose its luster pretty quickly and create-a-player's depth is not nearly where it needs to be. Other areas – such as the look and reactions from the crowd, the weak soundtrack, and lack of more than a handful of the biggest tennis names – are in need of work. As a tennis game, Top Spin 3 does well with the mechanics, but seems to fall short in other places. Unless you're a total tennis fanatic, you might want to hold off on this one.

Pros: Basic game play mechanics and controls are handled well. Career mode offers some challenge as it progresses.

Cons: Weak soundtrack. Only a handful of top tennis stars, both male and female. Some areas need more depth or work.

Top Spin 3 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360.


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About Brian Szabelski