With Wimbledon in full swing itâ€™s time for you to dust off the headband and capri pants. Time to make sure your hot supermodel girlfriend or crazy coach/father have their spot in the grandstand, and get ready to take your place among some of the worldâ€™s elite athletes in 2K Sportsâ€™ Top Spin 3.
As sport sims go Top Spin 3 plays it fairly straight. There are the famous faces on the box cover, exhibition matches to jump into, player creation menus, tournaments, seasons and online options. Itâ€™s all there, but in a rugby mad New Zealand, where Rafael Nadalâ€™s capri pants and muscle shirts still seem kind of off, Top Spin 3 may just have the crowd against it from the first serve.
To begin with, the gameplay is fine. At the very basic level you can get a win with simply pressing x and releasing it as the ball bounces in front of you. You donâ€™t need to worry about shot selection or placement, and as long as you are in the general area of the ball, the gameâ€™s AI will make adjustments to your position. Release the x button and your little Roger Federer or Maria Sharapova will thrash the ball down to the oppositionâ€™s base line. Eventually you will catch them out of position and the rally is yours.
Sounds simple, but like any sport the basics can be easily explained â€“ hit the ball with the stick, kick the ball in the onion bag, smash the guyâ€™s face in - however, with Top Spin 3 things get very complicated fast. Low initial stats and complicated button combination makes beating even the lowest ranked players a serious task.
Once out of exhibition mode you can start to create your own player. You get to choose from a good number of character templates, and have at your command all the modification options you would expect. So once your initially normal looking character is fitted out with a nice flat emo â€™do, a pencil thin moustache and an extra twenty kilos, it's time to try the career mode.
To begin with your stats are very low. Sometimes itâ€™s like running through mud trying to get across the court. Also, accuracy and power are barely adequate and building them up seems rather pointless when you canâ€™t get to the simplest of crosscourt shot. As you can imagine, building up your stats to the point where you can take on the top players takes perseverance, to say the very least.
As noted, you can compete with just the use of the face buttons and the left analog stick. But to have a hope of winning any games in career mode you will need to master a few tricks. The first is directing your shots. With the left analog stick you move your player into position. Releasing x as the ball bounces will begin your swing. As you swing you can use the left stick again, but this time to direct your shot. There you go â€“ a crosscourt winner.
However, there are many more variations. The other face buttons add slice or topspin to the shots while the triangle button, together with the right analog stick, enables you to play a lob or dropshot. Add to this the R1 and L1 buttons which can be used to either move your player into the net for a volley or into a central position on the base line. You can even use both triggers to add power and risk to shots.
Although being successful with risky shots is reliant on stats and timing, it is also a matter of choice. If you are scrambling to return a serve, adding risk will be fatal. However, get into good position, time your swing nicely and that set point winner down the line should kick up a nice puff of chalk.
Although puffs of chalk arenâ€™t included in the game, the graphics are well up to next-gen standards. The big names in the game are easily recognisable and the base-line test of any character generation test â€“ making someone that looks like Pedro from Nepoleon Dynamite - is easily achievable. Characters skip around the court smoothly and they huff, puff, grunt and sweat just like the real things.
There are some limitations to the game however. Crowds are, as always, limited, and the atmosphere during the matches is rather non existent. The game is also limited by what is missing. There is no Wimbledon, no Williams sisters and no Ana Ivanovic, and although Roddick and Murray might draw some interest from the US and UK, they donâ€™t have the same effect at this end of the world. And there is also the fact that itâ€™s a sport sim.
Sports sims â€“ it seems you either love â€˜em or hate â€˜em. For a long time they were, along with fighting games (which are sport sims too, in a way), the Buzz and Singstars of the pre-broadband past. If you had a free weekend you could invite some mates around, get in some refreshments and spend the night getting progressively worse at Ice Hockey or Tekken. It didnâ€™t matter how bad you got at the games (a ratio directly linked to the consumption of said refreshments), because everyone was in the same boat - and anyway, the night usually ended with Dutch soccer getting ignored on the television and System of a Down on the stereo.
However, playing sport sims in one player mode are a completely different experience. They are typically technical, often complicated and usually getting through a season, let alone a career, requires a lot of perseverance. Top Spin 3 is all these things, sometimes to an exasperating level. But the rewards (and Iâ€™m not just talking the supermodel in the grandstand or the cow that the Swiss government gives Federer every time he wins Wimbledon) are all the more satisfying because of it. So it may not be much of a party game but Top Spin 3 has plenty to challenge the purists and enough to keep the tennis fans happy through all those Wimbledon rain delays.