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Top Spin 3

The difficulty of tennis as a sport may be lost on most people. While it looks like a simple matter of hitting the ball over a net and past your opponent, the dedication, skill and technical prowess required to even reach ‘mediocre’ levels of expertise is incredibly high. It certainly isn’t a sport you and your friends can go play casually in the park on a sunny weekend, unless your definition of tennis differs from mine. Genre leader Virtua Tennis has attempted – and succeeded – over the years in watering down the complications of the sport into an instantly accessible, multiplayer focused game. It was never one for realism and to call it an accurate representation of tennis would be like claiming the Burnout series was a believable driving simulator.

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“There are a ridiculous number of shots and tricks to get to grips with, and it’s these little nuances that will separate the wheat from the chaff.”Top Spin has made a reputation from going in the complete opposite direction, and at the same time, recreating the hidden complexities of the sport better than anything else before it. Most notably, the aforementioned difficulty of the real life sport has been transferred over into Top Spin 3, and any kind of Virtua Tennis-isms players have picked up over the years should be left in the locker room and regardless, it won’t take too many thrashings at the hands of the computer on one of the easier difficulty settings for players to quickly realise this.

Like any sport, getting good takes practice and lots of it. Once you get over the difficulty mountain at the start, players will find the summit a very rewarding, yet constantly challenging experience. Top Spin 3 works on a swing and release system, whereby timing and positioning are essential components in striking the ball with any kind of sentiment. It’ll take some time to build up the confidence to break free from the stabilisers of the four face buttons, but once those are mastered, there are a ridiculous number of shots and tricks to get to grips with, and it’s these little nuances that will separate the wheat from the chaff. However, a problem from having too many options all the time means it’s not unlikely for players to completely miss the ball while thinking of what shot to play next, and where the fingers must go in order to perform it. This complicated button system will no doubt alienate a lot of people and many may find themselves asking why they should bother when all they’re playing is essentially Pong with lots of bells and whistles attached.

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“Gradually increasing visual signs of sweat on players’ clothes let you know immediately how tired and fatigued your character is.”As expected, the typical game types that feature in all sports games are found in Top Spin 3, from exhibition matches to tournament modes, with a relatively disappointing selection of real life players to choose from (most noticeably the omission of Rafael Nadal from this version). But one of, if not the major draw of the game will come from its career mode that has become a staple in the series over the years. As before, players take a created character and go through a number of tournaments In order to attain that elusive number one spot, upgrading your player’s stats and physical appearance as and when you please. A real sense of depth and realism is created just through the sheer number of different opponents you’ll face alone, giving off the impression that you’re really just a small fish in a much, much bigger pond – rather than playing the same dozen or so players every time. While this is realistic, it’s a shame that there isn’t any kind of relief between grinding out wins, with a distinct lack of a training mode found in other tennis games to break the monotony. It doesn’t help that the music like most sports titles, is completely incongruous and while I myself am a big fan of Jamiroquai, I’m also of the belief that too much of anything isn’t good for you.

The game is not only technically gifted in the obvious sense, but the visuals and small details that can be found when inspected with more scrutiny is of a very high standard as well. The crowd are actually made of more than just what usually seems like papier-mâché and the players’ faces are well detailed despite their odd shaped bodies. As previously said, the small details add yet again to the simulation aspect; the courts affect the ball in different ways (clay and grass will show visible signs of wear and tear as matches and tournaments go on); the animations are smooth (running at a solid 60 FPS), and gradually increasing visual signs of sweat on players’ clothes let you know immediately how tired and fatigued your character is.

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“Giving the game enough time you’ll soon discover absurd amounts of depth to the gameplay”Without doubt, this title’s main pull and hook is its online mode – and thankfully (unlike Virtua Tennis 3), it’s fully functional and more often than not, lag free right from the get-go. All the options players would hope to find are present and accounted for, and if it can keep running smoothly after the honeymoon period that is the release date, then you’re clearly looking at the best online tennis game around.

Top Spin 3 isn’t your friend, it’s not going to hold your hand and take you through the motions. You’ll be dumped head first into the action and left to figure it out in a number of different ways. It’s a game that will put out what players are willing to put in, but giving the game enough time you’ll soon discover absurd amounts of depth to the gameplay that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else on consoles – arguably though, at the expense of instant gratification. So get those laces tied, your racket well strung and your hat snugly fitting – there’s plenty of work to be done.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2007.

Gentle persuasion

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