A lot of people often question the rationale behind sports games on a console. â€˜Why on earth’, the argument goes, â€˜would you play a sports game on a console when you can pick up a racquet/ball/bat and go play the game yourself?’ It’s a fair point – logically, people who can afford games can afford sports equipment, so that can’t be the issue.
I suspect it has to do with control – specifically, being in control of the fate of your chosen team. I mean, everyone knows you could manage a football team better than Fergie, right? And it’s painfully obvious that you’d do a far better job than either Ron Dennis or Jean Todt, too. Add to the ability to manage a team/player the capacity to then step into their shoes and literally take control of the match, and it becomes a bit easier to understand why sports titles continue being made (even though some licences merely put out a graphics and roster update each year and sell it as a â€˜new’ game.)
Top Spin 3 is, by far, the most realistic tennis simulation I have played, completely beating out Virtua Tennis in this department. While this is one of the game’s major strengths, it is also the source of its greatest difficulty – an almost soul-shatteringly difficult learning curve.
This is one game that could have used a far more user-friendly tutorial system. Although one is present, it is often vague in its advice, resulting in myself only really figuring out the game after several hours worth of play (I never played a previous entry in the series.) It’s not so much that the controls are indecipherable, although my review copy didn’t have a manual for me to fall back on to check the controls, which probably extended my learning period a bit. The issue is that, to succeed, you need to master timing, shot selection, power and direction, all by using the right thumbstick and face buttons on the controller. The bumpers also serve to provide either more power or accuracy to a shot, but it requires an exceeding amount of timing to not completely screw up the shot, so it’s something you will need to practice before employing it a lot.
However, once I got the hang of the controls, it was a massively rewarding experience, and my enjoyment of the game climbed significantly. The ability to string together a host of varying and complex shots is a lot of fun, and it’s gratifying to work an opponent over with a series of carefully placed shots to lure them out of position, and then deliver a killing cross-court forehand shot.
There’s a lot of gameplay modes, as well – from quick games that take a minute to set up, to a full career mode, where you create a virtual tennis avatar and guide him/her from amateur obscurity to grand slam glory. You’ll start off playing games that can be finished in 10 minutes, but when you reach the pro stages, a 3 set final on the main court at Wimbledon can start heading to the 90 minute plus mark. Heaven forbid you actually head for a five set marathon, like the recent Federer/Nadal final.
In addition, the game has a lot of multiplayer modes over Live: from simple one-off exhibition matches, to a full-on tournament mode. It provides the title with a lot of longevity, both on and offline.
The career mode specifically deserves a mention, since you start off with a character creation screen that allows a level of customization more familiar to a RPG game. Additionally, as you progress in your career, your earn experience with which to upgrade your skills. However, the game doesn’t allow you to max out every single skill attribute, so you’ll have to make some important decisions as to how you see your character evolve: sink a lot of point into a powerful serve at the expense of net play, for example. It’s a deep and rewarding system, with palpable effects on gameplay, and as such, it really sets a standard for career modes in sports games everywhere.
The game also allows you to play against the virtual equivalent of actual tennis pro’s, past and present, and their style of play is modelled surprisingly accurately. You volley Nadal’s forehand at your peril, believe me.
On the technical front, the game is beautiful to look at, and (surely a first for a sports game) there is actually a believable crowd to watch your games. The virtual equivalents of famous players look spot on, and your own creation also features an unprecedented level of detail for a sports game. Additionally, the graphics are subtle enough to show your player getting fatigued as a match progresses.
The sound effects themselves put you in the proper frame of mind, and the music selection in the menus is adequate (although there is one Jamiroquai song on the character screen I now loathe with the fire of a thousand suns.)
Overall, I’d highly recommend Top Spin 3, especially if you’re a big tennis fan. While it may have a steep learning curve, there’s a palpable sense of reward and fun to be had from learning the ropes. Combined with a wide array of gameplay options, there’s a lot of longevity in the title. The only real detractors I can identify is that the complexity of the title may infuriate more casual players, with specific reference to the arcane control system that you’ll need to figure out.
Gameplay: 8/10 [Rewarding in the long run, but a slog to get there]
Controls: 6.5/10 [Unintuitive, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be capable]
Presentation: 9/10 [One of the best sports simulations bar none when it concerns graphics]
Sound: 7/10 [Decent effects and tracks, although some of the latter get way to much playtime]
Longevity: 8/10 [Tournament and multiplayer options means you’ll sink a lot of hours into TS3]
Overall: 8/10 [The best tennis sim currently available, but squarely aimed at a niche market]
Last Updated: August 1, 2008