Tennis is a hard game to replicate on the PC since so much of it is technique and details can be lost in the translation because of the speed of the sport. Top Spin 2, a recent port of an Xbox 360 game by the portahaulic publisher Aspyr didn't add any bells and whistles to this PC version, especially considering the lack of mouse support or a widescreen mode (wha?), but the game itself translated over about the same, which is to say, as an imperfect attempt to replicate one of the world's most popular spectator sports.
Top Spin 2 does a few things right, such as the career mode, which allows for plenty of customization of a new tennis pro from both an aesthetic and gameplay perspective. Starting a career begins through a lengthy character creation process which offers a lot of customization options (you can see our own tennis behemoth here) for a wide variety of appearances. Once the career begins, players can also choose a coach along with a few beginner skills. The wide variety of skills, such as service, forehand, power, precision, and volley mean that each tennis star you create can have a different specialty and therefore a different play style. If you're into fast players with quick reflexes and plenty of precision, then that's completely up to you. Your choices just may come at the cost of a weakness in another area.
Once the character is on the schedule, they can access different clothes for purchase, different coaches, skills, sponsors, and more. The most important aspect of all of the menu system is the schedule itself. Each day there will be a chance to train (assuming you have the cash to pay for it), play a tournament, or play a special match. Tournaments come in different difficulty and importance levels, some of which can only be accessed by climbing up the rankings. It's a good system that rewards players for good play and participating in shorter and weaker tournaments even when their skills aren't particularly strong. It also helps that winning a tournament means winning money which can then be dumped into more training that should, in turn, allow better play and more winnings, eventually allowing for a rise to the top of the food chain.
Playing in the tournaments themselves isn't always a thrilling experience. Even when completely unskilled, minor tournaments are embarrassingly easy to win because of AI that doesn't know anything about cutting off angles. Eventually, after enough training and rank improvement, majors and grand slams open up and then the challenge increases to a point where the game is more enjoyable. Or it would be, if half of the shots at your disposal weren't next to impossible to pull off with any regularity. Normal shots, such as a safe shot, top spin, slice, and lob are all easy enough to drop in-bounds but the risk shots are aggravatingly elusive at best.
The main problem with the risk shot system is that it's way, way too risky. During the hours of play for this review, I was never able to time the shot correctly more than 20% of the time. That's a pretty awful percentage that begs asking why even try especially since the AI hasn't ever really been phased by any of the successfully attempted risk shots. Had a system tied to the skills been implemented, such as increasing the target area to hit certain risk shots depending on the level of specific skills (with bonus power for hitting it perfectly), it would have made risk shots, and probably the entire game much more interesting. Why have a feature that most non-robotic humanoids aren't going to be able to use proficiently? No room for error is no fun for gamers.
On the other hand, as your character moves through his or her career and has trained enough, you'll eventually be able to begin learning advanced shots, which are much easier to pull off and simply use up momentum which is gained by winning points. These shots aren't as powerful as the risk shots, but do provide a boost of power and can help create winners when used correctly.
Those advanced shots are just more motivation to keep training, which is a good thing because training is probably one of the most important aspects of the career mode and creating your own character. Training not only provides extra points for the various skills in your skill set but also provides a great place to practice skills you're going to need throughout the game. Just jumping into single player matches against the computer without ever playing a game isn't going to work very well. Once you've gotten some training under your belt, things get considerably easier to understand.
Eventually you'll be able to play pretty well with the best of the AI (assuming you have a controller
abandon all hope ye who enter here with a keyboard and mouse), even without using the ridiculous risk shots, though taking those skills into the multiplayer area has proven pretty useless. It's hard to play against other players when no one is playing. We've been online countless times looking for multiplayer matches and have had no luck finding one. If you're buying this to play against another live person, you had better recruit one of your friends as well.
Visually the game isn't bad. It's got a clean look to it when loaded into an actual match but suffers from ugly, ugly, ugly out of game character models that are in the menu system such as when you're changing your character's clothes in career. But most importantly, the game doesn't support any widescreen resolutions, which is pretty ridiculous in today's time of widescreen monitor proliferation, especially considering this game was out on the 360 first which demands widescreen support. It's baffling.
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