The first Top Spin was published by Microsoft in 2003 and was part of the XSN Sports brand. When Microsoft dissolved the label the game was subsequently ported to the PlayStation 2, with mediocre results. A sequel was released in 2006 for the Xbox 360, but the upgrades were minimal. Here we are two years later and 2K has served up a third entry in the series, with Top Spin 3... so how is it shaping up?
Well, our first impressions of Top Spin 3 were a little conflicting. In fact, if not for the logo on the title screen we could have been playing another tennis title; a more realistic but more challenging title. This is all because instead of slapping a coat of paint on Top Spin 2 and adding in a few extra characters, PAM Development has completely rebuilt the title from the ground up. Anyone who has played arcade titles such as Virtua Tennis 3 and Smash Court Tennis 3 (or indeed either of the other two Top Spin titles) will be in for a shock, as things have changed.
This time, it's all about timing and the position of your player. We've got to admit, in the first fourty-five minutes we weren't particularly sold on the concept. We kept swinging and missing and it wasn't until we changed strategy that all of a sudden playing Top Spin 3 felt natural. After an hour and a half we realised Top Spin 3 is, quite frankly, a game to get very excited about. The tennis ball no longer heads close to where you direct it with the analog stick, but exactly where you've directed it. The AI is a lot more believable this time around as well.
Top Spin 3 hasn't just changed in the gameplay department though; the character roster has been overhauled a bit too. The game includes players such as Mario Ancic, Tomas Berdych, James Blake, Roger Federer, Tommy Haas, Justine Henin, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Amelie Mauresmo, Gael Monfils, Andy Murray, David Nalbandian, Australian player Mark Philippoussis, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, Nicole Vaidisova and Caroline Wozniacki. The PlayStation 3 version will also include Rafael Nadal. There will also be classic legends such as Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg and Monica Seles. Despite our hopes and dreams, Andre Agassi did not make the cut.
There is also a vast range of single player and online modes. There is the exhibition mode, which has been a staple of tennis titles since the 90's, as well as a tournament mode with dozens of tournaments. Anyone picking up the game for the first time will want to go through the Top Spin school, and there is of course a player creator. Creating a player is required for the career mode and there are some decent options for creating a player, such as body, face, hair, tattoos, facial hair and the essentials such as height, weight and name. In the career mode XP is awarded for wins and there are objectives to achieve, such as winning a tie break. Top Spin 3 will also cater to those who like to play with their friends or with those across the world, with online play included.
Overall Top Spin 3 looks like it is shaping up to be a solid title. Gone are the days of lazily strolling to a ball, pushing a button at the last moment and hitting it back. Top Spin 3 plays a more realistic game of tennis. Sure, the game doesn't look like it is going to be a title that anyone can pick up and play, but we think everyone will be converted once they've played the game for an hour. Top Spin is back and it's looking better than ever before.