Following its success on Xbox 360, Top Spin 2 is served up for PC gamers, courtesy of Aspyr Media. Players can compete as or against one of 24 male and female tennis professionals, including Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, Tim Henman, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Lindsay Davenport. Custom athletes are also available, with an assortment of clothing and appearance options as well as special taunts to express their happiness or frustration during the match. Players can follow the career of a star in the making in Grand Slam mode, where created athletes advance through grueling training camps, championships, and tournaments over multiple seasons.
Top Spin 2, from Aspyr and 2K Sports, is the first game we've encountered where you'll need to spend more time training than actually playing matches before your avatar becomes a suitable contender in the world of professional tennis players.
Here's the lowdown. Top Spin 2 is the sequel to a popular console tennis game. The original game was well-received but never made its way to the PC, so Top Spin 2 is the debut of the franchise on our gaming system of choice. There are five different play modes in Top Spin 2: Exhibition, Tournament, Career, Party Games, and Online Multiplayer. The first two are fine for quick pick up and play sessions, while the career mode is the most robust offering.
In the Career mode you'll get to create your own player, male or female. Just about every aspect of your player is customizable from her build to her clothes to even her chin. You could spend hours creating a character if you wanted to. I originally hoped to create an Angelina Jolie look-a-like, but gave up after realizing how long it would take and just went with a default balding rotund man. Your character has a number of different stats divided into Attributes, Techniques, and Skills. Attributes include stamina and speed, Techniques include Forehand and Volley, and Skills include Power and Precision.
The levels of your abilities in these areas is represented by stars. You'll start off with none and can earn a maximum of 60. As you take part in different training exercises with your coach you'll earn more stars. The better you do at these drills, the more stars you'll get. Different exercises will let you add stars to different attributes. It's here that the concept of grinding comes into play.
I admit, I'm not a very good tennis player, but I found it exceptionally difficult to win any matches in career mode without spending a lot of time training my character and earning more stars. Trying to beat anyone without any stars was far more difficult than I ever dreamed it would be. In many ways this makes Top Spin 2 feel like a tennis RPG. You've got levels to go up, you earn cash from your matches for new clothes and gear, and you get better coaches to help you gain mastery of different aspects of the game.
You'd think that a Tennis game wouldn't be very deep, but the developers have managed to do a good job of capturing the finesse required for this challenging sport. You have four different shots: a safe shot that always stays inbounds, topspin shots, slice shots, and lob shots. On top of that you'll also have risk shots that are pulled off by holding down your risk shot button and one of the regular shot buttons. Every shot other than the safe shot requires precise timing to get right. Get it wrong and you'll hit the net or hit the ball out of bounds. You'll need to master all of these shots if you plan on having a successful career.
The system makes this game challenging to master, and can be frustrating to new players. There are tutorials to help you learn the new shots, but they're bare-bones, and are over far too fast. This means you'll have to learn how to pull off these shots during matches, so it'll be a baptism by fire. As you go through your career you'll gain and lose sponsors, establish rivalries with AI players, and go from being a "Young Gun" to a "Tennis Legend."
If you want to enjoy this game on any level you'll most certainly need a gamepad. There is also a party mode that lets you play unique party games with your friends. This mode includes a game that blends block-out with tennis, and another one where you use tennis balls to cover your opponent's court with paint. However, playing these games on a monitor isn't very fun.
For a tennis game, Top Spin 2 is surprisingly deep. On the other hand it can also be frustrating as you realize that your player is simply outclassed by the AI. Also, there is no widescreen support. This makes no sense because the Xbox 360 version of the game is HD compatible and fully supports a 16:9 aspect ratio. Load times are also aggravatingly long. You'd think that a PC game would take full advantage of all the hard drive space and RAM that modern desktops have to minimize this.
There is a good game here, but you'll have to work hard to learn it. If you pick this game up expecting it to be like Sega's Virtua Tennis series, you'll be in for a big surprise. Frankly, we prefer Sega's offering to this one for it's easy pick up and play simplicity, but those of you who want more out of a tennis game will be better served by Top Spin 2.
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