STAFF REVIEW of Top Spin 3 (Xbox 360)

Friday, August 15, 2008.
by Rick Wallace

Top Spin 3 Box art 2K Sports brings us the third iteration of the popular Top Spin series with all new professionals, court venues and mini games galore. You'll get the same in depth career mode you have become accustomed to with the series as well as Xbox Live Multiplayer. In the past Top Spin has been a fairly solid title with minor issues here and there, and it seems that Top Spin 3 follows that same trend. Don't get me wrong, its a solid title and one that tennis fans should have in their collection. One of those glaring issues would be the fact that you still cannot play doubles online with a person from your friends list. You can only play doubles online by having 2 people on one console versus 2 folks on another console. Seriously folks, after 3 tries we still can't get this right? But to a lot of folks this isn't a glaring issues and the gameplay and depth of the game makes up easily for that debacle.

The game ships with an enormous amount of content. You'll be treated to 40 beautifully rendered venues that are scattered across the entire world. Your standard surfaces are included from grass to clay and you'll be able to participate in front of casual spectators to fully packed arenas. It all depends on the venues you choose from 39 professional tennis players or even use your own user created player. All players including your user creation are all playable online as well.

Speaking of creating players, Top Spin 3 includes a fairly in depth create a player mode that allows you to really customize your character to your exact liking. You'll start out by choosing a preset male of female character. You'll then go into an editor that will allow you to customize every feature from their body type to the way their face looks. Unfortunately you can only use preset components and will not have the ability to physically resize or tweak features. Each category has a set amount of presets you can choose from and while the combinations of those presets can be many, you still don't quite get the in depth customization other games have provided in their create a player mode. This is one spot that EA destroys 2K when it comes to player customization. You'll also get to select your tennis style which will include how you hit the ball, your player animations, attitude and the grunts he/she make on the court. Yup, you definitely gotta have grunts in tennis! Once your character is created you can now begin your career and start building your characters attributes.

Along with the enormous amount of content you'll also get quite a few options of gameplay to choose from in the main menu. You can jump into a standard exhibition match right away using any pro's you would like, and it can be doubles or singles. There is an in depth career mode, which we will discuss a little bit later in the review, There is also a Top Spin School which is basically a tutorial of sorts that teaches you all the aspects of the game and how to make the best of your shots. You'll also find a player area and this is where you will distribute your XP earned to level your character up, buy new accessories at the mall, and view some history on your player.

The Xbox Live option allows you to go online and play either in a player match or a World Ranked match. You'll first select the player you want to use, or you can load a created player by pressing the start button. In player matches you'll be able to join search or create matches to your liking. When creating a match You can set the numbers of sets per match, gamers per set, tie break and which venue you would like to participate. All 40 venues are available to play in from the moment you first go online so you don't have to worry about unlocking anything. As I stated earlier, you can play doubles online but only if you and your real life buddy are playing on the same console versus another pair across the internet. I guess one day off in the future we'll finally be able to play doubles online with 3 other folks on live and they won't have to be in the same room.

So Top Spin gameplay as you know it has been revamped quite a bit. The developers seem to have taken more of a simulation aspect to the game rather than a pick up and play style. This is both good and bad. Now when hitting the ball it is more about timing and button release than anything else which adds great substance to the word simulation. It take a little getting used to but after some practice it really does seem to work very well. I was extremely frustrated with the timing issue for the first fews sets. Either I would completely miss the ball, or I wouldn't hit it to the part of the court I wanted to. But once you get your timing and sequence down you'll find the new swing and hit system to be very good. Player movements are smooth and what would be expected of tennis player movement and reactions. All your standard shots are back and risk shots have returned as well. Online risk shots seem to really unbalance the gameplay, and frankly need to be toned down and they also tend to be very fail miserably more than not. Now I am sure there are folks that have gotten the risk shots down to a science and will beat you into submission with risk shot after risk shot, but for the casual player the standard gameplay is difficult enough.

When it comes to graphics the game shines brightly. The venues are extremely detailed and the player models move realistically and are smooth as silk. Each court surface type is perfectly rendered and coupled with the realistic player movements gives you the complete feeling of actually playing on that specific surface. One of the things I found that actually impressed me was the sweat build up on your shirt. As you progress through matches and have to work pretty hard to win your points, your shirt will progressively get wetter with sweat.

When it comes to sounds the game doesn't seem to have taken many steps forward. Sure the sounds of the ball being hit back and forth is authentic, and crowd cheers are fairly realistic but there are things missing. Commentary would be a welcome addition to the game. A type of TV broadcast, especially for the Grand Slam events would be ideal and make the game so much more enjoyable. Player arguments with the line judges would be cool to listen to as well, but alas no drama is added into the game in any form. Bottom line is the game is very monotonous when it comes to the sound department and could use some background ambiance, music or something. Otherwise it is just a modern day Pong when it comes to excitement.

When it all boils down to it, Top Spin 3 is a simulation game that will be perfect for many tennis fans, but will be extremely frustrating for the casual pick up and play gamers. The graphics are well done, and the sounds could be better but still work for what the game tries to do. Online play seems solid ignoring the fact of no online doubles among multiple 360 consoles. And there are plenty of unlockables to keep your character looking the part of the professional tennis player. For those casual gamers, you may be best suited to stay with Top Spin 2, but for fans of the series this may just be the game you have been looking for. While many gamers scream for more simulation aspects in sports games, this one may have crossed that fine line of being a fun game for everyone to only catering to a few.

Tone down the simulation aspect of the game and revert back to more of a pick up and play style. Add online doubles for 4 seperate 360's across the world. I want to be able to double up with my buddy in Arizona.

Overall: 7.9 / 10
Gameplay: 8.2 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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