Release Date: March 5, 2011
Publisher: 2K Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Tennis games are a fickle thing because they are really hard to get right. Sure, you have some stellar arcade ones like Mario Tennis and Virtua Tennis but for the most part there hasn’t really been a truly AMAZING tennis game. I think the closest we’ll get to that is 2K Sport’s Top Spin 4. It’s by no means a perfect game but it’s the closest thing out there to a realistic tennis match.

For starters, we have the career mode. Which is nice and dandy– the customization that you can give your character is great, though it may offer too many options. I’ve spent numerous hours trying to perfect how my pro looks to only have him look like a deformed horse compared to the professional tennis in-game models. Ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal considering you’ll be looking at the back of their head for the majority of your playing time.

Once you’ve finished making your pro tennis player, you have to edit his skills. You can also have a coach that can add attributes to your character. I found this feature really neat because you had objectives to complete in your matches to unlock these perks. Think of it as challenges like you would do in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer. My personal character that I’ve spent the most time on is a speedy Rafael Nadal-like clone with a lot of power and stamina, but who is terrible at volleying at net and serving.

Speaking of pro tennis players, the game has a lot of them. There are legends like Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and more recent pros like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. There are some female tennis players here, too, but the roster is quite disappointing. Also, the rest of the filler cast is lacking. If you know anything about tennis, you’ll be slightly disappointed. Where’s Del Potro, or David Ferrer?

If you played Top Spin 3, you were probably extremely frustrated with that title. The controls and genuine feel of tennis was off. The crowds were lame and quiet, and it was almost TOO realistic. It was incredibly punishing. Thankfully, 2K overhauled that completely. In Top Spin 4, they made it accessible to new players but it’s also extremely hard to master for veterans. With a slight press of a button, you can have a more accurate shot that’s easier to control and put your opponent out of position. If you hold the button you’ll have an extremely powerful shot but it’s extremely inaccurate. Power shots are more risk and reward. All in all, the gameplay feels tight and responsive.

In terms of gameplay modes, we have your standard Quick Match, Career mode, Multiplayer, and training. Again, the career mode is pretty fleshed out. As you progress through the lower tournaments you’ll eventually play in the big time Grand Slams. Once you’re in the quarterfinals and above, you’ll notice the opponent’s AI is on some kind of steroids. After breezing through the draw, the later matches hit you like a brick wall. It makes sense considering that you’re playing in big tournaments and the competition should only get harder, but at times it seems a bit unfair.

The multiplayer is quite fun as well. You can take your pro from career mode on here and actually compete in tournaments against other players across the world. It’s really cool how it works out, but as of late the online mode has been pretty empty. Most players have presumably jumped ship to EA’s Grand Slam Tennis 2 (which is a shame since this game has more realistic gameplay). The majority of your potential opponents will be across the big pond in Europe or beyond so lag might be an issue, though most of the time it’s pretty smooth if you can find a match. One big feature that’s lacking is doubles online. If you want to play a doubles match, you have to have a guest at your house and a guest at your opponent’s house. It’s incredibly lame how that works out, but the singles is fun enough to make up for it.

All in all, the tennis genre is hard to get right, especially if you want to play a realistic version. Top Spin 4 is as close to that as you can get. There are some issues but if you can look past the minor ones, you’re sure to have a great time. At the end, Top Spin 4 gets pretty darn close to match point but ends up giving up the lead.

Call or visit your local Slackers to see if they have a copy of Top Spin 4!