Top Spin 2 Xbox 360 Review

Sunshine… thwack… strawberries… thwack… the smell of fresh cut grass… thwack… a flash of optic yellow and a puff of chalk dust as a tennis ball smacks off the baseline. ‘Yeah!’ you shout, pumping your fist, ‘C’mon!’ It’s been three years since Top Spin first appeared on the XBox. Now, in plenty of time for Wimbledon, Top Spin 2 goes all next generation on the XBox 360.

First impressions are very favourable. You get 24 real life tennis pros; sponsored kit and racquets; and courts from Europe, North and South America, Australia and Asia. Crowds are robustly 3D and the stadiums, skies and environments beautifully rendered. Players are responsive, realistically weighty and seamlessly animated. And if the realism of a game is in the details, Top Spin 2 is full of them: players skidding about on clay, an occasional jogger running past the quiet public courts, and a real-time scoreboard in the background on Centre Court.

You can take your pick of the featured pros for an exhibition match or choose the party games for some frivolous multiplayer fun, but Top Spin 2 is really all about career mode. It begins with one of the most detailed player creation tools in gaming history, with 13 separate parameters just for the nose. Even with several hours to spare, limitless patience, and knowing exactly what a sellion is, you’ll be hard pushed to design a face even remotely resembling your own.

Your career begins with a modest sponsorship deal and a world ranking of 200. Training involves hitting highlighted areas of court, skittles, cardboard boxes, and giant tennis balls and success rewards you with stars to improve your player’s skill level. Then, to pay for training and improve your ranking, you are eased into competition via the small public courts in parks and country clubs. You don’t spend long scratching around the seamier side of international tournament play before reaching your first major, and it’s genuinely exciting to step for the first time into a packed stadium. There are far too few moments like these.

The four face buttons correspond to four different shots: a safe shot, lob, topspin, and slice. Pressing the left trigger at the same time gives some variation, while the right trigger lets you play a risk shot – release the button at just the right point on the power bar to punch an unbeatable shot into the far corner. Unfortunately, hitting that spot on the power bar is so unlikely, and such is the unreliability of even the basic top spin and slice shots, that in desperate times it’s difficult to do anything other than play safe.

Training quickly becomes something to endure for the simple reason that it teaches you nothing. Getting more stars might make your player less likely to randomly smack the ball out, but that’s not getting better, it’s getting less likely to mess things up. There’s a big difference.

Lobs are difficult to control, drop shots lacking in finesse, and risk shots almost guaranteed to finish in the net. There remains only one way to win a point: hit it from side to side until your opponent misses. When you’ve put in the hours in Career Mode to try and improve, this is quite a bummer. And online rallies are much the same. You can only play ranked matches with your custom player, so to compete you have to build him or her up in the career mode, making it even more of an unavoidable chore.

Perhaps 2K Sports knew just how tedious all this might become; they included an option to simulate games, matches, and even whole tournaments. That actually playing tennis would, for most people, be the whole point, seems to have been forgotten. Though the first few hours may be spent happily enough, there comes a moment when you’ll wish Top Spin 2 spent less time simulating, and more time recreating the thrills of tennis.