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Top Spin 4 Preview | Furry Yellow Balls

David Brown
2K Sports, Furry Yellow Balls, Games previews, Sports Games, Top Spin 4

Top Spin 4 Preview | Furry Yellow Balls

Whacking a furry yellow ball over a low net shouldn't be hard to simulate on our screens, but for some reason it very much is. Think hard and it'll be very difficult to name even one genuinely classic tennis game that's offered even a semi-realistic representation of the sport.

The Virtua Tennis series is essentially a total waste of time for anyone who has actually watched the sport being played more than once, and the Top Spin franchise has often been seen as too difficult to get to grips with.

Having said that, it's this latter collection of ball-walloping simulators that we're concerned with here today and, to be fair to 2K Czech, the first thing Stefan (CHECK) says in his presentation to the assembled throng of journalists is how they're looking to make things easier for players to get to grips with their game, without compromising too much and betraying their loyal fans.

Top Spin 4 Preview | Furry Yellow Balls

And you know, they may well have cracked it. As Stefan spars with his company henchman on the projector, he as bouncy Rafael Nadal and his lackey as the morose Andy Murray, you can see that there certainly hasn't been any cutbacks in terms of complexity. Before Stefan starts explaining to us what's going on, it does seem rather confusing. But it isn't.

It's all about timing. If you don't hit the ball sweetly, it's going to be very difficult to win. Bad timing means your shots will be less accurate, usually heading close to the middle of the court. These will be easy pickings for most opponents, so it's vital to make sure you time your shots correctly.

Top Spin 4 Preview | Furry Yellow Balls

When you're learning the game, you might want to turn on one of the multitude of visual aids that'll help you get to grips with such things as timing. It'll tell you just why you've flubbed a particular shot, saying Too Soon or Too Late just next to your player's head.

Get perfect timing and you can begin to employ some more advanced tactics. Stefan stresses the importance of individual playing styles in tennis, with players like Pete Sampras having wildly differing games to Andre Agassi, for example.

When you selected a player, you'll have to get to know what makes them tick using the stats screen. Each star has ratings for serving, volleying, forehand, backhand and so on. Federer has a crushing forehand while Sampras will bludgeon you with power serves and precise volleys. Luckily, Tim Henman isn't in the game, so there's no 'Choking in the Semis' stat for 2K Czech to worry about.

Top Spin 4 Preview | Furry Yellow Balls

Let's focus on the tactics you might employ as Sampras. He's a serve and volley master, so there's no point you hugging the baseline and trying to wear down someone like Nadal, who's got more stamina and more impressive ground strokes than you. What you'll need to do is force him onto the back foot with a brutal serve and follow it up by dashing to the net and tucking away the volley.

If you're facing Sampras as Nadal, you'll be better off using defensive tennis to keep him in check. You can use sliced shots to keep him moving around the court, tiring him out and then capitalising by smashing one across court and watching as he passes out through exhaustion.

Just as important as timing is anticipation. Judge where your opponent will hit the ball next and you can get into good position to force them onto the back foot. Guess wrongly and you'll look a fool as a tame shot goes sailing past you.

Top Spin 4 Preview | Furry Yellow Balls

Furthering this idea of tactical play, you've got a wide variety of different types of shots at your disposal. The usual variants are all present like power shots, lobs, slices and top-spin efforts, but there's also the control shot, which is worth discussing.

The power shot is activated by holding the button down for a long time, as you'd expect. The control is the opposite, requiring just a quick tap at the right moment to send a slower shot over the net, but one that'll be much more precise. Both are equally useful depending on what you want to do in a rally.

Add to this an array of shot modifiers that utilise the bumpers and shoulder buttons, such as drop volleys, approach shots and many others, and you start to see how much depth there is in Top Spin 4.

Top Spin 4 Preview | Furry Yellow Balls

You can of course create your own player if you want to, developing your own style using coaches and an XP system that allows you to improve your abilities with 'point packages'. There'll be 20 levels for your created player to advance through, each granting you the option to improve ground strokes, serving, volleying or physical attributes.

There's no possible way to create a player with maxed out stats in every category, so it'll be best to concentrate on one or two areas instead of manufacturing a jack of all trades. Stats can be boosted outside of the points packages by hiring unlockable coaches that improve certain abilities while also lowering others.

As for how the game is currently playing, it's still got that heavy Top Spin feel, but it seems to be infinitely more satisfying and instantly enjoyable than previous efforts. You don't feel like your constantly fighting a battle with the game just to even hit the ball, for a start.

Top Spin 4 Preview | Furry Yellow Balls

It's also going to be hard to master, as the crucial timing is tough to pick up, although the person who annihilated your correspondent in a singles match seemed to be doing well enough.

It's difficult to see whether there'll be any annoying exploits that usually creep into sports games, but with only a limited amount of playing time, this reporter came away suitably impressed and very much looking forward to getting a more extensive hands-on in the future. You can't ask for much more than that, really.

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