When I last sat in on a Top Spin 4 demo, I didn’t notice a whole lot that differentiated the game from its predecessor. I recently had the chance to take a deeper look at it in a longer session, and now I’m ready to eat my words.
Top Spin 4 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], Wii)
Differentiating created players was a major focus for the development team. The easiest way to dominate in TS3 -- even online -- was simply to max out your player’s Power rating. And player progression could feel intimidating or unclear to novices: Giuntini explained that some players didn’t understand why they should put points into one attribute over another. So 2K Czech simplified that system while giving players the tools to determine their own unique traits; you won’t be assigning XP to individual attributes anymore.
Let’s say you’ve got a decent serve, but you can see that you’re losing points that you shouldn’t lose because you’re not fast enough to run down balls that aren’t coming right at you. You might then put your XP into a defensive baseline level. Your levels in each field add up to your overall level: the level-10 player that 2K showed me had two levels in serve and volley, and four each in offensive and defensive baseline. The level cap is 20 overall, not in each of the three areas.
The coaches are split into bronze, silver, and gold tiers. Early on, bronze coaches give you XP bonuses to help you rank up more quickly. Silver coaches will start giving you stronger attribute bonuses (e.g., +10 power) and gameplay skills. The latter are context-sensitive buffs that trigger automatically during gameplay. For example, I saw a “wrong-foot bonus,” which provides enhanced precision on ball placement when you wrong-foot your opponent (catch him off balance). Coaches also give you objectives for working on your skills, like successfully completing ten slice shots. (Remember, all of this can be accomplished in any game mode -- not just Career.)
2K Czech has also restructured the Career mode itself. The interface has been revamped; the home screen displays rankings, in-game news, and your next objectives. You’ll still be playing through amateur and pro tournaments, but there’s now more variety thanks to unranked preparation events (such as training exercises, special events, and exhibition matches with alternate rules). In addition, you can go for objectives like the series rankings. Each offers a selection of related tournaments (hardcourt, grass, Europe, etc.), and you get XP for doing well.
The demo concluded with some hands-on time in a doubles match; I played with three other developers. Four players can play locally, while online games are limited to two players on one console versus two on another. The doubles game brought out the competitive streak within us; we were all ooh-ing and ahh-ing on every volley. I soon realized that the crowd was as into it as we were -- the fans were gasping along with the players in the room. Pretty cool, eh?
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