Meh. What do you want me to say? It’s a tennis game. Nothing more, nothing less. Top Spin 2 is everything you would expect from a tennis game and nothing more. It does a lot of things right, that’s true, but they’re things that every single other tennis game out there does well too. Taken on that, it’s a solid title that is worthy to compete with the likes of the Virtua Tennis series. Probe a little deeper though (and sometimes not so deep) and you’ll soon find a litany of chinks in the proverbial armor.
Due to personal convictions I have to say before this goes any further: unless you are a huge tennis fan with no other option than this game on PC, do not buy this game unless you have a PC compatible gamepad or intend on getting one for this game. Tennis games are quite simply not conducive to a mouse and keyboard control scheme. Top Spin 2 is no different. At every turn it is extremely obvious that it was built for a console controller and you’ll be wishing the whole way through that you didn’t have to use the overly complex and just plain difficult control scheme. That said, once you’ve reached the peak of the steep learning curve of the controls, there is fun to be had. It’s simply a matter of whether or not you’re willing to put up with five hours of confusion before you really know what’s going on.
What’s the problem you ask? Well it’s tough to put into words, but it goes a little something like this: the mouse is used to move the player around on screen. Not bad so far, simply roll over the area of the court you want to go and he/she will run there. Once you start your swing though, the mouse switches to control which direction the ball will be hit. It functions exactly like the left thumbstick in the console versions. The problem is that after you hit the ball, you can’t simply release the mouse like a joystick and have the player stand still. No - the character takes off immediately in the direction you were hitting. Anyone who has played a tennis videogame knows how disastrous a simple momentum change like this can be, even at low levels of play.
I don’t want to get too down on this game though, because at its core it is still the same game that was released on the Xbox 360 last year to critical acclaim. Everything is here, from the real world players to the licensed stadiums. The career mode is also a very full experience and it is fun to climb the ranks. The inclusion of fake players to round out the leader board is an addition that would have been ignored previously, before the release of other tennis games that chose to exclude them. In other games you play the likes of Roger Federer and Andy Roddick right off the bat at the low levels of play, and as a result these players lose any real weight in terms of the experience of playing them. In Top Spin 2, when you finally reach the top of the circuit and you’re able to play against the world's greatest players it is almost surreal, and more than a little intimidating.
Other than the standard matches, the process of leveling up and improving your character is done through a series of training games. These games are on the whole pretty fun, and they also help mix up the gameplay nicely. One can only play real games for so long and it’s at that point that blasting holes in a giant wall makes for good fun.
Speaking of characters, Top Spin 2 has one of the best character customization programs I’ve ever encountered in a sports game. Nearly every characteristic of your player’s appearance can be tweaked and customized to your liking. And if you don’t feel like going through all that, the computer can come up with suitable ones for you. It’s a pretty smart program, it even remembers to give the male Ukrainian characters an automatic uni-brow (no, I’m not kidding) because as we all know, all eastern European men lack definition in their brow adorning follicles.
The question of whether or not Top Spin 2 is the right game for you can essentially be answered with a short quiz. First and foremost: have you played the 360 version? If so, there is no reason to consider this, it is the exact same game. Do you have an Xbox 360? If you do, it’s worth the extra money to play on the unified system. Do you have a gamepad? If yes, you’ll be able to side-step the controls and it’s worth it. Lastly, if you answered, “no” to all of the previous question: do you really
want a tennis game, and are you willing to suffer through the controls to get your fix? It’s budget price almost makes up for it’s shortcomings, but not quite. The final decision will be made by how badly you want a tennis game for your PC.