In a nutshell, this tennis game tries to reach a level of realism never seen before in a tennis game but perhaps tries too hard and falls woefully short, which detracts massively from its gameplay. It is a pity, because the first TopSpin was as close to perfection as I had seen a tennis game achieve, and I have been expecting the franchise to top that for the past 2 installments, but instead it seems to have done an about-turn at every opportunity.Tennis Dynamics/ Realism:
The tennis itself has been slowed down to help simulate the art of making a rally, and there is no HUD in an attempt to add to the realism. This is clearly a mistake, because there is still an emphasis on timing and positioning for special shots (L for depth, R for pace) which was, in the previous versions, covered with a meter so even a novice could play every shot in the game without the ridiculously difficult learning curve this game has. Beginners will miss shot after shot, and serving especially is close to impossible to pick up. And there isn't a realistic amount of aces, and since the pace is so slow, the game compensates by simply not letting your controller respond during some important moments, for ex. your player will spasm or simply watch a serve ace him by a foot on a break point.
To continue on the L/R triggers, the most significant new addition of the game as well as its biggest gamble, when "mastered" it can work fairly well, and produce impressive results for passing shots or simply shots that put the rally in your favor. However, the fact that you have to actually take a lot of time to master it is a negative right away- for instance, someone who picks up the game and fails to hit or win with any other shot except a safe shot down the line over and over again isn't likely to be enthralled with the game. There is a "Tennis School" which takes the place of the academy, but that is simply god-awful and very unhelpful and doesn't diminish this game's ridiculously steep learning curve. Another addition/gamble is the LB/RB buttons, which are for baselining and net-approaches respectively. Because the movement of your player is so terrible, you need the help of these "speed" buttons to get to many shots and put you in a position to volley. Because they are fairly sensitive, you will be frequently wrongfooted by shots that even you could have gotten to in real life. Also pressing the RB and hitting a shot will help you follow it into the net, but also make that shot you just hit look like the ugliest approach shot ever, particularly off the forehand side, like a bad windmill.
The biggest negative of the game, in my opinion, is that the swing dynamics are simply terrible. There are a variety (5 or so) to choose from when creating your character, but unless they have ages to set up a shot they will all use a default swing, which obviously detracts from the realism if you watch these pros. All the players look stiff-backed on almost every shot, they move like zombies and don't hit realistic-looking shots. This can be particularly noticed on serve returns. TopSpin3 would have been wise to imitate the pro's swings with more realism, as seen in VT3/4, without risking the same arcade feel in those games. Even TopSpin1 had far more realistic looking swings and animations than this version, even if they were slightly fewer. There are basic irregularities that have a very unprofessional feel to it- almost every pro you face in the game has the same serve for instance. The pros don't even look or move the same as they do in real life. "Career"- Single Player
The career mode starts off with a fairly expansive Player Creator option, but it doesn't have the photo device Fight Night has (I'll cut it some slack since Fight Night was the first one to have such a thing and came out well after this game). Also the player models you have to base your creation on are simply bizarre looking, and most of your attempts become so ugly that the only one fairly acceptable to look at looks like Elijah Wood. Accessorizing has improved in that there are many more clothes to choose from, but many significant pro outfits are missing. Most annoyingly, for these past 2 TopSpins wristbands have been suspiciously left absent. From your wardrobe, that is, a few pros will have them. This may seem like a minor omission from the outside but those very familiar with the players they are facing/using will notice it immediately.
The junior circuit seems hashed together, there isn't much to do with training removed from this game, and all the computer generated players (even in the Pro Tour) you face are pretty much a joke, from their names to appearances to even their nationalities (no offence intended, China doesn't have that many players in the top 100). Anyway, you play similar tournaments and similar crowds as you do in the Pros. It would have been a nice touch to distinguish it with Junior Grand Slams, etc.
Finishing the year as #1 means you get to (are forced to) move to the Pro Tour. TopSpin clearly lost many tournament licenses, and gone is Wimbledon, which is replaced with the "Dublin Open", which looks like a travesty, and the "London Tournament", which isn't a Slam in the game but would have been more appropriate. With the lack of authentic licensed tournaments TS3 features many fake ones, some of which are decent but most unremarkable. There is no ambience of actually being in a Grand Slam or Masters Series event, which was even there to an extent in TopSpin 2 (which was fun and arcadey but still disappointing as it didn't improve on TS1), and the crowd won't care whether you are at match point for your first Grand Slam or whether you won the first point of the first round. Additionally, Davis Cup and Masters Cup or their equivalents have simply been removed, and they were additions I truly appreciated in TopSpin 2.
After winning several Slams and tournaments that no one seems to care about, once your player ends the year as #1 he'll be forced to move again, this time to the "Legends Tour", which is a series of hashed up challenges featuring the pros in the game (apparently Nalbandian is a "legend", and Blake too if I remember correctly). And it also makes you win the 4 slams in a row. Again. Even though that's probably what you did in the Pro Circuit, as if getting a Calendar Slam was no big deal.
There is no real Coach or training or competition or stupid non-tennis related games like tennis bingo or hitting unreachable blocks to feed a stupid alligator (now THAT I appreciate very much- forcing you to play and succeed at those in VTennis is unforgivable) and the focus is on the tennis, which can be a positive or not, depending on how you look at it.
The Opponent AI is decent at higher levels, they no longer only serve in predictable patterns, but generally they can be outhit or outworked in some way. Occassionally they will be on fire, and this can make for epic tennis matches, but then again every tennis game should have that.
Once again this game is further proof that tennis games lag far behind other sports games- instant replay is very limited, the camera angle is almost only of that from the winner's perspective, and you can't save points you've played. Additionally, and I may have mentioned this before, the pro roster depth is terrible, football/basketball/pogo-stick jumping games have many more pros than tennis games. Surely tennis has the poorest top 100 of any sport yet I doubt TS or even VT even attempt to acquire their likenesses. This would definitely increase the popularity of these games all around the world, and thus the popularity of tennis as well. Atleast this one makes an effort to create fake pros unlike VT3, although the effort is deplorable. The fake pros dress bad, look bad, play bad, and are incredibly improbable. A fat Chinese serve/volleyer who makes the French Final??Conclusion
The departure from TS1 is huge. In my opinion, TS1 was and still is the best tennis game ever made. It was the right balance of realistic and arcadey gameplay to make everyone happy, you could play any style of tennis, and with the exception of poor AI it was at the very least the perfect starting block for great tennis games. The main criticism of TS1 (again, besides the AI) was the risk shot, which was deemed too fast to be realistic. To fix this, there was no need to drastically change the game- the pace, the shot/swing dynamics, the movement etc. Instead that's what they did, and while it may please some people who THINK that's how tennis is played, the reality is it loses many fans who would obviously prefer the faster paced and more fun TS1. This game could have been drastically improved simply with an increase in the pace of play and more variety/realism in the animations.
+ Good graphics
- But not up to the standard of other sports games like Fight Night or FIFA or Pro Evo Soccer
- Also Strange cartoony coloring
+ Increased emphasis on rallies
+ Increased emphasis on actual tennis matches in career mode, and not stupid useless games (only a problem if you are forced to play them)
- Bad swing dynamics make for unrealistic motions and an unrealistic feel
- Career Mode lacks the epic feel a grand slam should have
- Masters Cup and Davis Cup are gone
+/- Sponsor/Coach gone
+ Additional Camera angles
- No ability to save replays (a must in sports games), plus replays are far too short
- Still limited in camera usage, can't view from opposite side if your character is on the closer side (you'll understand if you play it)
- Lack of pros/ decent pros/ current pros
- Lack of realism in regards to pros the game actually has
+/- - - R/L Triggers, RB/LB Buttons
+ Can work well
- But not often enough
- Makes the game a nightmare to learn how to play
- Makes decent shots that every pro can hit far too difficult to master
- Makes (good) serving far too difficult
- Not the definitive tennis game despite how unique it is