But training events cost money. Eventually you'll run out of money, and the only way to get back into the black is to participate in and win tournaments. You'll start off competing in minor regional tournaments, which are often held in extremely inauspicious locales such as community centers or outdoor public courts, and go all the way up to centre court at Wimbledon. Aside from the distraction of stands filled with thousands of tennis fans watching you during a grand slam event, there are other, more tangible performance differences depending on the court you're playing on. The grass courts at Wimbledon beget a slower, more methodical pace, while red clay courts, like those found at the Paris Open, move much faster, and also cause players to slide around on the surface. There are subtle atmospheric differences between the courts too, such as the casual poolside chatter you'll hear when playing at a Mediterranean resort, the international announcers you'll hear at different venues, the way tennis shoes will squeak across a hardwood floor, or the way a player's grunt will echo in a large stadium--it's too bad that there just isn't a greater variety of grunt sounds. Additionally, no matter where you go, you'll be treated to the same generic rock and hip-hop Muzak, over and over again.
Unfortunate camera angles aside, Top Spin 2 is a solid-looking game.
Top Spin 2 doesn't do a lot of technical grandstanding, but there is a consistent competence to the presentation, which really comes alive when shown in HD. For all the nice depth-of-field effects, self-shadowing, and minor ambient details that the game is peppered with, there are flaws that stick out, such as the odd sense of detachment between the players' feet and the court itself. The most egregious problem with the presentation also happens to be one of the most basic. When you're playing solo, rather than being able to keep your player on the side of the court closest to the camera, you'll regularly find yourself on the far side of the court, which presents some frustrating perspective issues. Your only option is to switch to the zoom camera, which is lower and closer to the player. It can take some getting used to, but it's definitely preferable to playing on the back side of the court.
Winning or even placing well in a tournament will increase your rank, which will in turn open up bigger and better tournaments to you and will also garner you invites to special events. Before you know it, you'll be playing for your country in special international events, getting invitations to play in private matches for the amusement of wealthy bon vivants, putting on exhibition matches for your incredibly grateful sponsors, and trading barbs with rival players.
The career mode goes on for years and years, and if you chose to play every last match yourself, it could take that long to finish it. Taking a cue from the lengthy career/dynasty/franchise modes found in nearly any other serious professional-sport game, Top Spin 2 will regularly let you simulate your matches, and it does it on a surprisingly granular level. You can choose to simulate an entire tournament, all the way down to a single game. So, if you only want to step onto the court when it looks like you might lose otherwise, Top Spin 2 makes it possible.
If you'd rather not invest yourself into the career mode, or you'd rather play against someone with a pulse, Top Spin 2 has several options for you. Exhibition matches are available from the main menu, and you can choose both your player and your opponent from dozens of today's hottest tennis stars, including current top-ranked players like Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, and Lindsay Davenport. You can also build your own custom tournament, which lets you choose the number of both real and AI players involved, the venue, and the name of the event.
Online performance is great, but online options are slim.
Both the exhibition and tournament modes allow for multiplayer action, though Top Spin 2 also features some multiplayer-only modes. The party games are somewhat similar to the training minigames, in that they put a wild spin on conventional tennis. Time bomb sees you trying to score points to slow down your own countdown clock, wall breaker challenges you to knock down your opponent's wall of boxes while protecting your own, and splash court covers portions of the court in paint whenever a point is scored. Additionally, Top Spin 2 includes Xbox Live support for up to four players, though the match options are pretty bland and include only the most basic match types. Additionally, you can only play online ranked matches with a custom tennis pro, which means you'll have to spend a lot of time in the career mode if you intend to compete seriously online. The online play in Top Spin 2 could and should have been much more fleshed out, and the game's surprisingly silky performance just made us wish that there were more online options to explore.
On top of being a fun, well-crafted game of tennis, Top Spin 2 is being sold at a price lower than your average Xbox 360 game, making it all the more attractive. Top Spin 2 definitely has its flaws, the majority of which are so head-shakingly clear-cut it's hard to understand how they made it into a product that otherwise shows such polish. If you haven't cared for tennis games in the past, Top Spin 2 won't change your mind, but if you enjoy the genre, you'll be hard pressed to find much better.