TopSpin 2K25 preview: like a comfy pair of tennis shorts

TopSpin 2K25 preview
Image: 2K Games.

When 2K Games announced TopSpin 2K25, the return of its long-neglected tennis video game series, nostalgia hit me like a finessed forehand winner down the line.

It transported me back to 2011, playing Top Spin 4 against my mates, enjoying sleepless nights of five-set epics. To date, no tennis video game has come close to recapturing that high – Mario’s zany arcade-styled forays aside. It wasn’t just the shared experience, it was also the great gameplay and Daft Punk’s thumping “Da Funk” dancefloor tune punctuating each game.

Australia’s own Big Ant Studios had a crack with the AO Tennis games, starring the popular Ash Barty. Valiant as the effort may have been, it struggled to hold up alongside games made by larger studios buoyed by more development resources.

More than a decade later, TopSpin 2K25 isn’t just an encore performance of an old classic: it’s shaping up to be a tennis sim worthy of the modern era. A recent hands-on preview session revealed that another multiplayer hit could be around the corner.

Best sports tutorial ever

Simulation games, those that emulate the sports they’re based on as close to reality as possible, are a double-edged sword. Or a double-edged racquet, if you will. So few of us will ever be professional athletes, experiencing the thrill and drama of high-stakes competition, but it’s fun to imagine once in a while.

Approachability is one of the biggest challenges these games face. If they’re too hard to pick up and play, not many people will make the attempt. But if they’re not challenging enough and filled with mechanical complexity, there’s little point in sticking around once the novelty wears off.

NBA 2K24, for example, is wildly popular among hardcore fans for its rich gameplay experience and myriad game modes. However, it’s tough for newcomers to penetrate, which isn’t helped by unwelcoming and barebones tutorials.

In all my years of playing sports video games, there’s never been a better in-game tutorial than the one I played in TopSpin 2K25. It doesn’t assume your tennis knowledge, explaining the basic and advanced techniques meticulously. You also get instant feedback on swing timing, positioning, and general tennis tactics.

Better yet, former pro player John McEnroe narrates each lesson with the enthusiasm of a tennis coach who actually wants you to succeed. Celebrity voice actors can sometimes read lines with the enthusiasm of wet lettuce – not McEnroe. I can still hear his voice in my head, imploring me to return to the baseline after each shot.

Without wanting to brag too much, I only played through the tutorial as a formality. Not much has changed since the 2011 game beyond better graphics and more precise controls. Stepping onto the virtual courts of TopSpin 2K25 was like putting on a comfy pair of tennis shorts. It felt familiar, pleasant, and I was raring to go.

TopSpin 2K25 teases a big game

Although not everything was available to test during the TopSpin 2K25 preview, the core experience was more satisfying than strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. In the full game, you’ll have more courts and players to choose from, including a MyCareer mode where you can take your own player to tennis stardom.

For the preview build, however, we were restricted to the Grand Slam courts and only a handful of players, including current athletes and past legends. Seeing McEnroe take on Federer is a sight to behold! More than 24 professional players will join the roster alongside 48 venues once the game’s out for the public.

TopSpin 2K25 Australian Open
Image: 2K Games.

Playing solo against AI opponents provided a solid warm-up. On the default difficulty, it’s relatively easy to work your opponent around the court, creating ample opportunities for winners. Your player’s movement feels weighty enough to be realistic, yet responsive to inputs. If you miss a shot or get wrong-footed, it’s your own damn fault.

The same goes for shot positioning, with the controller’s face buttons assigned to topspin, backspin, lobs, and neutral shots respectively. Coordinated with precise control stick movements, it feels great to think your way through a point and then execute a cross-court topspinner that curls away from a desperate lunge. Likewise, serves are easy to send over the net, but nailing a full-powered serve down the tee is tricky.

Lots of small but careful details elevated the game’s presentation. As matches wore on, so did the scuff marks on the playing surface. Each pro athlete represented in TopSpin 2K25 looked the part and moved with a close resemblance to the real deal. Development studio Hangar 13 may be known for its crime drama Mafia series, but it turns out they can make one heck of a tennis game too.

White line fever

Putting everything together against real opponents is where the real fun of TopSpin 2K25 lies. To cap the preview session off, I took on Player 2’s Matt Hewson, a fellow sports video game enthusiast. One successful drubbing later, freelancers Alice Clarke and Jam Walker joined in for a doubles match.

30 minutes and a three-set tiebreaker elapsed as we all caught white line fever, giving in to our competitive instincts. Playing together in the same space took me back to 2011, with my high school friends, getting way too boisterous about a virtual game of tennis.

TopSpin 2K25 promises a return to the glory days of tennis games. It looks fantastic and plays as smoothly as Melbourne’s hard courts. Keep an eye out for its full release on 26 April across PlayStation, Xbox, and PC platforms.

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