SAN FRANCISCO – Perhaps you thought there could be nothing more difficult in the sport of tennis than beating Roger Federer?
You were dead wrong.
Try taking aim at "Top Spin 3" from 2K Sports, an exercise in funless futility where success is even getting a proper rally going.
Don't get me wrong. The premise here is good enough. "Top Spin 3" ($59.99) has familiar ATP and WTA tour characters like Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova. And the game has good graphic details when you're sliding into shots on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris.
There are also lots of options for creating your own player and tweaking his or her look and playing style to suit your fancy.
But unless you're willing to put in hours — and I mean hours — learning the least intuitive player controls ever conceived, you might as well go hit the ball (or your head) against a wall.
Here's the hang-up. The braintrust behind "Top Spin 3" wants you to do nothing at the very moment you should do something — namely hit the ball. To accomplish that most basic feat, "Top Spin 3" wants you to not press a button.
It's extremely difficult to overcome the desire to press a button went you want the most common character activity to happen. Instead, in the Xbox 360 version I tried, the game wants you to decide what type of stroke to hit (by pressing "B" for topspin, "A" for a flat shot, etc.) and then release that button as the ball approaches your player.
How intuitive is it? In the training mode, I didn't even make contact with the first 20-plus balls that floated my way, even after having read the control instructions in the manual beforehand.
Eventually I made contact, and the ball floated harmlessly into the open court with a speed so laughably slow it didn't even qualify as a hard-enough shot to get me through the basic training phase.
Sure, I persevered, but it should be fun instead of painfully laborious.
Eventually, I figured out enough of the control timing to try my fate in career mode. So I hit the tour.
It was ugly. I didn't even win a point against my first opponent, and only mustered one against my second.
They didn't blast me from the baseline. They merely got the ball back and waited for my inevitable bad timing, which came in spades.
Everything about the controls is saggy, not just the ball striking. When I ran over to bash a forehand and released the button to hit, my player's footing fell back a few steps and hit defensive shots when offense was needed.
I tried some volleys against one opponent and had little success. Nothing actually happens the moment you hit a button. It seemed like there was a quarter-second delay to all of the animations I controlled.
I've played various tennis titles for various platforms, and each surpassed this newbie on the fun-o-meter.
As for the star players in the game, Bjorn Borg hits like Borg, Federer hits like Federer and so on. It's mildly entertaining that their unique service motions and pummeling groundstrokes are recaptured here in game format. But you'll get to see very little of it unless you can somehow master the backward control set-up.
I'd get more points off Roddick or Sharapova on a real court than I could in this maddening title.
"Top Spin 3" is rated "E" for Everyone and gets one star out of four.