Grand Slam Tennis 2: Review
Release Date: February 10, 2012
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
The Short: Everything is in place for a truly epic tennis title. It just needs refining a little more.
The original Grand Slam Tennis may well have passed escaped your attention. In all fairness the original Wii exclusive title was little more than a cartoonish take on the tennis genre with the added selling point that it came with Wii+ in the bundle.
Shoot forward the best part of three years and EA Canada (the stickiest and maple scented’ist branch of EA) have moved the franchise to the PS3 and XBox 360 and applied some new mechanics to a often neglected genre.The big draws for Grand Slam Tennis 2 are the newly created Total Racket controls scheme and the inclusion of Wimbledon as the fourth Grand Slam venue. No big surprise too that EA, the kings of high production sports titles, have secured the likeness of many of the worlds greatest players both present and past.The control scheme overhaul is, mostly, a complete success. Using a control scheme inspired by the work they carried out in the overhaul of Fight Night, you now use the right analogue stick. A simple flick up, down and up etc will have you performing slices, lobs, volleys, flat shot and drop shots with remarkable accuracy within a few rounds of play. The biggest compliment I can give this scheme is that in around ten minutes of play I no longer had to give a thought to my actions as I pulled off winner after winner on the courts. The traditional push button methods are still in place if you really did not get on with the analogue method but, due to the nature of the method, offer much less control for the player.The game also comes loaded with PS Move functionality which is mostly satisfying, if a little imprecise. Using the glowing bobble stick you perform all the moves you would do on a real court to pull off the in-game actions. Being a tennis player myself I found the mode both liberating and frustrating. Liberating as it allowed me to feel much more involved in the game and frustrated because there was a noticeable lag to input.
Many times when I swung my arm, the racket twitched and did nothing. Not a major issue but when it happens at match point or on a break of serve it can really mess you up! Also, using the navigator or Dualshock to move your player can get very cumbersome. Opting out of this and using just the Move allows you to concentrate more on the strokes but means you are at the AIs whim for positioning on the court. That said I did enjoy the PS Move implementation, it just offered less precision than the Dualshock analogue stick method. it would certainly be more than reasonable to play the entire game with the Move, and in fact I did a whole career year that way.
The game uses a new take on the service mechanic too. Here you toss the ball either with a flick of the PS Move or using the controller. The longer you hold the service button the steeper an onscreen bell-curve gets. Release the button and the service starts. As the ball moves in the air a line scans across the bell-curve. Hitting the relevant shot at the peak of the curve gives you the most accurate and powerful shot you can manage and will, most times, lead to an oh so satisfying Ace.
The career mode offers you the chance to take a player from the outer ranks and, over a ten year career, turn them in to the worlds number one player. Each career year is split in to quarters. In each quarter you are offered a series of four tasks. You can play an exhibition match to earn ranking points, XP and gear. You can undertake training with the legend that is John McEnroe to earn skill points and improve your game. There are also Grudge matches where you can earn unlocks of equipment and tournaments to enter.
Each mode offers a nice distraction and building up XP from these events is great. The trouble is the difficulty is way off here. I appreciate I’m a tennis fan and have more than a passable level of skill in these titles but, that said, this is still lacking. Even using the Pro setting for difficulty I managed to take my created tennis player and annihilate everyone – from lowly started to top seed. I won every grudge match, exhibition and tournament going. I even managed, on Pro, to do the Grand Slam in my first year. I can’t see anyone not managing the same on normal difficulty. It means that, come year 2, you really lose the urge to carry on with the career path having seen most, if not all, the game has to offer in this mode.That said the career mode, as shallow as it might be, was good solid fun and, at least for the first few years, gave me a real buzz to be taking down these stars in straight sets.The roster of players, although expansive in many ways, is lacking on the female side of the court. With only 8 licensed players opposed to the 15 on the male roster. That said the incredible detail EA Canada (did I also mention the baconiest EA yet?) have put in to creating each of these top players traits and play styles is a very welcome addition indeed.This is especially true when you take on the dream team and historical matches found in the ESPN Grand Slam Classics mode. Play some of the legendary showdowns in tennis history or take on a dream match-up with you favourite players from now and times gone by. This mode is fairly shallow but oh-so good fun for the tennis fan.Graphically the game doesn’t exactly swing for the baseline. It manages to recreate each of the twelve licensed courts very well and the atmosphere in each builds suitably as you move from the outer courts to the central arenas. The four EA branded courts have also been well crafted, if a little “tennis game” generic. Each of the licensed players has been faithfully recreated and when this is coupled with the excellent traits modelling your favourite players really do come to life on the court.
The textures are a little lacking, the lighting way to bright and washed out and the crowds are somewhat generic. Not to mention that the crowds rarely exhibit the enthusiasm being portrayed by the games crowd noise audio track.The final niggle on the graphics front for me is the seemingly stiff nature of each characters sternum. The entire torso just seems rigid and it makes the fluid arm and legs animations seem a little out of place. This is not such an issue when you’re in play but when you get replays and close-ups it just jars.Whilst I talk of replay this game is crying out for an “upload a replay / match” type feature. Many times I had an epic rally to pound a winner from some incredible angle and win a point. It would have been great to have shared that with the world for bragging rights.
The inclusion of actual running commentary during the match is a bonus and a bugbear. The vocal talents of legendary players and real-life commentators Pat Cash and John McEnroe works incredibly well. The riffing off each other and interaction between them is natural and great to hear. Unfortunately you soon start hearing the same lines over and over. Especially if you are playing a certain way – for instance charging the net a lot. It’s a nice addition and the guys are superb but you’ll be sick of it in a couple of hours at the most. I also feel, having played a lady for a large amount of the game, some of the comment might be a little on the non-PC side at times – depends on your sensibilities if that’s something that bothers you.Multiplayer is included as you’d expect and works well. The ability to take part in global tournaments is great fun and the tickers on the game inform you of how matches have been going. Online play is smooth for the most part but playing people from further away with patchy Internet speeds sometimes means balls freezing for a few moments and other lag issues that can hamper play. for the most part though this does not severely hamper the game and online is great fun. You are free to use your own creation in the multiplayer but, unless you’ve invested significant time upgrading them, you’re at a disadvantage. Most are using the licensed pros on the courts.
As it stands Grand Slam Tennis 2 offers the definitive control scheme of any tennis title. Utilising some smart design choices means that from the point of view of recreating the game of tennis, this title probably nudges up the bar. The game is unfortunately saddled with a shallow career mode and a difficulty curve that appears to be a little more lenient than perhaps it should be. The missed opportunity of uploading games, rallies and replays is a glaring omission.
Offering an immediacy missing in most tennis coupled with the licensing and showmanship you’ve come to expect from EA. Grand Slam Tennis 2 is solid recommendation for all tennis fans and sports enthusiasts alike.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a superb example of why there should be a Grand Slam Tennis 3. Everything is in place for a truly epic tennis title. It just needs refining a little more. Luckily sequels and refining sports titles are two areas that EA excel in so I have very high hopes for the next title.