EA Sports has for long looked to stamp its authority on every popular sport in the world, which is why it’s been surprising that it’s stayed away from tennis for so long. It’s popular, it’s glamorous and there are publishers who’ve been cashing in on it with their own tennis games for years. Late to the party they may be, but in signature EA Sports style, they’ve come into the fray boasting every official license you can think of. Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the only tennis game to officially feature all four Grand Slams. That’s all well and good, but its true test lies in the gameplay department.
The first Grand Slam Tennis game was exclusive to the Wii. It featured a cartoony art style along with gameplay that was more geared towards casual Wii Sports players than seasoned Top Spin fans. With Grand Slam Tennis 2 coming to the Xbox 360 and PS3, there is a clear shift in focus and target audience, thanks to a more realistic art style and gameplay mechanics that attempt to compete with Virtua Tennis 4 and Top Spin 4. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering this is an EA Sports game, but the game does a bang up job in the presentation department. Player models look life-like, venues are modeled well, and the action, in both gameplay and cutscenes, is smooth as can be.
This is the only tennis game to feature commentary, and that too by legends Pat Cash and John McEnroe. But don’t expect FIFA-like accurate, play-by-play banter. The sound bytes here are more like long, dull monologues about the various playing styles. Only occasionally will you hear the commentators remark on a winning shot, and even that feels unenthusiastic and out of place. That said, some commentary is better than none at all, and it beats hearing just a tennis ball being pinged up and down.
Aside from playing exhibition matches and tournaments, Grand Slam Tennis 2 features a career mode that spans ten years, by the end of which, your goal is to conquer all the Grand Slams and reach the number one ranking. Those who’ve played the older Fight Night games will be right at home with the player creation and customization tools, using which you could come up with a fairly good likeness of yourself or your favorite player, should they be missing from the game’s roster. That’s unlikely though, because the roster is well represented with a mix of all the current stars as well as many former greats, such as Sampras, Borg, Navratilova, etc. The only notable absences were Agassi and Graf.
Select your player from the greats
A ten year career mode might sound beefy, but it really isn’t. Each year basically consists of the four Grand Slam tournaments separated by two events between each of them. For these two events, you could either choose between training, an exhibition match, or a mini-tournament. While training helps improve your player’s skills, exhibition matches help you unlock items and gear, while mini-tournaments are the best way to earn XP. It’s all very basic and nowhere near as engaging as what you’d find in Virtua Tennis 4 or Top Spin 4.
Grand Slam Tennis 2’s biggest drawback, however, is its gameplay. There’s nothing seriously wrong with it, but nothing overly exciting either. It’s inoffensive and safe, and it sits uncomfortably in between Virtua Tennis 4’s ping-pong arcade fare and Top Spin 4’s more methodical approach. The serving mechanism works quite well, using timing to determine power and accuracy. Other controls work just as you’re used to; face buttons to play the various strokes, with the shoulder and trigger buttons used as drop and lob modifiers. What really irked me is how the game randomly decides which shots fall in and which fall out of bounds. At times, I’ve completely overpowered and mistimed shots, and they fell inside the court, while at other times, a perfectly timed volley looped hopelessly out of bounds. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to it whatsoever!
If you’d like a change from the standard controls, the game includes the Total Racquet Control system, which again like the Fight Night games, lets you use the right analog stick for strokeplay. But while it works well in combat sports like boxing and MMA, it feels out of place here. You’re better off sticking to the traditional controls, and if you’re on the PS3, ditch the controller entirely and dust off the Move.
Motion control implementation via Playstation Move is perhaps the only real argument I can make in favor of Grand Slam Tennis 2. While both Virtua Tennis 4 and Top Spin 4 also support Move, its implementation felt like a half-hearted afterthought. Here, it feels organic; like the game was meant to be played with Move (the game doesn’t support Kinect). The fabled 1:1 accuracy is in evidence here, and a turn of the wrists lets you accurately pull off top spins and slices. You could use the navigation controller for movement, but we found it best using just a Move controller, with player movement left up to the AI. We did have some issues with the serving as the camera wouldn’t always pick up our serve action, and when it did, getting the timing right wasn’t easy.
Be the Grand Slam Champ!
If you’re desperate for a tennis game that puts Move to good use, then pick this up. But that’s about the only thing Grand Slam Tennis 2 has going for it. If you want a deep gameplay experience and a beefy career mode, Virtua Tennis 4 and Top Spin 4 have more to offer.
The game is priced at Rs. 2,799 for the PS3 version and Rs. 2,599 for the 360.