Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a followup game to Grand Slam Tennis (a Nintendo Wii exclusive title), but cannot really be considered a sequel. The game is entirely different from that of the Wii, and has been released for the Xbox 360 as well as PS3 (but not on Wii). It is the first EA Sports tennis title to grace an HD console, and comes up against the tennis sim Top Spin, as well as Virtua Tennis, featuring an arcade tennis style.
As the name suggests gameplay is based around the four Tennis Grand Slam Tournaments, having secured the license to all four Slams including exclusively featuring Wimbledon. The career mode should be the major highlight for the game, but sadly the game serves up a series of disappointing double faults and unforced errors.
The idea is not new – create a player from scratch, then take it through a career (in this game the player has a finite career spanning 10 useful playing years). Similar to tennis games that have preceded it, the career mode centers around the major Slams each year, with players choosing to build up to these Slams in a number of ways including exhibition matches, warm-up tournaments, or training. Each of these offers different ways to build up your player’s attributes as they aim for Grand Slam glory, and the chance to take the number 1 crown.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 introduces the Total Racquet control system, which basically maps the left analogue stick to controlling player movement, while the right stick mimics the swing of the tennis racquet (much in the same way recent golf games have used the right stick to mimic the swing of the club). No buttons are used at all in the control scheme, although players that hate these controls can choose to use the four face buttons in the same fashion as other tennis games to hit flat, slice, and top-spin shots.
To hit a flat shot, the right stick is pushed forward from neutral in the direction you intend the ball to travel. To hit with topspin, the right stick is pulled downwards to "wind back" before pushing it up in the same fashion. Slice is hit by pulling the stick back and then returning it back to neutral as your player swings through the ball. It takes a little getting used to, but the training sessions with a condescending John McEnroe will bring new players up to speed. The controls work reasonably well, but occasionally the ball travelled off in the opposite direction than intended, or the swing failed to make contact with the ball for no apparent reason resulting in embarrassment. The whole experience felt a little like playing with Wii motion controls – most of the time it works fine and feels natural, but intermittently a gesture doesn’t seem to register as you had intended it. The PlayStation 3 version of the game supports Move for controls, but ButtonMasher was sent the Xbox 360 version for review, which does not support Kinect controls.
The presentation of the game retains the "TV presentation" style which is common to most sports games these days. While the courts are reasonably well presented, they certainly didn’t blow me away graphically like Top Spin 4 did. The game carries heavy licensing, from its Wimbledon exclusivity, to a large roster of current and former "Legends". All the big names are there – unlike previous tennis games with licensing issues all top four men’s players are present, as well as Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters. It’s nice for the game to have a number of past legends, but it’s rather surreal to be facing Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semi-final only to then face Boris Becker in the final. While the game on many facets aims for realism, it’s hard to ignore how ludicrous this all feels.
This would be excusable perhaps, if the Career Mode didn’t make itself essentially unplayable with AS (Artificial Stupidity) that should never have made it past QC. My player, a brand new fresh Pro, advanced through his first warm-up tournament without dropping a single game. Thinking that the game may have somehow defaulted to incredibly easy settings by virtue of looking at my EA Sports gamer account, I checked the settings to find that they were on a medium setting. I changed up to the most difficult "Superstar" setting, and resumed the game – once again I hardly dropped any points as I breezed through to win my first Slam.
I thought that perhaps this was just a (dumb) nuance of the Career Mode whereby the difficult would increase as you advance (the reverse of what is usual given that you start out with a player with low attributes, which improve as your career advances), but found that in an exhibition match I was able to easily dispose of top players even on the Superstar mode. As in real-life tennis, "timing" of the stroke determines the accuracy of the shot, but even very poorly timed shots in Superstar mode are not punished harshly enough, with very few balls hitting the net or ending up out of the court.
It’s sad that such a fatal flaw could have made it into the Career Mode, but it’s something that could be corrected with a patch. It is definitely possible for the game to have a better balance in difficult, because the other major game mode – ESPN Grand Slam Classics – does offer a much more challenging gameplay experience. In this mode, there are an impressive number of historical Grand Slam scenarios available to reenact. The scenarios are varied, and is far more engaging than the disappointing Career Mode.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 can be considered a "version 1.0", but the number of bugs in the game make it feel like an untested product. Aside from the problems already mentioned, a number of other bugs spoil the overall experience. In a tennis gaming first, Pat Cash and John McEnroe provide play-by play commentary. If feels very much like a first too, because it is truly awful – well perhaps it’s ok the first game you play, but when it’s the same record played over and over again every single game… you get the picture. Not only do Cash and McEnroe fail to stop talking when the play restarts (therefore talking during the point – an absolute no-no), the commentary is sometimes factually incorrect too.
Other aspects of the in game presentation fall short also. In long rallies the crowd "oohs" and "ahhs" when exciting recovery shots are played, but when the rally is finally won they are dead silent. And when a player converts match point, he turns back as if to walk back to the service line to continue to match (which then cuts to celebration). Another game bug allowed me to participate in the same tournament twice in a row.
The game offers online singles play, or doubles if you have a local offline partner to play with on the same console. There were not a huge number of players in the lobbies available to play with, but when connected games were playable, albeit with some annoying lag. Grand Slam Tennis 2 was intended to require an EA Sports Online Pass to play online, but due to "technical reasons with the code registration system", the requirement has been canned.
EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a late entry into the tennis gaming market, and will certainly improve as the inevitable sequels follow. Unfortunately with well refined tennis games already out in the market, the faults of this game are all too clear. Hopefully some of these faults can be fixed by way of system update, because if these could be resolved then Grand Slam Tennis 2 would represent a reasonable opening serve from the EA Sports team.