A few years back EA Sports introduced Wii gamers to Grand Slam tennis. At the time it was a cartoony arcade funfest, with less emphasis on real world tennis and more emphasis on good ole Wii Motion fun. For EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis 2 the development team has totally switched gears and have gone in the opposite direction of the first game. We now get a realistic looking and playing tennis game for us big boys. Featuring a slew of real world tennis stars, and a deep career mode that spans 10 years of tennis action.
There are many features that set Grand Slam Tennis 2 apart from the first game and from the recent competition. To start EA Sports continues their push into thumbstick only controls. Grand Slam Tennis 2 sports what is called Total Racquet Control. Using the right stick you can control the power, direction and type of swing you complete. Flicking up in a direction will result in a standard flat shot in the direction you flicked the thumbstick. Holding the thumbstick back then flicking in a direction will result in a power swing. And the always important back spin and top spin shots are performed by flicking back and then forward. While at first it is a bit complicated, after a bit of playing I was able to move my opponent all over the court using these new controls. The most difficult part of the Total Racquet Control scheme is when serving. Landing powerful serves are a cinch, but getting the direction down just doesn’t seem to work well. I’ll do the same movements with the thumbstick and at times the serve will land in the middle of the box, and at other times I’ll nail the center line, which usually ends up being an ace.
Another spot the thumbstick controls lack are when playing the net, I just felt like I could never time quick volley shots as well as I could with the buttons. But on the bright side, Total Racquet Control and classic button controls work together. So when playing the net you can use the buttons for split second timing, and when playing the baseline you can use the thumbstick for powerful direction shots.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 has a huge roster of current and past tennis stars. From the Williams sisters to Federer and John McEnroe, who sports his classic 80′s hair style and gear. All of the tennis stars are re-created quite well in both appearance and play. The P.R.O. AI system boasts each superstar’s signature swings and playing tactics and style. The AI also adapts to your playing style as the match unfolds. If you get into repetition of playing the baseline to start the match, towards the latest games you’ll notice your opponent start dropping shots close to the net.
As far as game modes go, all the normal sports genre modes are present. But two modes are a bit unique to Grand Slam Tennis 2. First the career mode spans 10 years. You build your tennis star from the ground up as you face off against all the stars of today and yesterday. To begin with you can create your own character or use the always impressive EA Gameface and put yourself into the game. As your career unfolds you’ll be playing in various exhibition events and Grand Slam Tournaments, including Wimbledon. Each week you have a choice of training, exhibition or participating in an event which could be a Grand Slam or just another lead up event. As a whole the career mode is good, but my biggest complaint is that I’ve gone undefeated and have already won some major Grand Slam titles even without successfully completing any training. While it does seem to slowly be increasing in difficulty, I feel it’s quite unrealistic that a new comer to the tennis scene can right out of the gate be winning big events. I kinda like how the career in Tiger Woods PGA Tour has been structured, you start in small events and work your way up to Pro-Am then into the Pro level events. A similar structure would have worked really well for Grand Slam Tennis 2. Limiting you to exhibition and training matches for the first 6 to 8 months, then moving into exhibition tournaments from month 6 to 12. Then allowing you to move into the bigger tournaments. While I’m only into year two of my career the difficulty of the mode is tiered, year 2 is Amateur level, year 3 sees the game move you to Pro difficulty, and then years 4-10 will have the game set at Superstar difficulty.
The one part of career mode that keeps you coming back for more, are all the challenges. Challenges are broken down in three ways, you have overall career challenges, then yearly challenges and finally match challenges. The career and yearly challenges are pretty much beat X person and win X event. The match challenges vary a bit more, you’ll be taksed with hitting X number of forehand winners, X number of aces, or winning with no more the X number of faults. All these challenges award you career points which help you level up your skills.
The other interesting game mode is ESPN Grand Slam Classic. In this mode you play through 25 classic Grand Slam match-ups and relive history. This mode will be a blast for hardcore tennis fans, and a fun challenge for the more novice fans. As I said there are also the normal Play Now and Online modes. In both instances you can play either against or with a friend, both online and offline. And if you have some time to kill you can create your own tournament with 4-128 players. The bottom-line is there are enough different modes to keep you occupied for a while.
Visually the game is quite stunning. The top stars of tennis have been realistically recreated in digital form. The courts you’ll be playing on from around the world are also recreated quite well, and each venue has a unique look and feel to it. What is also really nice with the venues, is each has multiple courts. So as a tournament unfolds you’ll find yourself playing on different courts at the same venue, not just he same court over and over again. The ESPN broadcast presentation is also very clean and minimalistic, allowing you a great view of the on court action. Each tournament has unique broadcast graphic color schemes, and their own replay transitions. I would have liked to see an option to change the camera angle, as it does feel a bit far away from the action. But what is really nice is the replay system. Instead of subjecting you to replays after every point, you’ll get automatic replays after big points, long volleys or big plays. However with the quick press of the X button you can fire off an on-demand replay to your hearts content.
While the game looks visually great, the sound department isn’t as good, mainly due to the repetitive and boring commentary from John McEnroe and Pat Cash. Pretty much every match seems to have the same exact commentary. If you are serving the possible winning game the commentary will always begin with the same conversation about whether or not you should play the lines on your serves. You will pretty much know the commentary by heart after your third match. What also is really surprising is the lack of recorded names, everyone is referred to player during the commentary. This really surprises me since all other EA Sports titles seem to have some depth in the commentary department.
On the positive side the on court sound effects and crowd noises are good. From the sounds of your shoes on the different surfaces, to the crowds growing energy as a volley count rises.
I’m glad to see EA Sports taking the Grand Slam Tennis series into a more realistic realm. Grand Slam Tennis 2 has quite a few bright spots, and is quite an enjoyable tennis game to play. The amount of detail put into the visuals of the game are amazing. From the look of each tennis star to the replication of their movements and mannerisms. The career mode is decent, yet I would have liked to see a more realistic approach like Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. A new tennis player isn’t going to be able to go undefeated in all Grand Slam events his first year. Being limited to exhibition events and then earning a shot in big tournaments would have been much more enjoyable. The games biggest short coming is the commentary. Besides being very boring, it get repetitive really quick.
EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis 2 will be a welcomed addition to any tennis fans video game library. There are hours upon hours of tennis action to be had and you’ll find yourself sucked into your decade long career really easily.
A copy of EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis 2 for Xbox 360 was provided to us for this review from EA Sports.