Thursday, February 9, 2012

Grand Slam Tennis 2 Review

EA Sports have proven for over two decades that they know how to make a damn good sport game. They have a strange hold over the NFL, Soccer, NHL and Golf genres and arguably set the stepping stones for 2K to wrestle control of the NBA series away from them. The big sports they have never touched in their time have been baseball, which has the PS3 exclusive The Show as well as 2K's iteration and tennis, which is led by the Top Spin series. After dabbling in tennis with Grand Slam Tennis, an arcade-like experience for the Wii it is glad to see that they have brought a true title to consoles in the only way EA know how. Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the only title this generation boasting all four Grand Slams, as well as a host of current and past stars of the game.


I have been a huge fan of the Top Spin series since day one. The reason why I chose a Xbox over the PS2 was because it came bundled with Top Spin (and a small game called Halo). The series has arguably mastered the tennis aspect of tennis, but Top Spin hasn't ever really got on board with a presentation which matches the game on-court. Matches are silent, there is no emotion displayed by the crowd and the commentators don't utter enough to make their presence felt. Grand Slam Tennis 2 has changed this with an ESPN presentation which features commentary by the famous John McEnroe and Pat Cash. Finally, this feels like a game on tennis just like you see on television. Highlights, constant commentary and instant replays replicate what the majority of us see when we tune into the Grand Slams. The larger sport franchises now have the presentation as a number one priority and it was great to see this focus transferred to EA Canada's new title.

From a graphics stand point the series has leapt over the competition bringing a new level of realism to the sport. Player models and animations are spot on, even down to the unique stances and swings of the featured players. It is so cool to see Rafa's unique forward whip in action against the silky smooth actions of someone such as Roger Federer. This P.R.O A.I. system adds photo realistic strategies and movements to these players and makes the game a joy to play. A lot of effort has gone into providing the greatest amount of detail to the four Grand Slam events. The ball will act differently depending on if you will play on grass, clay or a hard court and promotes realistic strategy changes for various environments.

The advantage of the P.R.O. A.I. system is that it doesn't only replicate the movements of players. Those unique sounds of particular women players are also in the game and you can enjoy laying back with your eyes closed while that piercing sound engulfs you. Anywhere else this would be a massive turn off, but in a tennis game Maria Sharapova's screech is iconic and it's great to see it featured in the game. Player sounds as well as the crowd reactions are realistic and superb, as are the commentators. Pat Cash and McEnroe will accurately react to what is happening in the game and respond to various situations in a match. Being their first game as commentators, they seem to be a bit short on the number of responses they have on hand. More additions to this franchise will fix this problem but for now it doesn't have the complete experience that FIFA or Madden provide for example.


In recent times it seems that board meeting at EA Sports HQ revolved around their complete disgust at buttons. While it is an option, the game encourages you to use their all new total racquet control system. Using the right analog stick, you are able to control every shot with precision and power in greater accuracy than the conventional button layout. It does take a bit to get used to, but the training sessions with John McEnroe helps ease you into it (As long as he doesn't need to shout at you for getting it wrong). After a few games you will be able to get a good handle on the system and be making shots where you want them to go. The game follows Top Spins importance of timing with good, early and late signals being made after every shot which determines the power and accuracy of the shot. With the serve, it isn't about timing and more about successfully lining up a moving bar with the middle of a power meter like older tennis games. It does work well with the thumb stick and getting it right to deliver an ace never gets old.

One of the two main games modes in Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the single player career mode. This mode takes you on a 10 year career which is completely focused on the Grand Slam Tournaments. Before each Grand Slam there is a minor tournament and possible training session with John McEnroe to improve your stats before taking on some of the giants of the tennis world on the biggest stage in the world. The difficulty spike is very odd, with year 1 being on the rookie difficulty, year 2 on the amateur, year 3 on pro and years 4-10 on superstar difficulty. What this means is that with the most basic stats possible you should easily prevail in most if not all of the Grand Slams. This isn't what happens in tennis, I feel like a more standard difficulty which makes tournaments hard while you are up and coming and Grand Slams a possibility later in life would benefit this mode. For a game that is all about realism, something as simple as pre-adjusting the difficulty has really wrecked the mode for me. There also aren't enough tournaments available. While the main focus is the Grand Slams, I would've like to see more of the ATP 1000 events featured as well as some of the more famous lead up events to the Grand Slams.

The other great mode in this game, which seems directly inspired by 2K's Legends mode in NBA 2K12, is the ESPN Grand Slam Classics. This mode puts you in the shoes of some of the greatest players from generations past as they overcome unlikely odds or amazing rivalries to finish victorious. These matches are challenging and a heap of fun to reminisce about some of the greatest moments in tennis. You start out with recent classics such as the Nadal v Federer rivalry before slowly working your way back through time taking on 25 different scenarios before eventually hitting fantasy matches which pit the best players of today against the best players of yesteryear. This mode is a heap of fun and provides the same fantastic experience that gamers loved with Michael Jordan originally in NBA 2K11.

There is also an online mode in Grand Slam Tennis 2 which lets you play a variety of singles and doubles matches as well as online tournaments. These are great fun to play with friends and the strategy of playing a real person is a lot different to trying to combat an onslaught from a CPU Djokovic. Speaking of superstars, I feel like this game just doesn't have enough. Games such as FIFA features hundreds of licensed players, yet Grand Slam Tennis 2 features 23 and 11 of those are past players. This has been a problem I've encountered in all tennis games, I would like to see EA crack down and secure licenses to all the main players on the ATP tour which would give them ultimate bragging rights over Top Spin. As I said before, more tournaments and increased commentary options would also bolster the appeal of this game.


Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a valiant effort. For their first attempt at creating a next generation tennis game they have got a lot of things right that other companies have failed to achieve after multiple sequels. The presentation is absolutely spot on and the tv experience is one which I feel is going to be matched by all tennis games from this point forward. The gameplay and controls feel solid, the classic matches are amazing but small areas let this game down a little. We need more players, more tournaments, more commentary and ultimately more options. The difficulty is the career mode is out of whack and erases the realism created in every other aspect of the game. I hope many people go out and purchase this game. With support I hope EA Canada can make future titles in the Grand Slam series and over time provide an experience which has potential to match that of the companies premier sport franchises.

Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 7.5/10
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Overall - 8/10