Developer: EA Canada / Pubisher: EA / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone [No Descriptors]
With successful franchises in just about every other sport, EA has decided to step on Centre Court and see if they can serve up an ace in the form of Grand Slam Tennis 2. In a complete 180 from the first title on the Wii, Grand Slam Tennis 2 has HD graphics, every grand slam venue to play on, solid online modes, and tennis’ current stars as well as the legends of the past as playable characters. With plenty of other tennis games out there, does this one have what it takes to become the world number one in tennis video games?
There is plenty to keep you busy in Grand Slam Tennis 2. The game sports a roster of current men’s and women’s players, stars like Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic for the guys, and the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, and Ana Ivanovic for the ladies. Aside from the current stars of the game, a good amount of past tennis pros are playable: John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, and Pete Sampras are a few of the men, and Justine Henin and Lindsay Davenport a few of the ladies. These characters don’t play any different from one another, but the game leans heavily on the male side of talent, leaving out many current and past females stars. Gamers wanting to play as their favorite women’s tennis stars will be disappointed with the game’s paltry selection.
Career mode allows you to create your very own tennis superstar and guide them to the coveted world number one status. Much like in Virtua Tennis 4 and Top Spin 4, you can engage in training sessions to earn attribute points to distribute to your future legend, increasing stats like forehand power, speed, and accuracy. Grand Slam Tennis 2 houses all four grand slam tennis venues (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open) and imitates the look and feel of those tournaments’ premiere courts. For example, all clothing while playing at Wimbledon must be white, just as it would be in the real tournament. The difficulty in career mode scales after each successful year of play, ensuring you’re always challenged and things don’t get boring or repetitive. It’s fun to make a character and see them rock Roger Federer’s world, but don’t expect anything that you haven’t already done in other games in the genre. With few activities to do during each calendar year (training session, exhibition match, and tournament) and a repetitive nature, career mode gets bland all too fast. This mode is the meatiest part of the single player experience, and I was really let down by the generic feel of the mode.
Exhibitions can be played if you want to get into a game quickly. Tennis school teaches you the intricacies of the game like how to perform slice shots, powerful serves, and the effectiveness of volleying at the net. Easily the coolest addition to the series is ESPN Grand Slam classics mode, which has you recreating some of the greatest tennis matches throughout the last 30 years. The 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal is considered to by many to be one of the greatest matches in the history of the sport, and the game allows you to play as one of the two athletes during this historic match. These matches don’t change anything to actual gameplay but come off as really awesome moments for fans of the sport.
Last, and certainly not least, is the handful of online modes. Ranked matches over Xbox Live determine who the best Grand Slam Tennis 2 player in the world truly is. The game attempts to put you in a match with someone of equal skill but it’s not always the case that you can find someone of similar skill and might end of getting bageled. In a very nice touch, at the bottom of the screen between matches the ESPN ticker displays the outcome of the most recent ranked matches, so you can see who’s online as well as their current world ranking. Tournament play is also available online, if you want something other than single matches. The Share A Pro option allows you to create a player and upload them for others to view, rate, and download to their game. All and all, Grand Slam Tennis 2 gives the player a ton of options on how to play the game. Though the career mode is by the books, everything else is exciting and worthwhile.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 has two very different controls styles to use during gameplay (three if you have the PS3 version and Move). The first and more traditional style is Arcade. With this control setup each button hits a different type of shot: one button for top spin, one for flat, one for slice, etc. Simply tapping the button and holding the left control stick in the direction you want the ball to go is all you need to do. Holding a shot button down for a short time before executing the shot results in a more powerful hit. Timing plays a big part in the game: if you are too early or too late when hitting the ball your shot won’t be as effective.
The other control setup is called Total Racquet Control, and I’ve never experienced anything else like it. Instead of using the buttons to determine which type of shot to hit, you use the right control stick as though it were your racquet. As you approach the ball, flick the right stick up and to the right and you’ll hit the ball in that direction. Pulling the stick back before pushing it forward changes your shot to a top spin or slice shot instead of a normal flat shot. It definitely takes some time getting used to, but once you get the hang of Total Racquet Control it feels very natural and is a perfectly viable control method. You’re never bound to one style or the other, so you can decide mid-match whether or not to use the Arcade controls or the Total Racquet Controls. Whatever you choose, the game handles very well.
Sound & Visuals
The sound in this game can really be narrowed down to exactly one thing: live commentary. During every match you play, tennis legends Pat Cash and John McEnroe commentate on the action that’s happening on the court. Cash usually gives you the play by play, narrating when a player hits a forehand winner or when their shot just clips the baseline. McEnroe gives insightful tips and analysis of the game, like explaining the pros and cons of volleying, or when a lob is appropriate. Some conversations are definitely overplayed (I can’t tell you how many times McEnroe explained to me the benefits of hitting my shots deep), but they sound great from a technical standpoint.
The rest of the game’s sound isn’t as impressive. Sound effects like player’s grunts and the crowd cheering is usually drowned out by the ranting of Cash and McEnroe. Visually the game is miles above its predecessor, featuring HD graphics and a crisp presentation. Accurate representations of the players make the experience feel more real: Borg is wearing is iconic headband, the older players use wooden racquets, Nadal bounces the ball a million times before finally serving if, and so on. The game, much like Top Spin 4, doesn’t get player’s faces quite right, as they still come off as uncanny imitations of their real life counterparts. Overall the game sounds good if you enjoy hearing people commentate while you play, and the visuals are a marked improvement over the last game in the series.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a good game of tennis. Career mode and online play offer up what you’d expect from a tennis game, albeit an uninspired experience that doesn’t distinguish itself from its competitors. The game is helped by two unique and effective control schemes that offer up a completely new way to play. Grand Slam Tennis 2 appeals greatly to tennis fans and does a valiant job of giving those players everything they’d want in a tennis sim.
8 / 10