Note: This review was done using the Xbox 360 version of the game. It is also available on Playstation 3.
It is common knowledge that as technology improves, so to do the games we play. Every generation of games has seen leaps in graphical fidelity, artificial intelligence, music and control, amongst other things. With these technological leaps games have become an entertainment medium that is beginning to rival film and television, at least in presentation if not in content. However, at their core games are still meant to be played and nowhere in the medium is this more evident than in the sports genre.
Sure, the presentation of sports games has improved by leaps and bounds this generation and that certainly is appreciated but having a television style presentation does nothing for a game if it controls horribly. EA Sports knows this and more than anything this generation they have worked on refining the controls to offer the most natural and immersive sporting experience in games, and for the most part they have succeeded, which brings us to Grand Slam Tennis 2.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 ditches the cartoonish look of its predecessor and delivers something more in line with the look and feel of the rest of the EA Sports brand. Further drawing it in closer to the rest of the brand is the incorporation of the total control system featured in games like FIFA, NHL and Fight Night. The total control system, which grants players control over the most important aspects of each individual game, has been aptly named Total Racquet Control for Grand Slam Tennis 2 and as the name implies it grants players simulated control over the tennis racquet via the right analog stick.
Some players are going to love Total Racquet Control; I am not one of them. Unlike in FIFA and NHL, where the right analog stick control feels natural to the actions being performed, hitting the ball in Grand Slam Tennis 2 felt the exact opposite. Growing up I played tennis and the way I was taught to return shots was to hit through the ball and drive it across the net, the Total Racquet Control in Grand Slam Tennis 2 does not do this. To return a shot, the right stick needs to be pulled back and “powered” up, which makes logical sense, but instead of driving the stick forward to hit the ball the system requires you to release the stick. This effectively makes the system feel limp.
Fortunately if one cannot, or does not care to, adapt to the right stick controls, Grand Slam Tennis 2 features a fully accessible and entirely useable “arcade” control system. Each different type of shot is mapped to a button or a combination of buttons, playing much more like a traditional console tennis game. While in practice the “arcade” system functions the same as the right stick controls, pressing down on the button before impact powers up shots and releasing it hits the ball, it just feels more natural to play the game this way.
Regardless of a player’s chosen control style, there is a lot of actual tennis action packed into Grand Slam Tennis 2, most of which is really good. The game sports all the typical game modes that are to be expected of a sport game in this generation, a quick match option, career mode and online play complete with actual tournaments. Additionally, the game features a series of historical Grand Slam scenarios with legendary players that can be relived. While these historical scenarios are great fun, and an awesome challenge, the lack of unique commentary from announcers John McEnroe and Pat Cash is highly disappointing and an obvious missed opportunity.
The rest of the game modes though deliver almost without fail, except of course for the awkward difficulty system implemented into the career mode. Instead of offering the player the opportunity to select their own difficulty level in career mode, the game uses a tiered system that starts players out on the lowest difficulty setting and gradually ramps it up in each progressive season. The problem with this system is that on the lowest difficulty setting, the game is far too easy. I made quick work of every opponent I came up against, easily winning the four major Grand Slam tournaments. Anyone that follows tennis knows that winning even just one of the four majors in a career is a big deal and winning all four is a career defining achievement. Needless to say, winning all four tournaments in my rookie season took a lot of wind out of my desire to play through my created character’s career. A selectable difficulty level for the career mode would have gone a long way to making the game far more enjoyable.
Aside from that odd design choice, the game delivers a solid tennis experience on nearly all fronts. However, there are a couple of detracting factors that prevent Grand Slam Tennis 2 from entering into the realm of great sports titles. While the game features some of the great tennis players of all time, there are some very high profile omissions, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Steffi Graf to name just a few. Sure some things need to be left out for potential sequels but it is still somewhat disappointing in the here and now from the player perspective.
Additionally, there is the issue of the color commentary; play-by-play announcing in sports games has forever been subpar with repetitious lines plaguing the experience. The announcing team of Pat Cash and John McEnroe is actually quite good, delivering commentary that actually sounds natural but unfortunately there just are not a lot of the exchanges and very quickly things get repetitious. As mentioned, this is an issue with most sports games but unlike in those games where the announcing is dynamic to the play on the field and masks the repetitious commentary, tennis is a sport where commentary plays the primary announcing role and the repetition sticks out like a sore thumb.
Despite these issues, Grand Slam Tennis 2 currently offers the best tennis available on home consoles. Because it features all four of the major tournaments, the game feels more authentic than say the Virtua Tennis games, and the gameplay is just as solid if not marginally better. It is a very good tennis game and a great first (second) attempt at the sport from Electronic Arts.
- Solid tennis action.
- Historical scenarios are great fun.
- Online play is super competitive.
- Difficulty in career mode breaks the experience.
- Many legends are noticeably absent from the roster.
- Commentary is highly repetitious.
4 / 5