I would be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t start my review of Grand Slam Tennis 2 by fully disclosing that I am a huge tennis fan. It’s one of the few genres that to this day I get major butterflies inside when I hear that a new tennis video game is coming out. So it will now come to you as no surprise that one of my most anticipated titles of the first half of 2011 was Grand Slam Tennis 2, EA’s first tennis outing on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. So does Grand Slam Tennis 2 have what it take to compete with the reigning king Top Spin 4?
EA’s first tennis outing in the Grand Slam Tennis franchise came on the Wii a few years back to critical success but then we never saw the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 versions of the game which were eventually cancelled. Now we have Grand Slam Tennis 2 (absent from the Wii) which for the Xbox 360 which I am reviewing the game for is completely without motion controls altogether. Instead the developers have adopted analog stick controls very similar to what you would find in EA’s Fight Night series.
In fact the most conflicting portion of Grand Slam Tennis 2 has to be its controls which depending on who you talk to are either the game’s best or worst feature. In my humble opinion after hours and hours of time with the game I find it to be one of the game’s biggest failures. Serving is done as you would expect, pull back on the right analog stick, and push forward. This works well, but it’s the ground strokes where certain things start to break up. Depending on how you flick the stick on ground strokes will either be a flat shot, top spin, or slice. By hitting one of the trigger buttons you can then hit a lob or drop shot.
Why my less than stellar take on the controls? Well first off the accuracy of using the right analog stick doesn’t give you as much control over your shots as you would expect. The other big issue is timing which is crucial for making sure your shots have any sort of pace or depth. The system is far to touchy and the difference between a beautiful cross court shot that glides off the baseline to a dinky short shot is extremely small. Luckily EA allows you to use the face buttons which for ground strokes I found to be far more responsive.
The big game mode in Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the career mode which allows you to create a tennis player and take him/her through a ten year career. Each year you have eight tournaments that you can take part in; the four grand slams, and four tune ups. You have the opportunity to take part in rivalry matches as well as training. The biggest issue I had with the mode was the fact that mandates that you play the first year of the career mode on the easiest difficulty and ratchets one difficulty level up each year. So as I created my player and jumped into the Australian Open to my disbelief I was winning matches without losing a point to players that had 30-40+ overall ability rankings to my new player. There is no option that I could discover that allows you to change the difficulty setting in the career mode which is a huge bummer.
Outside of the career mode you do have the ability to play in some historical matches which is a nice feature. There is also online play which seems to work well but I did experience some weird lag that made the matches less than competitive.
What saves Grand Slam Tennis 2 from being a disaster is the actual tennis itself that is quite impressive. Unlike the Top Spin franchise the developers have managed to make big serves and net play a viable weapon. Baseline rallies can also prove to be quite thrilling with a very acute way of mirroring player’s actual real life tendencies. My only remaining gripe is in the slice shots which as any casual tennis fan knows is mostly used as a defensive or setup shot where here it actually proves to be far more on the offensive side of things.
Visually Grand Slam Tennis 2 is quite the looker. Whether you’re on the grass at Wimbledon or the red clay of Roland Garros the recreation of the sport is beautifully done. The one caveat I have to the visuals are the odd markers that fly around with each shot representing the top of spin used on each shot which can be distracting. Outside of that small annoyance which can be turned off in the settings the game proves to be one of the most beautiful sports games available today. My only other wish was there were more tournaments to compete on outside of the eight included.
Did I mention that Grand Slam Tennis 2 has commentary? I believe it’s the first full implementation of commentary in a tennis video game. The booth is manned by John McEnroe and Pat Cash who do a decent job of letting you know what’s going on, but there amount of dialogue choices is far too short for anyone planning to put some series hours into the game. With even the games drawbacks the actual tennis itself is actually still quite good. It has a lot of great set pieces and manages to use them pretty well.
Does Grand Slam Tennis 2 compete with Top Spin 4? On the surface it does give the reigning king a run at it but manages to fall short. The career mode is limiting, the analog stick controls need refining, and the game itself doesn’t have the depth that sports games have become accustom to in recent years. Although I enjoyed my time with Grand Slam Tennis 2 there is still plenty of room for improvement and my hope is that EA doesn’t give up on the young series and comes back with an ace in its follow-up.