Last year was a huge year for tennis. Federer was knocked off his perch and Novak Djokovic started to show why he was the real deal. It promoted a lot of extra interest in the sport and the arrival of EA Sports' Grand Slam Tennis franchise in 2009 couldn't have been more perfect. But unlike the first iteration, this time around they've moved away from the cartoony graphics and gone for the hardcore simulation crowd "“ something which may have been a bad move. Nice licences are great, but they mean little if the essence of the sport isn't captured and that's what's happened here.
The core of the Grand Slam Tennis 2 experience is the career mode. Here, you create your own tennis player, kit them up with merchandise and try to take on the tennis world by storm.
It never really kicks off though. You're able to play in the main tournaments, but the career mode will never grip you, mainly because it doesn't simulate a proper career. Instead, everything is built around the different grand slams. Before each slam, you can take part in a smaller tournament, do some rather easy/pointless training or take part in an exhibition match. After that, you're straight into the slam.
The slam itself is also rather lifeless. You see the draw, which is made up of a combination of real and fake players and then you're straight into the matches. Rinse and repeat until the tournament is over, then you just move onto the next one. You do get a little summary after each match, where your rank improves (which doesn't make much sense), but this part of the game feels a little limp on the whole.
The gameplay doesn't offer much of an improvement either, which there being very little emphasis on realism. EA Sports are always trying to push the use of analog sticks these days and in Grand Slam Tennis 2, this is no different. It sees the arrival of Total Racket Control, a system where you can pretty much control your entire shot repertoire using the right analog stick. The premise here, is that by using different motions, you can choose different shots. For example, if you pull the stick down and release, this will be a slice "“ push down and then push up and you'll perform a top spin shot.
You can see why they've done this, but the problem comes with its implementation "“ it just doesn't work very well. Often, when trying to perform a slice, you'll end up performing another type of shot and this doesn't even take into consideration that when using this control scheme, the aiming of shots is also performed using the right analog stick.
It's a lot easier to just use a traditional control scheme, but even here the button placement is a little weird. Typically, you'd have the three different shot types aligned across the bottom three buttons, but EA has chosen to assign slice to both Square and Circle, with X being for normal shots and Triangle for top spin. This is a bit of a moot point though, because the different shots all feel rather similar.It represents a fundamental flaw with the game, when you have three rather distinct types of shot, which all feel the same. The only difference is that the trail behind the ball is a different colour. Even the hit animation is pretty much the same, which is rather odd considering sliced shots are completely different. It all just points to a game that has some severe issues from the simulation side of things. EA Sports has also attempted to implement a timing aspect to proceedings, but if you go into the training mode, you can see that it makes no real different whatsoever.
As long as you hit the ball roughly at the right time, power will never fall below say, 75 percent. So, the difference between a perfect shot and a rather bad one, is 25 percent. It's just baffling. Why have a timing mechanic in there, if it makes so little difference to the power and direction of your shots?
One of the better parts is the serving, but this again doesn't present much of a challenge. It has a risk/reward feel to it, but everything is very visible. You have to hold the button down, which creates a graph with a peak on it. You then have to hit the top of the peak to get the best serve "“ fall outside of this and your serve will go out. If you're feeling unsure, hold the button for less time and the margin for error isn't as much of an issue.
This in itself again highlights a problem though "“ the fact that it's so difficult to have errors in this game. It's almost impossible to hit the ball out of play, or even into the net. It's slightly easier to hit serves out, but most of the time the only way to do anything is to hit a winner.
AI is also a problem though. It's so predictable it makes the entire experience rather boring. As with the original Grand Slam Tennis, the best way to win is to just rush the net as soon as possible. If you don't, it's only a matter of time until the AI rushes the net. It makes the experience very one dimensional.
Presentation is Grand Slam Tennis 2's strongest point, if you ignore the lack of a slice shot animation. The players all look great, with their individual mannerisms all in place. John McEnroe and Pat Cash also provide some rather nice commentary in the short term, but they do start to repeat themselves rather quickly, which is a real shame.
Grand Slam Tennis 2's best suit comes with its online play, and this is where the game may see its only real lasting appeal come into play. However, with the simulation aspect not being the best, it may still become a bit of a frustrating affair, with rallies that are way longer than they need to be and people just rushing to the net at the first opportunity.
Last year was a big year for tennis, and not just in the real world. In video games, competitors raised the bar for what we expect from a tennis simulation and in many ways, Grand Slam Tennis 2 fails to live up to these new expectations. The career mode is under-whelming and the actual gameplay isn't much better either. It's a good first step though, and if EA Sports do decide to continue with Grand Slam Tennis, the only way is up.
|Create-a-player player has some nice options|
|McEnroe and Cash are good in short doses.|
|The core gameplay just doesn't do tennis justice.|
|Career mode feels far too basic.|
|Total Racket Control is a dud.|