Disclaimer: this is a review of the single-player modes. The code we received could not connect to online matches, and EA couldn’t get another copy out in time.
I seem to have become the tennis master here at TSA Towers, reviewing both Top Spin 4 and Virtua Tennis 4 last year. These two franchises cater to very different audiences, with Top Spin aiming for the sim aspect of tennis, and Virtua Tennis taking care of the arcade crowd. However, EA’s Grand Slam Tennis 2 looks to be trying to combine the best of both worlds.
The original Grand Slam Tennis was released back in 2009 for the Wii. Forsaking realistic visuals for a cartoon-like appearance, the game was one of the first to use the (then) brand new Wii Motion Plus add-on. This time around things are different; with realistic visuals and terms such as ‘Total Racquet Control’ and ‘P.R.O AI’ pushed to the forefront it’s clear that EA means business.
Total Racquet Control gets rid of the need for controller buttons, instead mapping every single shot to the right thumb-stick. Yes you heard me correctly; your volley, flat, top spin, smash, slice, and serve are all taken care of with one stick. This is why the training mode is so important, as it teaches you the various inputs of different shots and how to vary the power.
For example, pulling back on the stick then pushing it up and to the right will produce a top spin shot towards the right corner of the court. However, a quick flick of the stick down and right will produce a slice to the left side of the court. Where the ball lands is dictated by the angle you move the thumb-stick, adding another layer of strategy to every match.
I’ll be honest, written down it sounds needlessly complex, but in motion it’s an absolute joy to use. Sure at first you’ll mistime serves and mess up a few shots, but when it clicks you won’t want to go back. Eventually it becomes second nature and you’ll be able to hit your mark automatically. I recently played Virtua Tennis 4 on Vita, and whilst it’s still a good game using the buttons to control the shots felt a bit, dare I say it, old fashioned.
Move is also supported on the PlayStation 3, with the option to use either the Move and Navigation controller, or just Move. I wasn’t too keen on the solo Move option, as the computer controls your players movement which felt a tad slow. The Move and Navigation set-up fared better and is enjoyable to use, but still not a patch on using a controller with Total Racquet Control. The motion controls are a nice addition, but just sticking with a controller and Total Racquet Control is the best way to go if you really want to get into the game.
Next up is ‘P.R.O AI’. Essentially this means capturing every player’s mannerisms as much as possible, be it the way Nadal swings for a forehand shot or the banshee-like noise of Sharapova. This system is also meant to adapt to how you play, so if you continuously fire off flat shots to the left the AI will catch on and position itself accordingly. On the harder settings this works really well, and every point is a battle as you try and out-think your opponent.
In terms of content, you’ll be spending a fair chunk of time in the career mode. This mode spans ten in-game years and sees you take a created character from rank 100 right up to the top of the table. The main highlight of the career is being able to compete in the grand slam tournaments, which EA has obtained the licence to use. However, you won’t get far without levelling up your character via training, which focuses on certain areas, and exhibition matches which unlock attribute points and new tennis gear to give your player a stat boost.
Everything you do earns points, which help you climb the ranks. Of course you’re going to want to get the win in as many matches as possible, but every match also comes with two secondary objectives, such as “break the opponent’s serve”, earning you additional points if you manage to fulfil them. It’s an interesting distraction, and encourages you to try out different shots and play-styles. The career also gets tougher as you progress; whilst you might ace year one, don’t expect such an easy ride by year five.[drop]One of the most impressive aspects of Grand Slam Tennis 2 is just how many tennis players, both past and present, are available to use or play against, and nothing highlights this better than the ESPN Grand Slam Classics mode. This places you at the crucial moment in some of the greatest tennis matches, such as that Nadal/Federer Wimbledon final, and allows you to try and rewrite the ending. There are matches spanning three decades, adding up to several hours of content in this mode alone.
Graphically the game looks nice, and stands up against other titles in the genre, but seems to lack the polish we are used to in other EA Sports titles with quite a few of the likenesses not looking quite right. However, the courts and crowd are spot on.
As mentioned at the start of the review, we couldn’t test the online parts of the game. That doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about them, though. As you’d expect, there’s the standard ranked or unranked head to head mode, for either singles or doubles matches. Then there are tournaments where you are playing for national pride, as your results count towards your nation’s standings in the Battle of the Nation’s leaderboard. You can also play in Grand Slam Corner, where every match you play at a venue increases your rank there.
So it sounds like the perfect game, right? Well there are a few negatives. First up is the commentary. Initially, having Pat Cash and John McEnroe chatting away is pretty cool, and actually sounds really natural. Then, all too soon, the repetition kicks in. I swear, if I have to hear John McEnroe talk about the positives of approaching the net again I might just scream.
Then there’s the loading. Every time you load up the game it has to connect to EA’s servers, then retrieve information from the servers, then retrieve online pass information. It’s pretty slow. It seems to get worse though, especially when you want to modify your created character by equipping new gear. Just selecting a new racquet caused my PS3 to turn into a whirring box of noise as the game tried to process this request.
- Wonderful controls.
- Move is a decent second option.
- Lots of content.
- A good selection of players, with 23 in total.
- A wealth of online modes.
- The loading.
- Repetitive commentary.
In my opinion Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the best game in the genre. Total Racquet Control is a joy to use, and the way the AI adapts to your play style means you will fight for every point on the higher difficulties. Yes, the long load times are annoying, and sometimes actually discourages modifying your character, but if you’ve had your eye out for a new tennis game this is the only one you’re going to need for quite some time. Superb.