Game Rant's Anthony Taormina reviews Grand Slam Tennis 2
After failing to make a splash with their first Grand Slam Tennis title, EA Sports is giving it the ole college do-over with the appropriately titled Grand Slam Tennis 2. Developed by EA Canada, and given a complete overhaul in terms of graphics, gameplay mechanics, and modes, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is trying to cement itself as yet another worthy franchise for EA.
It's not yet a yearly release like its Madden or FIFA brethren, but the (now) franchise does carry many of the qualities that make those sports series household names. However, with a sports game centered around a sport that doesn't nearly reach as high of status, could EA Sports deliver yet another winner? Read on to find out.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of Grand Slam Tennis 2, which is of course the many sets and games that players will be experiencing, it's best to get this out of the way first: this game is developed primarily for fans of tennis. Though it doesn't feature a full cast of tennis pros (both past and present) it aspires to deliver one of the most true-to-the-sport experiences as possible.
Mechanically, the game gains a ton from its full racquet control. By flicking the analog joystick in various directions, almost like mimicking wind up and release, players have the ability to return the ball in all sorts of manners, at a variety of different angles. The control scheme is extremely responsive and makes for an on-the-court experience that is second to none.
Unfortunately with that control comes a greater inconsistency between difficulty settings. At the 'Amateur' or 'Rookie' setting it was easy to blow through an entire match, sometimes even a complete tournament, without even dropping a set. Then, when the difficulty gets ramped up to say 'Pro' or 'Superstar' it more closely mirrors the intensity of the sport, but makes even your best shot returnable.
The best bet is to keep the game at 'Amateur' and bask in how well implemented the controls and presentation are put together, rather than worry about the frustration of lasting some 45 minutes in a match, at higher difficulties, only to finally lose. As you can imagine, time is a huge factor in Grand Slam Tennis 2, not just by virtue of the sport it's reflecting, but because the game has some pretty harsh load and save times.
Getting through a full tournament, playing maybe only one game, takes far longer than it should because of needless cutaways/replays — not to mention getting through a tournament because of the slowdown for saving and tournament randomization. For a game that is so fast paced on the court, the time issue does become a problem, and leads to more than its fair share of jamming buttons.
Tennis, as a spectator sport has always been quite the time commitment, but what makes video game versions of those sports more appealing is their ability to streamline the experience. There is some of that here, but slogging through menus, as they struggle to load from one to the next, should be the least of player's worries, especially when there's a ton of good content in there.
As expected, all the key indicators of an EA Sports game are there, from the create a player/career mode to simple exhibition play (in both doubles and singles formats). There's also online play — a bold choice for a franchise's second debut — which works well, and is one of the few experiences that doesn't encourage early rage quitting.
But the real exciting feature is the ESPN Classics mode, a clever riff on what other sports franchises have been doing for their past couple iterations. It's essentially a chance for players to relive the greatest showdowns in tennis history, and some fantasy matchups — from Borg vs. McEnroe to Nadal vs. Federer — only jumping in at key moments in the match, typically about halfway through. Sometimes the player will be asked to change history, and oftentimes they will be required to preserve it, but each match has a few added bonus challenges to keep things fresh.
These challenges, which actually pop up across most of the single player modes, ask for the player to do anything from hit one diving winner to never being broken on serve, and typically put points into either your created pro's stats or towards unlocking more ESPN Classics matches.
Unfortunately, by their very nature, it's hard to find the right commentary to fit each match which, not just for the Classics, but also across the board, is a huge flaw in the presentation. Visually, and effects-wise, the game looks great — delivering high quality player and court recreations — but the commentary from the few people EA Sports corralled into participating loses its originality by the first hour. Typically the commentary fails to even mention what is progressing, or even the situation at hand, and is usually just some helpful tennis advice. You might not know that hitting the ball deep has no disadvantages, but you sure will after playing two matches.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the best foot forward EA Sports could have put for a franchise that will struggle to find its audience. There is so much to like about the title, gameplay and feature wise, that those who give it a chance, even non-tennis fans, will actually have a lot of fun. Unfortunately, when compared to what is out there for football, soccer, or baseball it feels extremely lacking in a lot of key areas, most notably presentation and difficulty balancing.
Still, it's the developer's second chance at getting this sport right, and in that regard this game is very impressive. It might not be worthy of adding itself to the EA Sports catalogue just yet, but it's definitely on the right track.
Have you had a chance to check out Grand Slam Tennis 2? Do you think that a tennis game could ever achieve the same status as a Madden or FIFA?
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for this review.