Grand Slam Tennis 2
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3,
Release Date: Out now! (14th in Europe)
Price: $49.99 (USD) – Available Here
With 2011 bringing us some of the best sporting games to date, Grand Slam Tennis 2 has got the ball rolling (no pun intended..) for 2012. Our expectations for EA Sports continues to grow to new heights as they keep managing to innovate and recreate sporting games year after year. Naturally, when we heard they had decided to share some love with Tennis games, we got quite excited to see how they would compete with the pretty formidable efforts that the Top Spin and Virtua Tennis series have provided for us. So does Grand Slam Tennis 2 find it’s place on our top shelf of sporting titles. or will it be collecting dust with the other flops? Keep on reading to find out.
The big innovation that GST2 offers is it’s Total Racquet Control System, enabling players to play the game using nothing but the two analogue sticks of the remote. The system seems quite simple, just flicking the stick in a certain direction to play the shot you want, however it does take quite a bit of getting used to. You can alternatively choose to use a classic scheme of just buttons, and at first it will be very tempting to do so given the practice required for the Total controls, however if you can resist the urge and keep at it, you’ll find it quite rewarding as it makes gameplay very smooth. That being said however there are a few kinks in the controlling which causes the player to hit a shot that you ddn’t intend on doing, such as a slice instead of a top spin shot, and for net play the system sort of falls apart, so switching between buttons and sticks will probably be necessary.
The match engine runs very smoothly, as you’d expect from an EA Sports’ title, with the roster players actually reflecting their real life counterparts in shot actions as well as tendencies, including the good ol’ jock pulling by Nadal (as seen in the picture below). What doesn’t work so well is the AI. This is ever-present in Career Mode more so than other modes in the game and I’ll explain why shortly. The game modes for Grand Slam Tennis are pretty standard, giving players the option to do exhibition matches, a career mode with your created player, online, as well as Grand Slams Classics, which features classic match ups from the last three decades as well as some fantasy match ups.
Career Mode, like both of its competitors, makes you create a player (male or female) in which you’ll build up from an amateur to the world number one. The creation options are pretty standard, nothing too flashy but adequate nonetheless, you can also import a picture of your choice as a Game Face through the EA Sports website. A small omission from the creation options is the ability to give your player the option to use a two-handed backhand (which Nadal also seems to be missing) which might seem miniscule to some but still detracts from the variety of playing styles.
Moving on from the creation part, Career Mode is pretty standard. You start out as ranked 100 in the world, yet for some reason you can still enter all the Grand Slams straight away. Not only that, but there is no adjustable difficulty setting in Career Mode but instead the difficulty increases as your player progresses. So what you’re left with, is an extremely easy first few years in which your player (who will have a rating somewhere in the 30s as opposed to the pros who are almost all between 70 and 85) can and in most cases will win all the grand slam tournaments you enter.
The biggest problem with this (aside from you easily dominating everyone you play) is that it just makes the Career Mode extremely tedious and pretty unsatisfying. The AI is simply not good enough given the quality we experience in other games (and especially EA Sports games for that matter). If you want a rally with the opponent to last more than 3 shots you have to hit the easiest shots possible for your opponent to hit back, and even then you can’t be guaranteed they won’t just swing and miss (or stand and miss). The AI in other modes (and in the latter stages of Career Mode) is actually OK, still pretty easy to beat most of the time but at least they put up a fight. Another issue, is the tournaments appear to be unseeded, meaning the top players will generally knock each other out in the first few rounds, leaving you to mainly come up against EA’s creations (roster fillers, or racket wielding chumps), until you reach the semis or even the finals. If you can put up with the repetition and boredom of the first few seasons of Career Mode, it can actually be reasonably enjoyable, but that being said, the repetition doesn’t really go away.
Grand Slam Classics is a pretty sweet additional mode, giving the game a bit more sustainability as you attempt to unlock extra match ups from previous decades and the fantasy match ups. Online as well is pretty well done, and is probably the biggest selling point for the game due to the lacking in AI ability.
Audio & Visuals:
The presentation of GST2 is really well done, with the majority of roster players sharing a very realistic likeness with their real life counterparts, in addition to the fully licenced courts also adding a lot to the experience of the game. The menu and layout of the game is also very intuitive and logical.
On the other hand, the audio for the game is pretty disappointing overall. I’m not sure what it is about tennis games but commentary and soundtracks never seem to be high on the importance list. Whilst obviously game-play is paramount, the extras really could help push the enjoyment of the game up. The soundtrack is basically non-existent, with a couple of looped tunes playing in the background and nothing more. Whilst it is nice to have commentary in a tennis game (something which Top Spin has never bothered with), the voices of Pat Cash and John McEnroe become very repetitive within your first few matches. Moreover, the commentators never really specifically refer to the players on court (namely the real pros), leaving them making very general comments on the match and not really offering too much (besides a fair bit of criticism from Pat Cash with every mistake you make).
Despite my criticisms of the Career Mode and the AI, GST2 is arguably still the best tennis game available at the moment, solely due to the smoothness and responsiveness of the match engine. The roster is acceptable and is always nice to have some legends of the game amongst the current stars, although I still long for the day when a tennis game doesn’t need to include game-generated players. Grand Slam Tennis 2 may lack some creativity and hasn’t really stretched the world of tennis gaming by any means, it still is a solid and polished game, and most importantly offers a very promising platform for future growth.