I know I’m not the only one who enjoys a game of tennis, video or otherwise, but amongst my friends I’m pretty sure no one else likes tennis. For this reason or that, I find games like Grand Slam Tennis 2 to be wholly and intriguingly enthralling. Grand Slam Tennis 2 is EA’s newest addition to the tennis sim, and after Top Spin 4 it’s got big shoes to fill in terms of quality, depth, and playability. With John McEnroe’s gorgeous 80’s mug on the front cover, things are starting out fine already. Tennis, anyone?
Grand Slam Tennis 2 follows the same setup that you’d expect to see in any realistic tennis game (so not Mario Tennis). Career mode lets you create a player and take them to the number one world ranking, training mode gets you attuned to the control schemes of the game, and a very competitive online world ranking system lets players see who truly is number one in the world. The one standout mode that sets GST2 apart from its imitators is ESPN’s Grand Slam Classic matches. In this mode, you can recreate some of the greatest matches in tennis history, spanning from the 80’s all the way up to today, and even some fantasy matches! Relive the moment Nadal first beat Federer at Wimbledon; see which Williams sister will sin at the 2002 Wimbledon finals, battle it out as McEnroe as he tries to halt Bjorn Borg’s stunning Wimbledon consecutive record of wins. This mode doesn’t offer any variance to gameplay but comes off as a really cool addition for tennis fans.
I was sort of impressed by the characters included in the game. Current top players for the men include Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Kei Nishikori, Jo-Willifred Tsonga, Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick, and Lleyton Hewitt. The woman have Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Ana Ivanovic. The men stack up fine, but why are so few women represented? Where’s Kim Clijsters, Li Na, Vera Zvonerava, and more? What does make up for this shortcoming, though, is the inclusion of many legacy players to the game. Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pat Cash, and Michael Stitch are there for the men, with Lindsay Davenport, Chris Evert, Justine Henin, and Martina Navratilova for the ladies. Seeing this vintage players rallying with the current pros is novel indeed, and should please any older fans of the fine sport.
Career mode was just what I expected, and in reality was sort of a letdown. You get to create a player, which is incredibly in-depth. You can tweak your pros facial features like size of cheek bones, nose alignment, and even the puffiness of the lips. After you make your pro you have just 10 years to move up to the number one world ranking and solidify your spot in history. What that breaks down to is four tournaments (the grand slam tournaments), the Australian Open, French Open (Roland Garros), Wimbledon, and the US Open, with a special EA tournament thrown in for good measure. Before each tournament you can perform training routines to enhance your player’s stats and compete in a small pre-tournament as prep or an exhibition match to earn sponsorships and better gear. In terms of variety of things to do, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is very limited, especially when compared to the healthy offerings seen in Top Spin 4 and Virtua Tennis 4. The difficulty is a pushover the first two years or so, and then everything gets harder, but by that time you’re probably already close to the number one ranking, so the game loses some incentive to keep playing.
There’s an option to upload your created players to the online servers where others can view, rate, and download to their own game. This is a cool feature, and already I’ve seen some bonus pros that players have made to download (like Juan-Martin Del Potro and Andre Agassi). Online matches are relatively lag free and give you a ranking based on the entirety of the Grand Slam Tennis 2 community. I like how between matches ESPN’s ticker of score updates runs at the bottom of the screen, showing you who beat who in the game, as well as their current rankings. It was neat to see that the number one players was online when I was, and beating high ranked players at that. If you’re one that likes to invest countless hours and months into a sports game, I can see Grand Slam Tennis 2 being your go to tennis game.
The game looks good graphically, but doesn’t quite get faces right (a problem I had with Top Spin 4 as well). They still look uncanny and dull, sort of like a twisted Tim Burton version of their inspired alter ego. Definite props has to go to the sound department: Pat Cash and John McEnroe commentate on each and every match you play, and what they say depends on how you’re playing, what types of shots you hit, where you are in the game, and even which type of court surface you’re playing on. I love the banter between the two. You can tell from their tone that they were unedited when recorded, so nothing seems superficial or fake. McEnroe in particular sounds great when he offers up advice that can actually be used in the game as well as on the real life court
Last thing I want to talk about are the controls. Grand Slam Tennis 2 offers up two distinct types of controls schemes to use. First and much easier to get used to is traditional arcade controls. Each face button is a different type of shot: flat, power, top spin, or slice. You can hold down the button longer to get more powerful shots, and you need to tap the button again at the right time to hit an effective shot. It’s pretty much the standard for the genre, but nonetheless it works well here. More interestingly, though, are the “Total Racquet Control” control setup. Instead of using buttons to designate which shot type to use, you use the right control stick as though it were a racquet. Push the stick forward at the same time you would if you were using a real life racquet and you hit your shot. Pull back and hold for more powerful shots, and pull to the sides to charge up top spin and slice hits. It definitely takes some getting used to, but Total Racquet Control works wonderfully. Once you realize that the control stick is just like the racquet in your players hand you’ll be unstoppable. I personally preferred the traditional arcade style on control, but the newer control scheme is equally fun and I’m happy to see how well it works.
Bottom line right now, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a great tennis sim that fans of the sport or the videogame should look into. Though it doesn’t quite have as much to offer as other games in the genre, it is still a great game of tennis. The controls alone should drive you to the game to experience just how effective controlling the racquet can be. And so, I’ll ask you all again: Tennis, anyone?