Grand Slam Tennis 2 Review (Xbox 360)
Tennis, despite its limited popularity in America, is one of the only sports gaming genres where gamers have several choices available. The Top Spin series has been the standard in tennis gaming, but Virtua Tennis also has its share of fans. Now, EA has entered the fray on all three major consoles with Grand Slam Tennis 2. Does EA’s newest entry into tennis gaming set a new standard for the genre?
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the first Tennis game to include all four major tournaments.
Much ado has been made over the fact that Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the first tennis game to include all four major tournaments, and rightfully so. The major venues look terrific, and their play surfaces all seem to affect the ball a little differently. EA has provided several nice secondary venues as well, but none of them are unique enough that there’s any reason to play anywhere but the major courts.
The game includes 23 real-life players, 15 male and eight female. Eleven of these are legends from the past, with accurate player models and play styles. You can use these players in the Grand Slam Classics mode, replaying some of the greatest matches of the last 40 years. It’s disappointing, though, to have only eight current male players and four current female players. I’m not familiar with the intricacies of tennis player licensing, but the roster feels incomplete.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a quite easy game to pick up and play.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 includes a robust tutorial that walks the player through all of the available shot types and controls and offers solid feedback on how you’re doing. As tutorials go, it’s relatively fun as long as you can find the mute button. John McEnroe hosts the tutorial, and if you make too many mistakes, he shouts things like “stop wasting my time here.” I get it – John McEnroe is edgy and the game is playing that up. But it’s not funny, it’s just irritating. Strangely, the tutorial omits overhead smashes. Some tutorials on basic tennis strategy might be nice for inexperienced players, as well. Within an hour, though, you’ll be hitting like a pro.
The analog controls feel great when you’re serving and work reasonably well when you’re playing from the baseline. But the analog system falls apart if you attack the net. Volleying requires you to move the analog stick much like the ground strokes, but this game is fast, and the speed of the CPU’s shots makes it so that you’ll have a better time just pressing a button to volley. The worst part of volleying with the analog controls is that the “power volley” requires you to pull back on the right thumbstick and then bring it forward, mimicking a swing. Anyone who’s played a lot of tennis in real life knows that a swinging volley is extremely risky, so the motion just feels awkward. But that’s a relatively minor quibble and one that’s easily fixed by just using the face buttons. It’s also a little strange that the game pegs “flat” shots to the A button when good tennis players hit most shots with spin, but that’s been the convention in tennis games for years, so it’s hard to fault EA.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 features solid, but not simulation, gameplay.
Singles gameplay vs. the CPU is an enjoyable experience. As I mentioned in my initial impressions piece, it’s extremely annoying that the CPU never misses a first serve (I haven’t seen it happen a single time) or hits an unforced error (I have seen one ball hit into the net by the CPU, and I’ve played dozens of matches). In addition, the game is just too fast to allow players to put much thought into what they’re doing. Despite those problems, singles is fun and challenging once you find an appropriate difficulty level. It’s not realistic tennis, but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable.
Doubles gameplay, on the other hand, isn’t quite as enjoyable. As a former tennis coach, my CPU opponents’ strategy and my CPU partner’s positioning had me shaking my head. Trying to poach (reach across the court to deflect a groundstroke back when you’re at the net) is a key move in doubles, but my efforts to poach usually resulted in my player diving and hitting a weak shot that the CPU put away easily. The game’s excessive speed is also more problematic when there are four players running around the court and exchanging shots from close range.
Online play allows for both singles and doubles, but doubles requires you to have two controllers connected to the same console – you can’t have a remote doubles partner or play a doubles match with four players in four different locations. That’s a massive missed opportunity, and I hope it’s something that EA can correct in the future. Overall, though, the matches function well and the tournament feature is neat. Most matches are over in 10-15 minutes, which is nice for casual gamers that don’t have a lot of time to play. I had no trouble finding opponents and won about half of the matches I played.
Grand Slam Tennis 2's career mode is an opportunity missed.
Unfortunately, the game’s biggest misstep is a lackluster career mode. The create-a-player function at the beginning of the mode is terrific. You can choose from a wide variety of rackets and outfits for your player (including wooden rackets!), and seasoned tennis players will be glad to know that the major brands are represented in force. I swear by Head rackets, and I was happy to see that they’re in the game. It’s also easy to import your EA Gameface so that your virtual doppelganger is as realistic as possible. Gamers disappointed with the player selection in this game have used the feature to re-created current pros and legends that the game left out, with excellent results. The only problem is that you’re unable to customize your player’s height and weight.
Performing different actions in career mode helps you earn “career points,” which would be great if I understood exactly why I needed them. The mode has something called a “tennis store,” but you don’t spend the career points there. Apparently, new gear unlocks once you reach a certain number of career points, but the game doesn’t always tell you how many you need or what you’ll unlock. As a result, the career points feel … well, almost pointless.
Career Mode simply feels aimless and pointless, not unlike this stare into nothingness.
There’s no feeling of growth during career mode. I won my very first tournament – without losing a game, even against Edberg and McEnroe. A few matches later, I beat Djokovic, the highest-rated player in the game, only losing one point during the match. How many pro careers start that way? And what’s my motivation to build up my character if he can obliterate the game’s cover stars before I’ve even upgraded any of his ratings?
During the French Open, I played a match where my opponent only managed to return one of my serves – the rest were aces. I was rated 37 overall. As much as I’d like to believe that I have great stick skills, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I won the Grand Slam in the first year of my career and didn’t lose a single match. Why should I keep playing?
Also, it would be really nice to play doubles during my career, but it looks like I’m stuck with singles only.
Glitches abound, too. I completed one exhibition match that granted me the reward of 10 attribute points once I hit 5,000 career points. After I went over 5,000 points, I eagerly went to upgrade my player, only to find that I didn’t actually have any points available. The game also has a weird tendency to declare that your player is 0/1 on break point opportunities even before you’ve had your first chance to break the opponent’s serve. So, even if you win every break point opportunity, the game will still tell you that you missed one. Finally, collision detection isn’t great, and you’ll see players running through walls if they’re pulled too far off the court.
But for every glitch, there’s a nice little surprise. My created player’s outfit is a garish combination of neon colors, so I was confused when I started Wimbledon and he was clad head-to-toe in white. But then I remembered that Wimbledon players are required to wear white. Even the ball boys and girls, umpire, and linesmen wear the proper uniforms for the All England Club. That attention to detail is impressive, especially considering that the vast majority of players won’t notice.
The in-game sound effects are realistic and appropriate. The ambient sounds are great, and subtle sounds like a player sliding across clay are captured perfectly. The commentary, though, gets old even faster than the notoriously stale commentary in other EA products. John McEnroe is occasionally insightful, but he doesn’t have enough unique things to say. After only a few hours, you’ll have all his lines memorized.
The commentators say things at the end of your match that don’t reflect what actually happened. For example, most of my matches close with the commentators saying something about how I won, but I wasn’t in top form and it was more of a challenge than I expected. This happens even when I lose only one or two points. Finally, the crowd noise is mostly well done, with cheers building up during long points just as they do in real life. Every once in a while, you’ll hit a winner and be met with dead silence from the crowd, but this is rare.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a solid but unspectacular title.
This is far from a perfect game. Some of the major annoyances, like the CPU’s perfect serves and lack of errors and the breakneck pace of gameplay could be corrected with sliders. But the career mode is a giant misstep, and a huge missed opportunity.
Thankfully, online play is fun and I haven’t experienced any lag or connection issues. The unrealistic gameplay elements mentioned above aren’t severe enough that the game isn’t enjoyable. In fact, the core gameplay is strong enough that I could imagine playing this game for quite a while if I felt like there was any incentive to continue the single-player modes. For those looking for an accessible, fast, entertaining game of tennis, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a solid choice. Gamers looking for an engrossing sim experience, though, should look elsewhere.
Score: 6.5 (Above Average)
These games are definitely above average, but definitely not good yet. There are still some big flaws that need tuning, but overall these games can be fun for fans of the sport and are worth the price of admission at least for those people. The gameplay can be good while presentation is bad, etc. These are the types of games that are close to being good but you can't call them that right now.