EA is well known for the sports games it produces, most notably the FIFA branded soccer games (the latest of which, FIFA 12, is still one of the best-selling soccer games around). I’m not a sports nut, however, so it was with a little bit of trepidation that I put EA’s Grand Slam Tennis 2 into the drive tray of my console and fired it up. Find out in this review what surprises, if any, this game had in store for me.
Things have been pretty busy down in Prawn Central with the slew of game releases over the last few months, so I was quite happy to have finally put down my controller for a bit and rest my sore thumbs. I think it was the point where I had my feet up on the desk, staring blissfully at the ceiling that Lord High Prawn figured enough was enough. He sauntered over and dropped Grand Slam Tennis 2 onto my desk.
“This just arrived. I want you to review it.”
“Me? I don’t do sports games. Give it to one of the other minions.”
“The others are busy with other reviews.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
“I’ve got Lord Prawn things to do. What good is being boss if I can’t actually boss anyone around?” At this point, the evil grin I got should have warned me. “Review this or the next game you’re getting is Space Hampst3rs.”
I shuddered, took Grand Slam Tennis 2, and placed it into my Xbox. While waiting for it to load up, my messaging app blinked, letting me know that a fellow reviewer, Sameer from MyDigitalLife blog, had appeared online. “I received Grand Slam Tennis 2 for review,” I messaged.
“Sweet,” he replies. “I got that dropped onto my desk yesterday. Want to go a few rounds?”
My heart sank. Sameer’s a REALLY competitive gamer, and odds were huge that he had already mastered the game by this time. “Yeah, sure,” I pinged back with a measure of reluctance. “It’s firing up now.”
Grand Slam Tennis 2, I have to admit, is not a game that made much of a ping on my game radar. I have never been much of a sportsperson, and this extended to sports video games, mostly because I could never get my head around the arcane rules. Either way, however, the boss said “review” so I said “how high?”. Or something like that. When I finally got to the game’s menu, I was presented with the familiar “get stuck in now!” scenarios, along with the standard “learn stuff” menu, as well as the “settings and fiddling around” menu. So I did the logical thing and went to muck about with the tutorial while Sameer waited patiently for me to figure it out. The tutorial involves a lot of John McEnroe yelling at you while you flail about trying to figure it out, but it does a decent enough job of introducing you to the game’s “Total Control System”, which involves using the right analog stick to swing the racket; flick the stick forward for a flat return, pull back and release for a slice, or pull back and then flick forward for a topspin. Or you can stick to the old “Arcade mode”, which uses the four buttons to determine your shots. It should suffice for me to say that I have yet to obtain the achievement for completing all the tutorials, so I left the “learn stuff” section and fired up a one-on-one game with Sameer.
By the end of the game, I’d not only thrashed him quite soundly, but learned a lot about tennis as well (to the point where I went to go hunt down a few vids of classic matches on YouTube). Sameer was not pleased at all, and demanded a rematch, which he lost as well, although the scores were running a bit more evenly by then. I fully don’t expect to survive the next rematch. I told you he’s competitive.
The big selling point around Grand Slam Tennis 2 is that you’re able to take on (or play as) well over a few dozen big name tennis stars, including McEnroe, Sharapova, the Williams Sisters, Djokovic, Edberg, Evert, and so on. The game has several different modes, the most basic of which being the singles or doubles match against given opponents. You can also create a player of your own and take them through a tennis career, playing tournaments, exhibition matches, and so on, which allows you to grow the player and unlock better tennis rackets, shoes, and equipment. This, of course, is in addition to the online comp0nent of the game, where you can take on any other Grand Slam 2 player from around the world, and try to get yourself onto the leaderboard.
The most interesting mode, however, is one that takes existing historical tennis Grand Slams and allows you to replay them, for example the famous 2003 match between the two Williams sisters. The game’s feature is about “replay history…or rewrite it”, and I have to admit that it’s far harder than it looks. It’s still an insane amount of fun, however, and I found that this is one great place for learning how to play tactically, and you DO have to think of tennis as a tactical game if you want to win against decent opponents.
That being said, once you’ve figured out how to play the game, you’re either better off relying on human opponents to give you a decent challenge, or crank the difficulty up a lot. The lower few AI modes all fall for the same basic trick of play, and you find yourself relying on the same few basic moves over and over. Moves, tactics, and sequences that, I may add, don’t work as well on higher level opponents and AI modes (although the difficulty doesn’t really ramp up too much either way). It’s also probably a good idea to learn how to use the Total Control method of play if you’re using the basic controller, because that allows you to more accurately place the ball, despite its slightly frustrating learning curve. This makes for more skilful play later on when you really need to get the ball where you want it to be, and against higher level opponents, you’ll find the arcade mode controls somewhat deficient. (The PS3 version has support for the Move controller, and I understand that this is fairly accurate and true to real tennis in terms of how you angle the racket.)
The biggest gripe I have with the game is with the commentators, John McEnroe and Pat Cash. After the first few games you’ll have heard every piece of dialog they’re ever going to say. I wish I could find the setting that allows you to turn off the commentators, but that’s yet to appear. By the time you play your fourth or fifth game, you’ll be thoroughly sick of John McEnroe discussing the “pros and cons of playing deep”. The other complaint I have is that few of the players seem to play true to themselves. There are about five or six different styles that I could discern, not the insane variety you’d expect from such a cast of tennis stars. I don’t feel as if I’m playing against a wide variety of opponents with a wide variety of tactics, but rather about five or six different AI opponents wearing different tennis-star-shaped skins. You don’t, for example, hear Sharapova’s insane screaming around the court. Or see McEnroe’s wild tantrums. You know, the things that set the different tennis stars apart from each other.
That’s not to say that Grand Slam Tennis 2 isn’t a lot of fun, because it is. Especially if you abandon the AI opponents and head for more human challengers. EA has a huge and active community of players, and I never once had a problem finding a match. The matchmaking seems fair enough, because I never found myself over- or undermatched. Yes, the control scheme takes a little bit of dedication to master, but you don’t need to spend hours with it to figure out how to make it work in your favour, and this adds to the fun factor.
Even if you’re not a sports nut, I’d highly recommend this game, purely because of the amount of fun inside. No, it’s not a game you’re going spend ages getting into; with about fifteen minutes at the tutorial, you’ll be ready to go. It’s the typical “easy to get into, difficult to master” game. With up to four-player local or online play, you’re not going to find yourself short of opponents. And if you’re the vain kind, you can even import your own face into the game (I understand this is a feature of most newer EA games). The commentating can get a bit repetitive, so the game loses points there, but it’s not something that breaks the game. I wouldn’t say that Grand Slam Tennis 2 has turned this video game nut into a sports nut, but it’s gotten me to take more of an interest in a game I’d not bothered to pay attention to before, and that has to count for something.
Final Score: 7.5 fuzzy yellow prawns out of 10
Developer, publisher, and distributor: EA
Release date: 14 February 2012
Platforms: Xbox360 (reviewed), PS3
Age rating: 0