I have always had a little trouble watching tennis on television. As excited as the people in the stands and the players on the court get about it all, that has never come across to me as a viewer – it all feels a little too cold, clinical, and lifeless. If nothing else, EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis 2 perfectly captures that feeling.
First off, the career mode, the main mode of the game, has oh so very little going on. Essentially, you’re going to create a character and then run the character through the four Grand Slam tournaments and a couple of minor ones for 10 years. The goal is to be the number one ranked player in the world, and you do that by winning over and over again. Some training is allowed and there are some “rivalry” exhibition matches, but essentially you just start tournament, work you through the bracket, and then move on to the next. Forget the lack of tournaments and venues, although tennis courts can be made of different things, they’re all the same shape and size and you just step out onto a new one over and over and over again. There needs to be more differentiation in what the game asks of the user.
Next, anyone who has ever played any of EA’s Tiger Woods golf games knows that at the start of a career, the tournaments are hard to win. You have to slowly improve your player, get better equipment, and tweak what you’re doing in order to be successful. It takes a few years of one’s in-game career to really have things click and turn yourself into a golf god. Inexplicably and completely counter-intuitively, Grand Slam Tennis 2 take the exact opposite tack.
Yes, that’s right, Grand Slam Tennis 2 makes matches easier to win the worse ranked you are and the earlier in your career you are. Start to move from 99 to one and get a couple of years into your career and all of the sudden things get truly hard. The players you’re going up against don’t change, but all of the sudden, Rafael Nadal (the roster of current and former stars is quite good), whom you beat in straight set without losing a single game to the first time out is hard the twentieth time you play him… and despite his getting harder, the game tells you that you’re a much better player now then you were when he was easy.
One doesn’t feel lulled into a false sense of security winning so much early on (seriously, if you don’t win at least three of the four Grand Slams in your first year, you’re probably doing something wrong), one just gets lulled to sleep. It may actually be worth skipping matches in your first (and possibly second) career years so that you can start off with a decent chance of losing and thereby making winning feel worthwhile.
I think that’s why the title feels so lifeless, it just takes forever to get to the point where you have to try in order to win. There is an attempt to make all the matches more interesting by asking the player to perform certain feats during them (win a point after 10 volleys, win four points via backhands, win a point with a drop shot, don’t have your service broken, etc.), but you can steadily move up in the rankings without accomplishing these things and, without a manual to really delve into how to do anything, the desire to figure out how to hit four slams to get bonus points is really minimal.
It is my sincere hope that at some point EA will decide that including an actual game manual is a worthwhile endeavor. A “virtual” manual, which exists only in-game, regularly borders on the point of near uselessness as one has to leave the screen they have questions about in order to dig through the manual which may or may not answer them. Additionally, the virtual manual is not available from all the menu screens on the game, so when one has a question about where the character they just spent 30 minutes creating has disappeared to, they may be tempted to throw their controller at screen and give up ever trying to start a career.
The lack of real manual also comes into play with the fact that Grand Slam Tennis 2 has given us a pretty nifty control scheme (it supports Move quite well additionally), called “Total Racquet Control.” This asks one to perform various moves with the right analog stick (flipping it up, moving it down and then up, just moving it down) along, sometimes, with the use of buttons to perform various shots. It would be really swell if one could, while learning how to play, have something like a piece of paper available in front of them that would remind them of whether a shot requires simply pulling the stick back or pulling it back and pushing it forward or pulling it back and hitting R2 or pulling it back and pushing it forward and hitting R2. That is why manuals exist and why they’re necessary in physical form. Not bothering with a printed manual feels chintzy and hurts when someone pays up to $60 for a game.
The graphics in Grand Slam Tennis 2 are quite good (and happily eschew the original iteration’s Wii cartoonishness). Play-by play is given to us by John McEnroe and Pat Cash, and while they’re incredibly interesting at the beginning of one’s first match, by the end of the match (if one does a long match), they may have already started to repeat themselves. McEnroe is quite vocal about his likes and dislikes and, brilliantly, the game doesn’t cut off any of his rants just because a play is over, but the number of phrases the game includes is simply too limited.
With an expanded career mode, with a rejiggered notion of how difficulty should work, and with some expanded play-by-play commentary, Grand Slam Tennis 3 ought to be fantastic (if that’s how they choose to proceed). Grand Slam Tennis 2, however, is merely okay.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.