Grand Slam Tennis 2 Review
Nope. Not really what I wanted. I played tennis quite a bit in high school and college (and I still try to play), and I love to watch it on TV. In other words, I’m a fan and a student of the sport in question, so I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about. And I know a few things about Grand Slam Tennis 2: despite finally giving us all four Grand Slam events and making a valiant effort at simulation, nothing really seems to match up correctly. And since when is a slice so effective?
The graphics aren’t anything special, although the developers did a decent job of recreating the most recognizable faces in tennis. They don’t look too plastic-y and the detail is better than average. The courts are clean and presentable – even if the crowd is full of barely moving automatons – and the overall presentation is pretty slick. It’s just not impressive as the visuals don’t excel in any one category, although I will say the on-court animations are quite good.
As for the sound, we finally have a tennis game with announcers. I’ve often said tennis has some of the best commentators out there, and it’s great to hear the voices of Pat Cash and John McEnroe as I play. It’s even cooler to have Johnny Mac yelling at me when I mess up during training sessions. The soundtrack isn’t overly necessary and barely plays a role, but I still thought it was a little repetitive. The gameplay effects, from the strike of the ball to the squeak of the sneakers, aren’t entirely authentic but it’s close. Really, the problem doesn’t lie with the technical elements.
No, the latter elements are fine, if a tad underwhelming. The issue I have is two-fold: how the game is set up, and the basic gameplay, which definitely suffers from a bizarre erratic nature and an all-around lack of realism. First, though, a few positives— I really liked the fact that we can play as old-school champions, and being able to select a tournament to play outside the Career mode is a nice addition to the standard exhibition matches. Plus, being connected online means you can always check the progress of the community (an ESPN-like ticker at the bottom scrolls updates).
Of course, Career mode is where tennis fanatics will spend the majority of their time. You create a player, select from a few set play styles (like offensive baseliner and the animation for your serve), and start down a path to eventual stardom. Your selected play type dictates your starting statistics, but those can be altered by taking part in a variety of training drills that will enhance your power, accuracy, net play, serve, and speed. You will earn points for winning matches; the tougher the match, the more points you earn. Seems simple enough.
But the structure is a little weird. For instance, I could get better angle with my slice shots than any other shot…which makes little to no sense. Off the court, the player development isn’t as straightforward as one might expect. I decided to do some training before I started my first tournament, and then I realized something: if I fail the drill, that’s it. I get nothing and I can’t even try again; I have to come back at another time. …you know, after more than a few years of private lessons, I don’t recall this happening.
If I step on the court, regardless of how well I perform in practice, I always take something away from it, and I always have a chance to try again. That’s what practice is. And pros are on the court constantly. It would make sense to limit my player growth by simply restricting the number of training sessions in which I can participate at any given time, but locking me out entirely for a while? I’m sorry, I just don’t understand that approach, although I imagine it was instituted for the sake of a higher difficulty.
As for the gameplay, you have your standard assortment of shots, which can be executed with the face buttons, or if you’d rather try a more advanced scheme, the analogs. The analog sticks let you control the shot selection and the intended direction and once I got used to it, I found that it works quite well. The serve mechanic isn’t quite right, though, as the implemented system feels…strange somehow. There are better ways to construct a serving mechanic, I promise.
But if you want to try the PlayStation Move and leave conventional methods behind, be my guest. The good news is that you’re guaranteed to get a workout. The bad news is that because your character moves of his or her own accord, you’re automatically eliminating a major aspect of the game; i.e., movement, which you would normally control. The other downside is that the controller doesn’t always have the pinpoint accuracy one would need to beat top players. The bottom line is that Move works but I’m sure it could’ve been more refined.
Lastly, I have to say that this production just feels a little off. The commentators are great, but they didn’t record enough mini discussions, and their observations aren’t always correct. For example, I won a match 3-1, 3-0 and they were talking about how close it was and how thankful I should be to get to the next round. Then there’s the AI, which is all over the place. I’m convinced I watched an opponent get substantially faster during the course of a match. Then, he’ll make an unbelievable a stab volley one minute, and completely miss an easy shot the next.
There’s just too much inconsistency. You don’t hit a backhand slice with two hands. A player shouldn’t suddenly snap to a position on the court and hit a winner; the computer might seem too far away, but he’d make some sort of magical maneuver. The announcers should be more diverse and react accurately to what’s happening on the court. And at least one shot should hit the net once in a while. Oh, and if I want to go back on the court and try more training, I should be allowed to do so.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 has its moments. Wimbledon is here, which I think is a first for tennis video games. Move functionality isn’t bad (but it isn’t good, either), having the old-time legends on hand is great, I love the commentators despite the fact that their words don’t always line up to the on-court action, and the animations are nice and fluid. Being able to choose the length of your match and being able to play through an entire tournament from start to finish (rather than just starting in the Quarterfinals or Round of 16) is good, too.
But the problems are everywhere and for a die-hard tennis fan, they’re tough to miss and impossible to ignore.
The Good: We finally have all four Grand Slams. The classic legends add flavor. Commentating performances are great. Animations are nice.
The Bad: Technical elements aren’t impressive. Career setup is annoying and unrealistic. Gameplay isn’t anywhere near authentic enough. Move functionality isn’t quite right. General lack of solidarity and consistency.
The Ugly: “Maybe Johnny Mac was so mad that I screwed up the training session, that he drained my brain of any knowledge I gathered.”
2/16/2012 Ben Dutka