Sports games, perhaps unfairly, undergo an incredible amount of scrutiny. When we think of sports titles, the big ones always jump out at you like Madden Football. Tennis games, however, are a strange breed in the gaming world. EA had originally jumped into the tennis forum back in 2009 with the original Grand Slam Tennis title, only to release a subpar title on the Wii and have the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions delayed indefinitely. It was a very strange move on EA's part, but realizing that the game itself lacked any kind of depth, EA Canada went back to the drawing board. Three years later, Grand Slam Tennis 2 has hit the shelves. While the overall presentation of the title is good, we have found that the same problems still exist in this title is now available on all platforms.
First and foremost, Grand Slam Tennis 2 uses what is called the Total Racquet Control system, which works very well with the game. Instead of having to use differing buttons to hit flat, slice, or drop shots, the right analog controller becomes your shot selector. Flicking the right analog stick forward gives you a flat shot that works on a timing system. Hit it too early or late and your shot will lack power, though after putting plenty of hours into the game, it is a rarity to have a bad shot go out of bounds. Using different combinations of up and down will give you cut and slice shots. It doesn't take long to get the feel of the Total Racquet Control, so you will find yourself hitting strong shots in no time. If you simply cannot get the feel of it, though, the option is there to go back to the regular button control for shot selection. I would suggest against this, though, as the feel of the buttons for this game makes it feel outdated with the style. Give the Total Racquet Control some time and you will not regret it.
Building upon the Total Racquet Control, hitting serves is fairly straightforward. You will position your player on the baseline wherever you are comfortable and pull the stick back, bringing up a meter on the opposite side of your player. Throwing the stick the opposite direction when the line comes across will determine if the shot has great power, some power, or is completely off. As I had mentioned before, it is very difficult to hit a ball out of bounds. Hitting faults, however, is very easy to do. Learning the service meter early on is vital to having stay power.
Character selection is straightforward. You will have 15 male characters and eight female characters to choose from. The familiar faces are there, such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, and so on. There are a few legends in the game, such as cover boy John McEnroe and Boris Becker. The field, however, needs to be expanded upon for future titles, especially on the female side. Of course, EA implemented the Game Face feature into Grand Slam Tennis 2, allowing you to truly create yourself for your run at the career mode. There is no problem here as the likeness of my character was very much like looking in a mirror.
Speaking of career mode, this is where things go downhill for Grand Slam Tennis 2. In the career mode, you take part in a ten year career to rack up as many titles as you can. In between tournaments, you will have the chance to do training in order to improve your character's ranking and rating. Created characters are going to start very low (My character started at rating 35) and will need plenty of work to build them up to a championship level. Unfortunately, the system for this seems very broken. The only thing you can do to improve your character's rating is to complete training sessions successfully. However, you only get one crack at the trainings each time you do them, and there are only four tries per career year to do so. It would seem to be a much better idea to slowly gain rating points based on career performances, achievements, and titles, instead of having to do quirky mini-games as the end all, be all for advancement.
Career mode has a distinct lack of depth to it, unfortunately. There are only eight tournaments in each career year, and they all follow the same format: Pre-tournament, Exhibition, Training, and Tournament. The pre-tournament plays like a minor tournament. You will enter into a single elimination bracket and attempt to win a title. You can set the length of the matches to three options: Short (1 set to win, 3 games to win the set), Medium (2 sets to win, 3 games to win the set), or Long (3 sets to win, 6 games to win a set). In each match, you will have bonus achievements to gain ranking points to move up the overall ranking ladder for your career. While these points give you the chance to unlock clothing pieces that can give you bonuses, they do not give you rating points to boost your character directly. On top of this, no matter the length of the match, the achievements do not change. You may have something easy to do, such as break an opponent's serve just once and complete five backhand winners. These numbers do not change pending the length of the match, so if you get easy bonuses, you can benefit from this by playing a shorter match, get your bonuses, and get out with a win.
Each year, as previously mentioned, there are only eight tournaments: Four minor tournaments and the four majors: Australian, French, Wimbledon, and US. Difficulty is automatically raised as you progress in your career. The first year will be quite easy as it is on the lowest difficulty level. Year two takes you up a step, then another in year three. Finally, when you hit the fourth year, you will be on Superstar difficulty the rest of the way. The issue here, though, is that there is no way to adjust this. You may get to that third or fourth year and find you aren't quite ready for that level. Unfortunately, you're stuck with this. On top of this issue, once you have gone through your first year in the career, absolutely nothing changes. It just starts up year two with nothing new to offer and you cycle through the same tournaments yet again. It would be nice to see something out of the Tiger Woods games and see more of the minor tournaments become available to play.
Beyond career mode, you will have the option to relive some of the best moments in tennis with the Grand Slam Classics mode. Taking you back in time to legendary matchups like Borg vs. McEnroe is certainly nice to have, especially with 25 moments to take on. However, beyond the career and classic mode, there isn't much else to do. Online play presents a nice challenge at times, though my experiences on Xbox Live was hit and miss. Whether it is a problem with the EA servers or the gameplay itself, there are times where you will experience slowdown in a match and feel as though you have hit a winning shot, only to see the ball literally slow down and your player come back to hit a shot you aren't expecting. Not all matches have this happen on a regular basis, but every match had at least a couple of instances with it.