Ever since Mario Tennis 64, I’ve believed that tennis has a rightful place in video games. The simple gameplay style of tennis games can mask the subtle techniques that are employed to be successful. Just having a simple back-and-forth with a friend can be a fun, relaxing way to play. That said, it’s vital for any game that is based solely on tennis to have a lot of additional modes and content to make the game worth the cost of buying. EA’s Grand Slam Tennis 2 (GST2) has quite a bit of content, but is it enough to warrant a purchase?
The career mode in GST2 is a strange, strange beast. The basic concept of career is to train and improve your player, win exhibition matches, and ultimately win the “Grand Slam” Tournaments. While working your way through Wimbledon and the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens, you can choose to do a variety of mini games, but you only have a limited amount of actions before you play your next tournament. In one afternoon, I cruised through my career mode, winning all 4 tournaments and many exhibition matches. After receiving my achievements tied to the career victories, I figured I had beaten this mode. This is where the Career Mode gets a little weird: a normal career mode lasts for 10 years. 10 YEARS. So, once you beat all of the tournaments, you just wait for the next year’s tournaments to start back up again. I can’t decide if this was a really smart idea or a complete waste of effort. On one hand, it’s a great way to keep your career mode going and satisfy die-hard fans. On the other hand, there are very few achievements tied to repeating years 2-10, creating almost no incentive to continue playing. Aside from just leveling up your character, not much changes from year to year. Why repeat it ten times without reason?
A problem I found while playing through my career was that the rank and level of the AI never really mattered. For example, the AI could have over 80 skill points placed in each of the categories and your created character might only have 30 points in each category, but you’ll still win pretty effortlessly. I was shocked to see that my low-level character was triumphing over the biggest names in tennis, without really breaking a sweat. The difficulty seems slanted towards coddling the new players; failing to bring a satisfying challenge to winning the Grand Slam tournaments. Maybe the difficulty kicks in around year eight or something, but I’m not going to hang around that long to face a worthy AI opponent.
Surprisingly, the new “ESPN Grand Slam Classics” mode became my favorite thing to do in GST2. In Grand Slam Classics, you relive the most memorable moments in Tennis history and, occasionally, change that history. Usually consisting of a few games or single set, the action is much faster paced and easier to have some quick fun. The scenarios go by decade, leading up to the fantasy matches that so many would love to watch. With a substantial amount of scenarios to choose from and achievements for beating each decade, I really enjoyed working my way through the highlights of tennis history.
I was very worried when I began my (lengthy) tutorial and was introduced to the new “Total Racquet Control” (TRC) gameplay, which requires you to master a complicated list of thumbstick flicks and maneuvers. I’m not sure why all sports games think that the thumbsticks make the gameplay feel more real, but it certainly does the opposite. With the “Total Racquet Control”, I was effectively crippled. Now that I think about it, the difficulty may have been so easy because they knew that gamers using the TRC would be playing like fumbling idiots. Thankfully, I quickly figured out how to revert control back to the buttons. I may just be a simpleton, but isn’t it easier just to push “A”? Really, what’s so awful about the buttons that EVERY game uses? Oh well, at least EA had the decency to leave in traditional controls.
Since there is less to look at in tennis, the developers were able to focus on making the models of the players and courts look amazing. GST2 has some great graphics, making you feel like you’re watching a match on ESPN8. My one complaint about the graphics is the same complaint I’ve had with almost all sports games: the digital audience in the stadium looks awful. I get that they’re not the focus of the game, but it’s distracting to see an ultra-realistic tennis player being watched by 75 cardboard cut-outs. It’s almost like Home Alone, where Kevin uses the complicated strings and ribbons to make the cardboard stand-ups and mannequins look and move like real people. Home Alone should not be where you draw inspiration from for your NPCs.
Overall, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is a fun, solid tennis game. Although, assuming that you don’t play the career for 10 years, it is a short game. With one dedicated afternoon, you can pretty much play through everything this game has to offer. If you’re in need of a virtual tennis fix, Grand Slam Tennis 2 will fit like a sweatband, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the cost to keep it on your shelf. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of tennis, Grand Slam Tennis 2 would be more likely to collect dust.
I give Grand Slam Tennis 2 3 ”Grand Slams” out of 5
By Blake Edwards