Grand Slam Tennis 2 review for PS3, Xbox 360

Platform: Xbox 360
Also on: PS3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Medium: DVD-ROM
Players: 1 – 4
Online: Yes

For quite some time now, the tennis world has been ruled by two? Sega with Virtua Tennis, and 2K Sports with the Top Spin series. Both tennis games are solid with one delivering more of an arcade experience, and the other having a nice sim feel too it. Well EA has sat on the sidelines long enough, and being the leader in pretty much all things sports (eds. note: except basketball!), EA Sports now presents Grand Slam Tennis 2 for the Xbox 360 and PS3. If you are wondering where the heck the first game is, well it appeared very briefly on the Wii, but was solid enough of a base that EA thought itwould be best to take an extra year and really give the other two competitors a run for their money.

The first thing gamers will notice when playing Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the nice blend of sim and arcade gameplay. The game?s difficulty is tough enough that it will take some real shot thought in beating tougher opponents on harder difficulties, while the easy or novice levels will provide a fair enough challenge for a newbie to come along, take a swing and win some games/sets/matches. This holds true for the game?s career mode as well, with the first year starting out easy and then progressively becoming tougher and tougher through year 10. This ?hold your hand? progression is nice, but I kind of wish the developers would have incorporated a more adaptive A.I. rather than the year to year system with so many events and tournaments that it may burn you out. If you need a challenge beyond that you have the single player modes such as exhibition and separate tournament modes, as well as a great mode called ESPN Grand Slam Classics where you relive some of the great matches from yesteryear to today?s greatest events. Let?s not forget the online portion where you can play head to head, or take part in The Grand Slam Corner where you pick a location and try to dominate some of the best tennis events and improve your leaderboard score, and of course online tourneys as well.

Grand Slam Tennis 2?s presentation is very good for a first outing, but there are some chinks in the armor. The visuals are outstanding, with accurate physics and very detailed courts, arenas and players, along with nice touches such as deteriorating clay. The class of represented superstars may not be complete, but classic and current players like Sampras, Nadal, Federer, Borg, Becker, Sharapova, Navratilova, the Williams sisters, and even the grouchy one, John McEnroe, are all represented with their signature look and move sets. To say the game is lacking in players is an understatement, especially for an EA game, but I?m sure over time they can ensure the licenses of absent players like Agassi, Billie Jean King, and a host of past and present greats who have been omitted. Of course, due to EA?s Game Face technology you can virtually recreate those players using a photo and their online avatar creator if you wish, or download someone else?s creation if you are too lazy to do it yourself, so it?s not a total loss cause.

The game?s audio, the commentary in specific, is where the presentation takes the most critical hit, but thankfully it?s something you can control and not be completely stuck with.. Yes, I know I?ve been complaining for years that tennis games need play by play, and EA heard my call, but there is a hiccup regarding the amount of time they took to record the commentary. It sounds brilliant in the first game or two you play, but come game three and onward, the same comments are heard over and over again so much that you will be able to commentate along with the guys. Again, thankfully if you become sick of it there is an option to turn it off and just listen to the crowd, announcer, and the other ambient sounds, most of which are actually remarkable in their accuracy. Top it off with accurate response noises from the crowd, especially in big games and you will end up with audio that doesn?t make you miss the repetitive commentary so much. Again, the commentary of what is there is very good, but please EA don?t omit it next year, just have more recording sessions and variety.

Grand Slam Tennis 2?s game play is where the game walks the line of sim and arcade. There are a huge number of hit patterns that sim fans will love, especially when you can fully control the top spins, drop shots, lobs, slices, and flat shots with ease. Arcade fans will love that the game does have a forgiving side so you don?t have to be spot on accurate with your aiming to hit the sweet spots. EA has incorporated their analog stick controls into this game, as well as PlayStation Move support for the PS3. Both control schemes take a bit longer and more patience to perfect, but given the length of the game?s career mode, you?ll have plenty of time to hone those skills if you wish to utilize those controls. Many gamers who want to play old school with buttons will have that option as well, and like NHL, you can use either or and get comfortable at your pace by sampling the new controls and switching back at any time if you need to. That is how I progressed when learning the new system if I am to be honest, since the training feature doesn?t give you enough practice to really get it down pat. No matter which way you chose to play, they all work well, but like most things, practice makes perfect.

All in all, EA?s first effort took long enough to get here, but it is a welcome one indeed. While the other two games struggle with being an arcade game and not enough sim, or too much sim and not enough arcade, EA has the mixture just right by taking the sport and representing it seriously, yet making it viable for a casual or new fan to jump right in and take a whack. Grand Slam Tennis 2 joins the great, already established EA Sports titles and fits in nicely being the new kid in town.

Grade: B+