McAwesome is confused. He spent his rookie season destroying everyone
who stood in his path on the way to an unprecedented Grand Slam,
dispatching legends with ease. Yet he’s being summarily crushed
when venturing into ad-hoc online tournaments against supposedly
similar competition, even though his attributes in that arena are
vastly superior. It’s enough to make a long-haired,
sunglasses-at-night-wearing American tennis pro baffled.
the conundrum that is Grand Slam Tennis 2, EA’s first
current-generation venture onto the tennis court. Depending on your
point of view – or, more importantly, your mode of playing – it’s
either an addictive tour de force or a colossal waste of time.
How can that
you’re looking for terrific multiplayer (online or offline), Grand
Slam is potentially your ideal tennis game. With innovative controls, all four major
event locations and surface types, a deep character creator, and
decent selection of top players, it features a unique brand of
options for you to head online and engage in epic tennis battles.
Thanks to well-implemented systems, you can instantly jump into
online tournaments against multitudes of players; if you’re looking
for straight-up head-to-head matches, they’re easy to find too. All
your key stats are tracked individually as well as in the Battle of
the Nations, and you’ll get a special sense of accomplishment when
you’re able to beat a real-life titan like Rafael Nadal or Novak
Djokovic with your own version of McAwesome.
On the other
hand, if you’re looking for a spectacular single-player experience,
Grand Slam isn’t the place to find it. The career mode could have
been tremendous but winds up mostly strange. For starters, it’s
virtually impossible not to
win all four major tournaments your first season. The difficulty is
set so low that you’ll demolish everyone you see, even legendary
heroes of the court like Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe who don’t seem
to understand how to react to a simple net rush and volley. While it
may make sense to take it easy on someone their first go-round,
having us eligible to enter – then easily win – all of tennis’
crown jewel tournaments right off the bat feels utterly implausible.
difficulty ramps up in later years, and what was once easy becomes
challenging. However, there’s no magic in battling Roger Federer in
a 5-set match in the Wimbledon Quarterfinals when you’ve already
won the tournament twice before. Even with all the great design
decisions – a streamlined calendar with clear direction and
simple-to-understand goals, for example – we couldn’t come up
with a reason to keep slogging away with no real goal in sight.
Or could we?
of the easy-as-pie first year in Career mode is that you pile up
points that can be used to quickly buff up your created characters,
who you then take into the online realm Grand Slam has to offer. Even
better, because each player starts off with a fundamental design
(baseline player, net specialist, etc.), you can’t completely
maximize each attribute. They’re never going to be perfect, and you
may always run into someone whose strengths aren’t a great matchup.
At that point, Grand Slam matches become their best. Whoever has
mastered the controls will wind up victorious.
dominate any discussion of Grand Slam, which took a page from Fight
Night (literally) and transformed the right stick into your racquet
via Total Racquet Control. It’s easy to pick up and play but tough
to master. The basics are straightforward – flat, topspin, and
slices are all executed with variations of stick flicks – but
getting strong velocity and direction takes practice. The default
settings will let you know how well you’ve timed your shot, but
when it comes to angles you’re on your own. Clearly people have
figured it out (all you have to do is venture online to see how well
the experts can crush serves and smashes with seeming ease) but only
a dozen hours did we start to really “get it.” Button controls
exist for the traditionalists, but they don’t feel quite as
intuitive as the sticks.
wild card in the mix is the superb Grand Slam Classics mode, which
puts you in the middle of some terrific matches of the past and lets
you try to recreate – or rewrite – history. It’s where the best
of Grand Slam shines, from the signature styles (and grunts) of stars
like the Williams sisters and Andy Roddick to the brilliance of being
inserted into iconic locales at the height of competition. It’s
also played at a high level, which can be jarring if you’re coming
into fresh off of the non-competitive environment of Career mode.
Grand Slam is terribly inconsistent. While the player faces and animations are
often quite good, the surrounding judges, ballboys, and crown are
muted at best and statues at worst. Load times are painfully slow.
The crowd noise is OK, reacting fairly well to the action most of the
time, but the commentary from Pat Cash and John McEnroe is painfully
repetitive from the start. We would have also preferred a much more
extravagant celebration upon winning tournaments, both at the moment
the winner is struck (instead of waiting for a cutscene) and in the
ceremony itself (a 5-second clip of you holding a trophy). At this
stage of the console cycle, we were hoping for a slicker overall
your love or hate of Grand Slam Tennis 2 will depend solely on who
you are. Planning on spending time online? Spend some hours in Career
mode and a few more on the practice court and you’re on your way to
greatness. Staying offline? Unless you’re happy with a tragically
uneven Career mode, you’re better off perusing other options for
the virtual tennis court. We know one thing - Rockman McAwesome is
going to keep on going until he’s confused no more.