PREVIEW: Grand Slam Tennis 2 [PS3/X360]

If you love tennis so much that you’re already getting depressed over the fact the Australian Open will reach its inevitable end by this time next week, EA would like to offer you an olive branch: Grand Slam Tennis 2 hits consoles in Australia and New Zealand starting February 9th. You’ll still have to survive a week and a bit without any on-court action, but this dangling carrot should make things a bit easier.

If the Australian Open just isn’t big enough for your dreams of tennis world domination, this is the first time that you’ll be able to virtually compete in all four of the big grand slam tournaments – and yes, that includes Wimbledon, exclusively on Grand Slam Tennis 2.

Of course there are plenty of smaller matches too, exhibition and rivalry games will help you earn career points and unlock extra equipment to provide you with a competitive advantage. Take it up a notch and play in a few tournaments to increse your rankings before the big four – the better your rank, the better your seed will be – and, as Australian Bernard Tomic admitted after losing to Roger Federer this year, a better seed means you’re likely to stay in the competition longer, as you won’t face the Big Names the moment you hit the court. See, this one’s really a strategy game, too!

That said, perhaps you don’t want to take on career mode, and perhaps you don’t care much for modern tennis. That’s fine, EA has you covered: Take part in one of 20 Grand Slam “classic” matches, spanning two decades of the game’s history. This is your chance to relive – or recreate – history, and the more you challenge and win, the more you’ll unlock.

[img_big]center,8599,2011-12-22/grand_slam_tennis_2_-_pete_sampras.jpg,Grand Slam Tennis 2: Pete Sampras[/img_big]

In fact, there are 23 players on the game’s roster, including recent champions like Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters. To add a little variety, there are a few “Legend” players thrown in as well – Björn Borg, Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert to name a few. It’s also the first time that John McEnroe has been playable in a video game – and he appears in fine form.

Not only have all of the players been body-scanned (the devs agree that “it’s very important that they don’t look like anybody else”, but they’ve also had their own signature moves included in the game. Pick John McEnroe and not only will you get his stylised volleys, but – if you’re (un)lucky, he might also throw in a little on-court drama.

If you don’t want to play as a pre-formed tennis superstar, and would instead prefer to create your own, Create-a-character mode makes a welcome return – and you can take it to extremes. Beyond the obvious modifiable elements, you’re now also able to choose a “demeanour”, so if your dream player is someone calm and refined – “like Roger Federer,” suggest the developers – this is available at the touch of a button. At the same time, if you’d prefer someone from the McEnroe school of thought…

[img_big]center,8599,2012-01-17/ao_ivanovic02.jpg,Grand Slam Tennis 2: Ana Ivanovic[/img_big]

These screens don’t do the game justice – it looks stunning, and is remarkably accurate, including impeccable detail on each of the in-game venues. Developers headed out to each featured real-world court and took countless photos to ensure everything was where it should be – down to the flowers growing courtside.

…and in a spectacular move, everything sounds right, too. The commentary has been provided by Pat Cash and other personalities, resulting in a soundtrack that’s “exactly like watching it on tv”. Adding a little extra ambience: Each of the courts has its own crowd noise, a unique audio landscape. The audience at the Australian Open is traditionally a rowdy bunch – so they’ll sound totally different to the refined strawberry-and-sugar fans who attend Wimbledon. Delicious!

[img_big]center,8599,2011-10-26/federer05.jpg,Grand Slam Tennis 2: Roger Federer[/img_big]

The game is headed to both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but if you had to choose a platform, Move is where it’s at. The developers describe Sony‘s motion sensing solution as a “perfect fit” for this game – the physical sensation of gripping a “racquet” was much more enjoyable than merely waving one’s arms around in front of a television, so there’s no Kinect support at this stage.

And once you get the Move controls involved, the game really shines. Wield the controller just like you’d hold a racquet – motion sensing takes care of your swings (start low, move high for a beautiful top-spin shot), and if that’s not enough control for you, then you can modify your shot by using the buttons on the controller. Just like in the real world, you’re able to work on these shots to your heart’s content, by spending some time on the practice court facing a serving machine – pop, pop, pop!

No word yet on whether playing Grand Slam Tennis 2 will actually improve your court skills, by the way. The devs confessed that none of the in-game characters can be injured through play, compromises a little realism for better gameplay. After saying that, they did admit that “a number” of the development team – and the development team’s televisions – had been damaged, injured or broken while working on the game. So you should probably take that into consideration.

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