It's a market which is now, in my humble opinion, saturated. The tennis genre has its various offerings in the shape of Top Spin, Virtua Tennis and even the Wii tennis games, but EA has persisted with its own title and EA Grand Slam Tennis 2 makes a return, this time on the current-gen consoles and in high-definition.
It's a good game to look at, for a start you have that EA Sports branding all over it, a sign of great games. You can create and import your Game Face from the servers, and all your progress is tracked online. All the Grand Slams are there too, boasting what other titles don't. Furthermore, you can play the champions of the past and the present on-court, as well as other famous players over the last 50 years.
Graphically it's good, not great. It's a shame because there was so much expectation from this title, especially with the full compliment of Grand Slam titles.
As for the commentary, it's the usual EA affair. You'll find yourself turning it off after the first three games purely because they repeat the same drivel. Honestly, having Pat Cash and John Mcenroe you'd expect a little more from EA, but it really is a disappointment to listen to them saying the same thing game in, game out. More frustratingly though, is listening to the two commentators when you're playing one of them on the court. This really is an oversight, an unforgivable one too. Surely it wouldn't have cost EA much more to get a couple of other commentators in. And there is a distinct lack of a female voice, which I think would have really stepped up the quality.
Although I've mentioned the graphics, which are great, I've not really spoken about the wooden scenery that surrounds the game. Ball boys, for example, don't bother moving. I've tried by hitting the ball into the net, but they don't move. Although their heads move religiously with the ball's movement.
The crowd seems to be delayed in their reaction, if they react at all, and it just doesn't feel like you're in those big games, those big Grand Slam titles. The crowd seems to cheer inappropriately, and clapping doesn't seem to match the mood in the court. It is, to say the least, quite discouraging.
Unfortunately it doesn't stop with the scenery and the crowds. Clay courts, for example, don't stain your clothes when you dive. And although it might be too much to ask, terrain deformation of the court doesn't seem to occur. Having said that, ball marks are left behind on the court.
But it's the gameplay we're more concerned about, and I'm sad to say that although it's good, it has no real depth to it at all. You can play with either the right stick or the face buttons, and you'll get the same result. There is no real incentive to use the right stick - an obsession currently gripping all EA Sports titles in a bid to make them more realistic - unless you just like to play with both sticks. I've found that using the face buttons gives you more control.
Equally, each player feels the same. I've played with some of the greats in the game and created my own pro (which I've uploaded if anyone wants to check it out), but each player doesn't really seem to have much that differs them from the other. Sure, there are attributes, like with all EA games, where you can spend on skills. In this case it could be fitness, service, power, net play and so on; but they don't seem to make much of a difference really. And this niggles me somewhat. For example, in my first year of career mode with my player, I managed to win every single match. I only dropped my games for the in-game objectives, but other than that I annihilated every single opponent. Nadal included. This shouldn't happen. I went from ranked 100 to 42 in my first year. Great stats, I know, but completely unrealistic.
There are, pre any tournament, exhibition games and training which offer you attribute boosts or special items from the pro shop. These items do make a slight difference, but the attributes seem less effective. You can only win these by playing through the exhibition games. The training offers primary boosts, which means your base stat for a particular skill will be increased permanently. Unlike racquets or shoes or other gear which will only top up your base stats. Unequip these items and you lose the boost, in much the same way as your player would do in Tiger Woods PGA Tour games with clubs and grips, etc.
You can up the notch in the settings to make the game a little harder, but still it doesn't have that same passion or soul that 2K's Top Spin has.
I think, as a tennis player in the real world, you understand how the game is played, where the shots need to be, how to move around the court. This all translates and EA has done a great job in getting the animations right (tennis is one of the only games where you can watch technique and apply it to your game in the real world). Where it fails is giving the player a real challenge. By my third year in my career I'd become bored and each game became a chore. By the fifth year I'd dropped to playing a short game - one set, three games long - for every game. Even then I was still hitting all my objectives.
For the arcade tennis player, this is the best thing for you out there. If you're looking for a more authentic tennis experience, then I can't help but recommend Top Spin. It has much more depth, more noticeable progression, more realistic games and training which not only teaches you how to play the videogame, but also how strategy and technique is used on court.
It's a shame. EA are nearly there, but as a first offering on the HD consoles, it's not bad. It just needed to be better. But then again, I'd say that. I've been playing tennis since I was five years old.