EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis 2 Demo Impressions

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EA Sports served up a playable demo for Grand Slam Tennis 2 last week, and after spending the weekend putting in a few lengthy practice sessions with the PS3 version I thought I’d pop in to share my snap impressions of the upcoming tennis sim.

The demo is pretty light on content, but shows enough to give a clear indication of what to expect from the full game, good and bad. Djokovic and Nadal are available in a singles match (1 set and 3 games, with or without a tie breaker) on Centre Court of Wimbledon, with four difficulty settings ranging from Rookie to Superstar. The practice court is also available, should you need some alone time with the ball machine to feel out the game’s controls before reliving the 2011 Wimbledon championship match.

All three of the game’s swing control options are available to try: a traditional arcade button configuration, the new Total Racquet Control system, and PlayStation Move motion control. After testing the trio, I’ve come away impressed by each one and appreciate the attentive care the developers put into making sure a suitable method is available to players of varying skill level and experience.

Already a fan of the original Wii-exclusive Grand Slam Tennis, which to this day is one of the finest examples of the MotionPlus tech, my first inclination was to jump right in with the PlayStation Move and test out the motion control implementation. It took a practice court session and probably four or five matches to acclimate myself to the controls, and once I did I was off and running. The Navigation controller is required for player movement and to swing you stroke the Move like swinging a tennis racket. Swinging on a level plain performs a flat shot. Swinging low to high performs a topspin shot. And swinging high to low performs a slice shot. To serve, simply flick the Move upwards to toss and swat down with proper timing to hopefully rock the opponent with an ace (aces aren’t impossible to pull off like they are in many other tennis games). Lob and drop shot modifiers are tied to the T and Move buttons, respectively. I haven’t found drop shots to be very useful as of yet, but lobs do actually help put the opposing player on his heels, just enough to open a window for a potential passing shot.

On any shot you take, the force and direction of your foreswing determines shot speed and angle, and the all-important backswing sets the shot power. Like the real sport, getting into position early is key to getting enough power and angle to work the court and set the opponent up for a winner. Without a charged backswing, winning points from the baseline is very difficult. Initially I was frustrated by my inability to win baseline rallies, but once I got into a groove of loading up with a full backswing and correctly timing the foreswing I was able to find some pretty wicked angles and crack plenty of cross-court and down-the-line winners.

After probably 10 matches or so with the Move, I switched over to the DualShock to try out the other two control configurations. Again, I found both effective. The Total Racquet Control mechanic falls in the middle ground between motion control and buttons. Instead of swinging a controller with your arm, racket strokes are linked to thumb flicks of the right analog stick. Quickly pushing the stick forward does a flat shot. Pulling back and then pushing forward puts topspin on the ball. And pulling back and releasing like a slingshot allows for a defensive slice. Serving is similarly handled by pulling back to toss and flicking upward to swing, with the direction of your pullback setting the spin type.

Compared to the other two configurations, angling shots is a little tougher using the analog stick method. But the great thing about playing with a DualShock is the way both control mechanics are readily available to mix and match on the fly. For example, on serves I preferred Total Racquet Control, and once a point was underway I generally preferred face buttons but would often switch between buttons and analog stick depending on the situation.

Overall I’ve been quite pleased with Grand Slam Tennis 2‘s fluid simulation gameplay, but the demo does reveal a few potential holes in this contender’s game. EA is touting the game’s realistic AI tactics, but in the demo the players don’t necessarily behave like their real-life counterparts. For example, in certain matches Nadal will serve and volley on damn near every single point, which is totally out of character for a well-known baseline grinder. Net play also seems like it may be a tad overpowered, particularly the higher you set the difficulty. As the challenge level increases winning baseline rallies becomes tougher and tougher, and ripping passing shots by a net opponent is a mighty feat to accomplish. Yet coming to the net is almost a guaranteed point, so more often than not whoever makes it to net first wins the point. A six-game match between Djokovic and Nadal with a combined total of 79 net approaches is hardly representative of either player’s style, but that’s how one of my demo matches went. As Djokovic, I wound up with one more net approach than Nadal, a final volley that eked out a 9-7 tie break.

Another small thing that seems a little off is the slice shot. The spin and trajectory is accurate, but the player animations don’t correlate to a slice swing. Seriously, how does Nadal put slice spin on his trademark buggy-whip forehand? Hitting slices just doesn’t look right.

Even with these quirks, which are nothing a little last-minute tweaking or a post-release patch can’t address, the game plays like a champ and is realistically presented, from the detailed and accurately animated player models, to the ESPN branded menus and replays, to the believable color commentary provided by John McEnroe and Pat Cash. Based on what I’ve played, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is well on its way to unseating its established rivals Top Spin and Virtua Tennis as the new champ of video game tennis. We’ll see if it claims the #1 spot when the full game ships February 14th for PS3 and Xbox 360.

Check below for a demo gameplay trailer, a producer video explaining the Total Racquet Control swing system, and a screenshot gallery.

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!