Friday, March 02, 2012

EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis 2 Review

By JJ Miller

One of the more enjoyable things about settling down to watch a tennis tournament is seeing your favorite star's mannerisms on the court. From the swagger of Rafael Nadal to the vocal cords of Maria Sharapova, the tennis elite certainly bring their own style to the court.

Teamed up with ESPN, EA Sports has done an excellent job of capturing the likeness and styles of more than 20 male and female stars from past and present. What they didn't do was create a challenging game that forces a player to log in some time with the game before becoming a pro.

Lets start with what works in "Grand Slam Tennis 2." Taking full advantage of today's controllers, EA has instituted the Total Racquet Control into its latest tennis import. Gone are the days of hitting one button for a drop shot and another for a slice. Instead, a player uses the right analog stick to unleash their arsenal of shots while using the left stick for movement.

Want to lay up with a standard flat shot? Simply push the right stick forward in the direction you want it to go. Top spin and splices take a little more movement from the analog and the player can work in lob and drop shots by holding down one of the top buttons while still letting the analog do its thing. This feature certainly puts the player in control of the racquet (even more so with the Playstation Move for Sony players) and requires a little more thinking on the part of the player.

Unfortunately, your skills won't be put to the test right away if you jump into the most enticing option in the game: The single player career mode that spans 10 years and has a player aiming to win all four majors, including exclusive to EA Sports the infamous Wimbledon.

For some unknown reason, the developers opted to take away the ability of a player to adjust the difficulty during the career mode. Rather than letting the user dictate how hard to make the mode, the game becomes more challenging as the career progresses. Year 1 begins on rookie, jumps to amateur for year 2 and pro for the following season before wrapping years 4-10 on superstar.

However, this concept completely slants the game in the player's favorite. A created player enters his career with a very low rating and is expected to build up his or her stats. But with the first year mandated to the easiest mode, it is too simple to win all four majors in that inaugural season. For example, my slick, blue-hat wearing pro easily won the Australian Open in the first year and didn't even lose a set to Roger Federer in the semifinals despite relying mostly on simple flat shots and a few slices.

Not exactly realism there.

This is an unfortunate and major flaw in the game that hurts the long-term value. What's the motivation to play deep into the career mode if you are already winning major after major?

The career mode also doesn't offer much outside of the majors. Each big event is proceeded by your choice of training, exhibition matches and pre- tournaments that quickly get generic. The player also has the option of skipping the above choices and jumping right into the next major with penalty of no increase in stats. Of course, this doesn't matter for the first few years.

While the training mode is an excellent tool to learn how to play, it is unforgiving with ball placement and features the same lines barked out by coach John McEnroe over and over.

McEnroe is also one of the game's feature players, joining the likes of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, the Williams sisters, Sharapova and Martina Navratilova among others.

While the female side of the roster is little light, featuring just four present players and eight choices total, the game does feature a cool option of sharing your created pros. This allows you to download created pros from all over the world and many have already uploaded a number of current and former pros not in the game. Of course they don't have their signature moves and sounds, but the now EA standard Game Face technology automatically constructs a players face based off an uploaded picture, so at least the created pros look the part.

For those that EA did put into the game, the likeness of the pro to their digital counterpart is excellent and will probably leave a few teenagers electing to play as Sharapova more times than not.

In addition to online play, the game also allows for custom tournaments sure to entertain during parties as well as ESPN Grand Slam Classics. This allows a player to repeat or attempt to change tons of tennis' biggest moments in history.

Right off the bat a player can re-imagine a host of events from the 2000s, including the 2003 Australian Open Final between the Williams sisters and Andy Murray's 2008 semifinals upset of Nadal at the U.S. Open.

Winning these matches gives a player points to unlock older scenarios, like a 1990 U.S. Open semi featuring McEnroe against Sampras. The producers also threw in some fantasy matchups to unlock, such as Serena Williams against Chris Evert and Andy Roddick taking on Boris Becker.

If a player chooses to take his or her game online, they'll have the option of going head-to-head, single elimination tournaments that are ranked on a Battle of the Nation's leaderboard or a Grand Slam Corner. This has a player picking a single venue in which to compete at for a leaderboard ranking.

There is no doubt that EA Sports has put out a great-looking game that is boosted by the usage of the analog system and a share a pro option that will add authentic or bizarre players to your roster. But the huge flaw that essentially ruins the career mode is an unfortunate error that brings the game down a number of pegs.

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