Sports games can be a topic of division for many. I usually am of the ilk that would say, “If I wanted to play a sport, I’d take myself outside and do it. If I’m going to game, I’m gonna go kill some dragons or fly jets or something.” That being said, lately I’ve taken some risks and delved into the occasional game of Madden, shot a few hoops in NBA 2K12. I haven’t hated those games, though I’ve usually felt completely inept at multiple points during the process and ejected the disc after just a couple games. I can’t say the same for Grand Slam Tennis 2. A great game for casual sports players, Grand Slam Tennis 2 fails to offer some of the depth of other sports franchises, but is still a fun game that’s easy to pick up and play solo, locally with a friend, or online.
My general first gripe with sports games is the learning curve. Madden games may teach you some of the basics about how to run with blockers or use the hit stick, but doesn’t do a great job of teaching complete noobs like myself what plays to call, player management, or any of the in-depth mechanics that allow you to play a great game of football. GST2 does a great job of familiarizing players with all the necessary controls and concepts, though it figures that if you’ve bothered to shell out the cash for a tennis game, it doesn’t need to tell you how scoring works or explain the court layout, which is good. Each segment of the tutorial describes a different maneuver that can be performed on the court, ranging from topspin and slicing to lob shots and netplay.
The game utilizes the new “Total Racquet Control” system, a right-stick oriented control scheme which allows you to customize the power and loft of your shot by varying the speed and direction of the movement of the right stick. It can feel a little complex at first, but players of FIFA or NBA2K will be familiar with the concept. It’s actually really nice to do a bit more than press a button a couple of times to swing, though those who wish to play the old-fashioned way are welcome to use the “arcade” control set for a more traditional experience. Even so, after getting used to the fluidity of the Total Racquet System, I’m not sure I’ll be able to think the same of other tennis games.
The two main gameplay modes are career and ESPN® Grand Slam® Classics. The presence of only two real game modes makes the game feel a little lacking in comparison to larger-scale sports titles, and GST2‘s biggest missteps take place with its career mode. Though there are plenty of ways to customize the face, racquet, and shoes of your player, the stat management itself feels generic and empty, with six bars ranging from power to speed covering your player’s capabilities.
Career mode gives you 10 years in which you attempt to carry your player to the top through various tournaments and events. Each event gives you the opportunity to increase (or decrease) your player’s skills by taking on various tasks. Defeating players will give you skill points, which performing additional goals in that event will merit bonus points. Sometimes the bonus goals can be pretty frustrating, perhaps requiring you to focus in an area your player isn’t good at, but hey, they’re bonus points. Career mode matches are fun, and still offer variety and challenge, but the lack of additional things like press conferences, coachings, and other influences that show up in other sports games make this mode feel a bit underpowered.
GST2’s “Classics” mode offers a more historically-minded play style, allowing you to step in the shoes of a tennis great and re-live a key match in tennis history. The game starts off by offering you key matches in the 2000s, allowing you to unlock matches from further and further back in tennis history all the way back to the 1970s. The capstone levels in the Classics mode are fantasy matches, pitting players like Anthony Federov against John McEnroe in imaginary contests to settle debates once and for all. The Classics mode offers progression similar to the career mode; completing events and bonus objectives provides you with classic score points which unlock more events after certain thresholds. The Classics mode almost provides more bang for the buck than the career mode, giving you the chance to play with top players in more polished contexts than career offers.
All in all, GST2 is a good game, but lacks the polish of more-established franchises. The graphics and audio are fantastic, and multiplayer connects quickly with no laggy hang-ups. A note of forewarning for those big on commentary: commentating provided by John McEnroe and Pat Cash is very well recorded, but can feel generic player names even when you play as professional athletes. Get used to hearing the same lines at least a couple times each match, and be prepared to hear “The player did well on that one…yeah, the player really knew how to _____.”
If you’re looking for a casual sports game to dive into or are a big tennis fan looking for a chance to show off your virtual prowess on the court then this is the game for you. Grand Slam Tennis 2 can be a great way to spend a weekend or a solid way to play a nice sports game with friends or family. But for those looking for a hold-over to take them to the next basketball or football release may be better off picking up MLB: The Show or another sports franchise that’s got a little more experience under its belt.