Grand Slam Tennis 2 steps onto an already crowded court, with Top Spin 4 and Virtual Tennis 4 seemingly covering all bases for tennis lovers, can Grand Slam 2 offer something the others can't?
Developed by EA Games, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is definitely the FIFA of the tennis world. Any gamer who's played an EA Sports title will instantly recognise the menu system, and style of the game.
With flashes of the ESPN logo after every reply and the tournament logo after every point scored, it's clear to see that Grand Slam and FIFA are from the same EA bloodline.
Grand Slam 2 offers a range of stars from all eras of the game - from John McEnroe (who also provides commentary along with Pat Cash) and Borris Becker, to Pete Sampras and Andy Murray - and it's the only tennis game to feature all four Grand Slam venues.
After creating our own player - complete with 1970s mullet and garishly clashing clothes, we got stuck straight into the career mode; this lasts 10 years and the aim is to progress from an un-ranked amateur to world number one.
The first tournament we were entered into was the Dubai Open, which we thought would serve as a good opportunity to practice the controls. Most of the gameplay is based on timing, making sure that you hit a button or jab at an analogue stick at just the right time to return the ball - although we didn't notice much different between hitting the ball "too early," "good," or "too late".
Serving involves hitting the X button, which brings up an arching line graph; hit X again when a moving line reaches the top of the graph to hit the ball most accurately. Once the rally is underway, the left analogue stick is used to move your player around the court and the right is used to control the ball's direction and power.
Of course, using PlayStation Move would be the best way to play Grand Slam, but we found that using the regular controller was still easy and felt natural enough after a few sets.
If stick twiddling isn't for you then don't worry, as there's an alternative control method that uses more of the controller's buttons to add spin and power to your shots.
We progressed nicely through the Dubai Open and noticed that the length of each game can be specified before the start, so whether you've got all afternoon or just five minutes, you can still have a game.
The wide range of new and old players in the game are all faithfully recreated and they each feature notable personality traits - yes, John McEnroe even looks angry when the game isn't going his way.
The courts also look good and there's a clear difference between the various surfaces; on clay our player slide around when changing direction quickly and occasionally fell over when stretching for a difficult shot (triggering a gasp from the crowd) adding nicely to the realism.
Sadly, the ball retrievers, umpires and other people seem somewhat inanimate and bland in comparison to the players.
While getting stuck into the career mode we noticed something rather strange about how the game's difficulty increases. Grand Slam 2 starts off easy - as most games do - but this translates to being able to win tournaments at your first attempt when your player is supposedly low-ranking.
Winning easily - even against the best players in the world - is common for the first couple of years, but as the game progresses it becomes more difficult to win matches that were a walk in the park a few years previous.
We won the Dubai open with ease and our beginners' luck continued to the Australia open, which we also won.
After a few hours we found that it seems to be impossible to hit the ball out of play. No matter how far to one side of the court we hit the ball, we couldn't make it go out. At this point we also noticed that in approximately five hours of gaming the ball had hit the net once, and even then this error seemed to happen randomly at best.
Experimenting with lobs and spin helped to keep the game interesting, but the fact that we could play around with random shots during a game, knowing full well that we could still win with ease, took away an aspect of challenge Grand Slam 2.
The commentary, while rare in tennis games, was also a disappointment. At first it was interesting and we felt that we were learning something, but soon it became clear that the same few phrases are repeated with annoying frequency.
What is said by the commentators seems to depend on how you play - we often hit long shots deep into the court, which would cue McEnroe to explain the pros and cons of hitting long every few shots.
Reaching match point brought on the same scripted commentary in almost every match, which becomes noticeable far too quickly.
Despite all this, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is still a good game. The graphics are very good - minus those inanimate ball boys - and the players' unique mannerisms are well captured. Controls are simple and easy to master, while not being too simple that it quickly becomes boring.
Playing the game is certainly satisfying for a short amount of time, but it quickly becomes repetitive to all but the most keen of tennis fans.
- Impressive graphics
- Controls are easy to master
- Only tennis game to feature all grand slams
- Good mix of young and old players - although there is a male bias
- Starts far too easy and gets harder unnaturally
- Gameplay seems to be 'on rails' - it's impossible to hit the ball out
- The proposed ten-year career is far too long for most gamers' attention span