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Having conquered the round ball world with its omnipresent FIFA series, EA Sports is also a big player in the bat and ball game of tennis. It's not quite as ubiquitous as FIFA (there's not a "new" version released each year), but Grand Slam Tennis is still a well-established series and one which is popular with fans.
As you would expect from an EA Sports game, the attention to detail and depth of the title is second to none. You can play as dozens of different players from across the recent history of the game (Borg, McEnroe, Becker, Djokevic and yes, if you must, Andy Murray). It features loads of different tournaments, including all the grand slams and you can play at lots of different venues, all of which are well realised, making it a highly accurate game.
There are also plenty of game modes available, from a Career Mode to a single game; doubles matches (either competitive or co-operative) and online play. This gives Grand Slam Tennis 2 a serious amount of long-term appeal. It also makes it ideal whether you want to just have a quick knockabout with friends or take on the more gruelling option of a tournament or career.
Graphics are highly impressive. Venues are beautifully rendered and look stunning; players bear more than a passing resemblance to their real-life counterparts (although some are more convincing than others) and the animation is fluid. In fact, if you passed someone playing this game and only glanced briefly at the screen, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were watching a real tennis match. The attention to detail even extends to whether certain players are left or right handed (I have my brother in law to thank for this observation, as I wouldn't have a clue!)
Sound is as you would expect from EA Sports. The music is OK (nothing special, nothing awful), crowd effects are pretty generic and other in-game effects sound realistic. The commentary from John McEnroe and Pat Cash treads just the right line between informative, entertaining and funny. Of course, like any such commentary, you keep hearing the same comments repeated again and again, but this never becomes too annoying and Messrs McEnroe and Cash make for good company.
Perhaps the biggest issue is with the controls. It's not that these are bad, rather that they require quite a bit of practice to get to grips with. The default (and simplest) sees you use the left analogue stick for movement and the right to hit the ball (here timing and direction determine the angle of the shot). Timing is particularly crucial and it can take quite a few goes before you get the hang of even hitting the ball back, let alone making that killer shot. Persevere, though, and you slowly find yourself making progress, able to return the ball and even able to determine where you want it to go and at what speed. You do have to invest time in mastering this, though and whilst you are, the game can feel like an exercise in frustration. The game is also compatible with Playstation Move, but I can't comment on this as I don't have it.
It's slightly annoying that the controls occasionally feel a little bit unresponsive. This is particularly noticeable when you are receiving a serve. You press the joystick to move, but your on-screen avatar doesn't respond for a crucial second... by which time the ball has gone past you.
I'm not a tennis expert, but the interpretation of the rules seems pretty much spot on. My brother in law (who's a big tennis fan) certainly thinks it's pretty faithful. Player AI is good and reflects real life, with players like Federer, Nadal and company being harder to beat than lower ranked ones.
The one frustration with the game's AI comes with the Net and Out rules. There doesn't seem to be any logic to when these occur and it feels as though the game just randomly decides when it's time one of your shots went into the net or out. This can be frustrating - particularly when it happens at key times in a set or match.
The only one I've previously enjoyed was Sensible Software's International 3D Tennis and in many ways I see Grand Slam Tennis 2 as its successor. Both had excellent, fluid graphics (although they took a very different approach), both were realistic and accurate interpretations of the sport with logical in-game physics and (most crucially) both appealed to newcomers whilst providing a long-term challenge to veteran computer tennis players.
Tennis might not be my sport of choice, but I can definitely recommend Grand Slam Tennis 2. Available new for around £24.99 or second hand for around £5-10
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