The major sports games usually turn up later in the year, but EA Sports has a collection of big-budget titles hitting this quarter. The first off the bat – or racquet – is Grand Slam Tennis 2, a fantasy match-up of the best in the biz.
Grand Slam Tennis 2
Features a unique analogue control system – Total Racquet Control.
Packs in a ten-year career single-player campaign, Classic mode, and online multiplayer, as well as training modules.
Due on PS3 and Xbox 360 in early February, with exclusive features for both consoles.
Uses EA’s Online Pass system.
Normally reserved for summer and autumn, sports is coming early to games this year thanks to EA. First up is the traditional winter knockabout: tennis.
Successor to the Wii-exclusive original, Grand Slam Tennis 2 is so-named because it is the only tennis game – among a respectable number of popular competitors – to offer players the chance to secure a Grand Slam. For those who don’t spend their summers glues to the TV getting neck sprain, that means emerging as champion from the four major tennis tournaments, or Slams – the Australian Open, the French Open, the US Open, and Wimbledon. Only five adult players have ever won a singles Grand Slam over the course of a single year, making it a sporting dream so far beyond the average joe’s grasp.
Nevertheless, you’re going to try. Your created character is carefully nurtured over a decade through to champion level. There’s a full suite of training tools to help you warm up to exhibition matches, unlock the career points necessary to compete in tournaments – forming rivalries with other stars and unlocking new gear along the way – and finally, to seed in the Slams.
If you’re not into fiddling with facial characteristics, but long to see yourself replicated on-screen, pick up the Xbox 360 version – the Kinect-enabled Gameface will do most of the hard work for you. Otherwise, the editor used to create your would-be champion is quite robust, even giving you the chance to specify how often, via slider, your rising star should grunt while exerting themselves (on a scale of Roger Federer to Maria Sharapova, producer Liam Miller suggested). You can select from a number of demeanours, too, opting for a restrained, dignified facade or a showier, more emotional type.
Just like John McEnroe, then; but if your efforts to build a colourful sportsman don’t match up to the real thing, why, the real thing is available, too. Grand Slam Tennis 2 doesn’t take itself as seriously as the niche fanatic audience might like, instead opting to provide a kind of every man’s tennis experience, packing in names from several decades of tennis history. Of the 23 characters, there’s almost certain to be on you’ve heard of, from Lleyton Hewitt to the Williams sisters, famous rivals Federer and Novak Djokovic, Pete Sampras and Pat Cash.
While star athletes can’t risk injury performing the exhaustive motion capture required for true authenticity, EA Canada took body scans of the real deal, and then hired high-level professional players for the performance grunt work. The attention to detail extends past looks and animation to gear – players are dressed and equipped in the most up-to-date and accurate way possible.
The Australian Open models are almost eerily exact replicas of the players flinging themselves about in Melbourne this month. The animation on hair and clothes is robustly physics-powered, an aesthetic whimsy which Miller credits as essential to the “fluidity” and “elegance” of high-level tennis play.
Equal attention has been lavished on the grounds. EA Sports has licensed all four Slam tournaments, and has an exclusivity deal for three of Wimbledon’s courts. This gave the development team the freedom to go nuts on details, collecting thousands of photographic references. How far down does the detail go? Right down to the colour and kinds of flowers at Wimbledon, Miller asserted.
It’s not just skin deep, either, because EA Canada wants a healthy dose of simulation accuracy with its order of tennis fantasy. Players slip on the clay of Roland Garros and bounce on the grass at Wimbledon; very different prospects to the hard surfaces in Melbourne and New York.
On that note, the transition from WiiMote to control pad seems to have gone well. The PlayStation 3 version supports the Move controller, and EA Canada is pretty pleased with the tech, but its the analog sticks Miller seems most proud of.
It’s pretty simple; the left stick sends your player running back and forth across the court, while the right stick does everything else – and “everything” is quite a lot. With a stab or a slingshot motion, you can specify the power of the shot, its placement, and spin, all by controlling – in a more accurate use of the term “analog” – the position and movement of your racquet. This is no WiiSports; if you’ve never held a racquet in your life (or just play like you haven’t), you’ll probably want to spend a few hours in those training modules.
Tennis isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but EA Sports has applied the same aspirational simulation model which has been so successful in its other titles, so that even a hardened sports hater like myself can’t help but feel the lure.
Once you’ve mastered it, though, there’s plenty more to do beyond tucking a Grand Slam or two under your sponsored belt; you can unlock Classic Matches, for a start, and either relive – or rewrite – real world match-ups dating back to the 1970’s. While probably of most interest to tennis buffs, thanks to the breadth of the cast even a cursory familiarity with the sport’s history should yield an interest, and successfully completing Classic match unlocks more, up to 25.
After that, you can take your game online. Singles and doubles matches mean you can play with up to three friends, and EA Canada swears by its netcode, promising a “virtually lag-free experience”. The developer has also taken inspiration from the success of Football Club and Autolog to launch a Battle of the Nations in addition to regular global and local leaderboards, pitting nation against nation.
Tennis isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but EA Sports has applied the same aspirational simulation model which has been so successful in its other titles, so that even a hardened sports hater like myself can’t help but feel the lure. There’s something about the RPG-like progression teamed with sufficiently challenging controls, and the incredibly lofty goal of netting a Grand Slam – perhaps, collectively, more Grand Slams than the US – which speaks to the competitive gamer lurking in my out-of-shape heart. Be right back – gotta practice my backhand.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 arrives for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on February 9 in Australia, February 10 in Europe, and February 14 in the US. A demo is available now.