Tennis games and I have a weird relationship. It was an ancient, LCD handheld tennis game that taught me the fundamentals of tennis scoring. Numbers? Then words? Then words that are numbers? Huh?
Then, when I started playing video games, tennis became my favourite sport to play in digital form. The combination of reflexes, response time and angles of attack felt right to me and, still to this day, I get more worked up when playing tennis titles.
But recent serve-and-volley experiences have left me cold. I used to love the Top Spin games, but the changes to the control scheme in Top Spin 3 frustrated me to the point where Top Spin 4's attempt to address those issues felt inadequate. And I took Virtua Tennis 4 for a whirl, but something about it felt too robotic for me to really enjoy.
So, I was more than ready to try out Grand Slam Tennis 2 at a demo last week. Most significantly, EA's bringing their tennis franchise to PS3 and Xbox 360 after a Wii game a few years back. Player likenesses look great, with animations that bring little individual quirks to life. As for the tournaments themselves, Wimbledon will be exclusive to Grand Slam Tennis 2, making it the only game to have all four real-world Grand Slams. Also, with Grand Slam Tennis 2, EA's adopting the same right analogue stick control that they've implemented with their Tiger Woods, Fight Night and NHL franchises. With Total Racket Control, a straight upward push on the right stick gives a safe return and pulling back on the stick grants top spin to the ball. You'll pull off lobs and drop shots by pressing R2 as a modifier with different shot motions. Serving's broken up into a two-part swing meter, where you pull back and hold for power and forward to serve. Holding too long will result in faults. I found the timing tricky to master, but there's supposed to be training to get you used to the mechanic.
The whole thing felt responsive and I was able to get the ball where I wanted to. My own flubs came from having Federer rush the net too often, giving the AI Sharapova opportunity to get the ball behind me. (Hey, I never said I was good at tennis games. Just that I was passionate.) The Pro AI system in the game is based on actual pros' proclivities so that virtual Sharapova was able to play the baseline and get me running to and fro. If you actually know how your athlete of choice likes to play, you'll do better in competition.
In what's pretty much a no-brainer, Grand Slam Tennis 2 will support the PlayStation Move peripheral. Gestures map as you'd expect and there's movement auto-assist if you're just playing with the Move wand. Your character will get there in time for you to plant your feed; all you need to worry about is aiming your swing. Using Move was fun but I kept getting distracted by my own body mechanics, which are not just that good, honestly. Total Racket Control and the chance to hoist tennis' biggest trophy at Wimbledon makes Grand Slam Tennis 2 one to watch when it hits next year.