Tiger Woods, Skate and Fight Night have all experimented with right analogue stick inputs, bringing a new level of fidelity to traditionally arcadey experiences.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 mimics EA Sports' ambition, bringing a new level of shot precision to the game of tennis. Dubbed "Total Racquet Control" by a savvy marketing team, the control scheme attempts to put you in control of every shot — offering full placement and power precision with a flick of the right stick.
Like last year's Top Spin 4, EA's foray into the world of tennis is entirely timing based, with adept control resulting in greater shot precision. But while the mechanics appear familiar from a birds-eye view, the "Total Racquet Control" system does offer something fundamentally different.
Admittedly, the system isn't immediately intuitive. The final game will probably solve this issue by the inclusion of a tutorial mode — or "Tennis School" — notably greyed out from our demo, but there's a legitimate criticism to be pointed at the game's learning curve. Once you get a feel for "Total Racquet Control" though, it makes perfect sense, although it's not quite the game changer EA hopes it will be.
At a basic level, the control system adapts your shots, power and placement all depending on the motions you input using the right analogue stick. A simple push forward results in a flat shot, with the direction and speed of the push impacting placement and power. The flat shot can be modified using the L2 button in order to perform a basic lob. Similarly, pulling the analogue stick backwards and then swiftly forwards executes a trickier top-spin shot, while simply flicking the stick backwards prompts a slice. Holding the R2 button while performing a slice executes a tricky drop-shot.
The system works, but can be temperamental. After years of being conditioned into making shot placement with the left analogue stick, it feels scandalous using the right analogue stick. But worse than that, while the system is designed with precision in mind, it doesn't always feel as sturdy as it should — particularly when playing slice shots, which practically require you to stab the analogue stick in order to hone your placement.
Thankfully, the game also includes button controls, which fare better and feel similar to Top Spin 4. Releasing the required button just before you want to swing results in "good" timing and allows you to play the ball with more accuracy. EA's been smart in allowing you to switch between the button controls and "Total Racquet Control" freely — locking you out of neither. We imagine most players will settle upon a combination between the two control types — with the right analogue stick used for placing flat shots, and the buttons used for the more complicated slice and top-spin returns.
Ever since Sports Champions redefined motion controls with its table tennis mode, we've longed for a similarly accurate tennis game. Both Top Spin 4 and Virtua Tennis 4 made attempts — with the latter game's isolated motion control mode coming off the better of the two. But while Virtua Tennis 4's motion control mechanics felt good, they lacked the wider implementation to make them anything more than a side distraction. Grand Slam Tennis 2, to its credit, makes PlayStation Move a viable control option throughout the entirety of its offering.
Unfortunately, the results are only marginally better than Top Spin 4. Both 2K's title and Grand Slam Tennis 2 adopt a similar implementation, replacing button inputs for motion gestures. While the precision of "Total Racquet Control" makes Grand Slam Tennis 2's implementation the superior of the two, it's still not the 1:1 simulation of the sport that we've been clamouring for.
There is some intricacy to the way the controls are presented on PlayStation Move though. Steady rotations through the ball allow you to perform flat shots, while cuts naturally result in slices. Down and up rotations allow you to perform top-spin shots, while angling the racquet has a rough impact on shot placement. For example, if you play a shot — backhand or forehand — with the PlayStation Move angled outwards, you'll be able to play the ball down the line; whereas if you scoop the controller around, you'll play the ball cross-court.
Unfortunately, while the precision appears to be there, the game has a penchant for completely misdetecting what you're trying to do. We struggled with backhand immensely, and while our top-spin forehand shots would nearly always go where intended, we felt slices were similarly difficult to control in either stance. The biggest illusion killer is the game's complete disregard for correct form though — if you swing a forehand return when the ball is actually coming to your player's backhand, the game will detect and play the shot anyway. It creates a complete disconnect between your motions and the game, essentially breaking the experience.
Further disappointments come in the form of modifiers, that allow you to hold the Move button to return drop-shots, or hold the T button for a lob. In reality, scooping beneath the ball and playing upwards should allow you to play a lob shot — but these kind of actions go completely undetected by Grand Slam Tennis 2. It's a bitter disappointment that years after the release of Sports Champions, still no one has managed to replicate the quality of the motion controls within that game.
Still, Grand Slam Tennis 2's strengths come from the presentation department. The inclusion of Wimbledon alone is a rarity, and it looks absolutely stunning in-game. Dust kicks up as your players run around centre court, and you can even hear the faint roar of jet engines flying overhead. There's a great sense of place.
Commentary provided by Pat Cash and John McEnroe adds to that sense of occasion, though we couldn't help but notice that the range of recorded dialogue seemed disappointingly thin. Hopefully this is just a limitation of the demo.
Tennis games have always struggled with player likenesses — who could forget the zombified Tim Henman from the original Virtua Tennis? As such, it's reassuring to see Grand Slam Tennis 2 get that aspect right, with on-screen interpretations of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal unnervingly accurate. The AI is pretty decent too, with both players feeling true-to-life on the highest CPU level. For example — Rafael Nadal would stick to the baseline, returning strong, powerful forehands, while Novak Djokovic covered more of the court, playing a greater range of shots.
Player animation is good, but not up to the standard of EA Sports' other products. There appears to be some kind of magnetism effect that draws your player towards the ball if you're out of position, and while it no doubt improves gameplay for newcomers — making difficult shots harder to reach — the effect looks bizarre on-screen as players seemingly teleport across the court.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is not quite the perfect simulation of tennis we were hoping for — the motion controls are disappointingly imprecise, and while the "Total Racquet Control" mechanics bring something new to the genre, the traditional button scheme feels the more sturdy of the two DualShock options. There's still plenty to look forward to — Grand Slam Tennis 2's presentation is in a different league to the other available tennis titles, and we're expecting great things from the campaign mode — but consider our expectations somewhat tempered for now.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is set to release February 10th and February 14th in Europe and North America respectively. It supports the PlayStation Move motion controller.