Originally growing up in England leaves me with different memories regarding tennis, stretching from the annual Wimbledon fever, failed attempts to wield a racket and of course tennis on various game platforms. The Wimbledon memories were certainly ‘coming of age’ vignettes, the later years being on sunny Summer days and involved dragging a TV in to the garden to eat strawberries and drink sensibly while cheering on the players of favour. Gaming tennis didn’t get much better than Nintendo tennis or Jimmy Connors tennis on the SNES, both of which offered great gameplay and the chance to live out those Wimbledon dreams.
These days EA have taken any kind of sport they touch and elevated them to brave new heights, the satellite TV presentation just reeks of class, the licensed players and equipment just add to your levels of involvement. Building on the work they have already done in other top drawer sports franchises Grand Slam Tennis is no different, it may drop the odd double fault mid set, but on the whole this is as close to being there as I could ever imagine.
The game sets it stall out early and encourages you to play with its ‘pro’ approach to tennis, basically using the right stick to attack the ball with styles of shot. This can be ignored and controls can be wound back to standard fare of hitting buttons to make things happen, but to honest the default mode is smooth and effective. Sometimes so effective I wonder how much is me and how much is being filed in for me. Players run around the court smoothly via the left stick, lunging and diving when they feel the need, almost in response to your thought patterns. The good thing about in game players diving onto clay, they spring back up pretty quickly to rejoin the rally, so there is no really sense of danger.
After wrestling with the training mini games and enduring John McEnroe’s ultra repetitive commentary you will be ready for some matches. Launch into a exhibition match or complete a ten year career mode complete with character building stats, there is plenty of challenge on offer for a budding tennis superstar. The career mode also offers in game challenges to boost experience points as standard, a nice touch but can be a distraction. My biggest gripe with the career matches is the apparent inability to save and quit partway through a match, there are times when you may have started the semi final at Wimbledon, but need to stop the clock and come back later. The game does not appear to agree and given the perception that a well ground match can last a while, I see this as a minor issue.
Of course xbox Live players are well catered for with a mix of competitive game modes that are offer to play online.
As in other EA sport titles you can opt for preset players or build your own pro, whether they look like you or not the idea is sound and it builds some attachment, especially when you are playing a career match and your mistakes are costing them dearly. I don’t mind putting together a new pro, but I wonder how hard it would be for the game to use my FIFA pro instead. Besides which he would be in great company given the twenty or so famous and well drawn likenesses that you will be standing up against in the quest for gold, incidentally the effort that has gone into some of the big name players is quite stunning. Their behavioural traits, swings and styles are accurately captured to the level that you can name a player by their animation alone.
For the most part the game has a robust physics engine, but there have been a couple of whacky shots where a seemingly out of bounds ball is recovered and smashed back at the opponent. It also took me a few games to get to grips with the serving mechanics, which did not seem to suit me at first, but once I understood it things moved up a gear. Worth mentioning too that the PS3 is graced with what appears to be pretty solid Move support, I think the lack of Kinect support is most likely a bonus.
Overall, for a tennis nut this package has plenty on offer, for a tennis dabbler I can appreciate the games construction path, and sublime controls, but I struggle to see myself playing into the future. That would be purely because there is so much else vying for our attentions that I could not spare the time and if I did have any free game time I’d be on the Battlefield or the Fifa pitch. That said there are times of dream of the court, the thwock of a fast serve onto clay and the echo around a hushed stadium.