Mention the fact that you like playing videogames and you can see people slotting you into the couch potato category. And with good reason. After all, videogames, for all their marvellous presentation and storytelling, are basically about reducing everything that is done in the real world to a few basic button-press combinations. While one can put up with these in scenarios that have little to do with the real world, it can be galling when one is playing games that are rooted in reality — as sports games are. I mean, I can never really get used to the fact that I can make Lionel Messi sell a dummy to a defender by pressing two keys on my keyboard. It seems unfair and unreal. And really messes with the perception of sport being all about noble toil and sweat.
Fortunately, that seems to be changing, thanks to the evolution of motion sensing technology that allows you to control your character on the screen not by hitting buttons but by making actual movements. And sports-oriented games utilise this technology the best — you can actually box by throwing punches in front of the console, sprint by running briskly on the spot, and clout a six or two by firmly swinging your arms. Most of the games built around these titles tend to be a bit on the childish side, enabling one to swing an arm or two for a while and have some fun, but not much more. However, that is changing with the arrival of videogames that serve up a more intense experience. And one of the best of these is Grand Slam Tennis 2.
The title is available for Xbox 360 and PS3, but we really think that you should go for the PS3 version if you have a Move controller handy. On paper, the game seems like a standard tennis simulator — you can play as great players, you can build a player, you can play in some of the biggest tournaments in the world (including Wimbledon, which is a rarity in tennis videogames) — all with life-like graphics and playing arena, great sound, et al. And you can play it from the comfort of your bed or couch with a gamepad, using EA’s much hyped Total Racquet Control System, which involves fiddling with an analogue stick, and direction keys to move your player around. Or you can just pick up your Move controller and park yourself in front of your console and swing away. Just as you would on a real tennis court.
And it is here that Grand Slam Tennis 2 really comes into its own. Unlike some of the other motion sensing titles we have seen (Virtua Tennis, Top Spin) that restrict you to playing only some modes of the game in motion-sensing mode, you can play right through Grand Slam tennis with the Move motion controller. The game actually picks up slices and topspin shots as well as crosscourt ones without any problem whatsoever, although you do need to mash a button on the controller for lobs and drop shots. Now combine that with stunning graphics — and we mean so stunning that my mum actually thought I was playing make-believe while Rafa and Fedex battled it out in a real match — and you have perhaps the first heavy-duty tennis title that makes the most of motion sensing. I am actually tempted to find one of those racquet accessories to attach to the Move “wand” — it just seems more realistic to swing a racquet that way. The game seems a tad slow initially but ratchet it up to ‘Superstar’ level and you will find sweat running off your brow as you pound away at your opponents.
No, it is not perfect. There are some gaping loopholes in the gameplay — the most startling being that while the system can track your swings, it cannot track your actual movement. So your player moves pretty much as dictated by the computer rather than any movement made by you. There were moments when I wanted to rush the net to finish off a point but could not because my player (Rafael Nadal) was a baseliner by nature. Similarly, I could not stop John McEnroe from rushing to the net time and again, when all I wanted was to stand back and hit a few slices. My advice: pick a baseliner as your player, as it seems most natural that way. It would also have been so satisfying if the player on screen would react the way I would after winning a point — seeing Federer nod sagely on-screen when I was dancing around the room after making him hit a perfect drop shot was sort of disconcerting. Finally, did it have to be John McEnroe in charge of the coaching / tutorial mode? I almost threw my controller at the screen at his constant flow of derision.
But chuck all of that to the background, and Grand Slam Tennis 2 is perhaps the first game I have played on a console that seems to replicate the experience of playing a sport in the actual arena. The crowds are realistic, the players look great, the sounds are right out of a tennis court and gameplay with the motion controller a cinch for those who have played the game. If it is make-believe tennis you want, played from a couch, grab Virtua Tennis 4 or Top Spin 4, but if you want to sweat a bit and cannot find time to make it to the local tennis court, I recommend trying Grand Slam Tennis 2. It is as close to real tennis as a videogame can get. Now, excuse me, I have to help Roger Federer retain his number one spot in the game!