When Grand Slam Tennis
launched on the Wii back in early June, it was met with generally strong reviews thanks to the motion-sensitive control scheme and fun gameplay design. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were supposed to get their very own version of Grand Slam Tennis later this fall, but a week ago EA let loose the news
that both versions were being put on indefinite hold. Read on to find out why.
Not having motion-sensitive controls was obviously a bit of a problem for the developers tasked with making a tennis game on analog sticks. To combat the lack of a Wii remote the devs opted to go with an analog swing mechanic (with the option of using face buttons). Pulling back on the stick starts the swing and pivoting the stick to the right or left determines whether you'll use top spin or backspin respectively (opposite direction when hitting a backhand). Holding the stick back and moving it up is a power swing. There's a tennis school to start things off to get you acquainted with the controls, but even the developers who were demoing Grand Slam seemed to have issues with the mechanics at first.
The on-court action is where development likely hit its biggest snag. Being a diehard tennis fan myself, I was able to spot several inaccurate grips when hitting slice and top spin, on several occasions I even saw Rafa Nadal ripping one-handed backhands – something he could not do in real life. But the inaccuracies extended beyond finite points of tennis, even the ball striking was a bit off. All too often the ball wouldn't make proper contact with the racquet and animations wouldn't look as dead-on as they should given the technology that's available.
Grand Slam Tennis was scheduled to include a full career mode as well as standard exhibition matches where you would have been able to pick from any of the 23 tennis stars (the same list that was in the Wii version). Your career was planned to begin with you ranked number 100 in the world with the end goal of taking down Roger Federer's new Grand Slam record of 15 titles. You'd have the option of training with mini-games, playing in side tournaments, and entering into Grand Slam qualifying tournaments if your ranking isn't high enough for an automatic bid. You'd also have the ability to hop into the pro shop and spend points that you earned for completing certain tasks on the court.
The structure of the career mode was one of a few impressive aspects to Grand Slam Tennis. Having all four Grand Slam tournaments officially licensed is also a big deal for tennis fans, but there were other nuances that impressed me as well. Johnny Mac being in the booth (and playable on the court) added some definite liveliness to the presentation, even if a few of the quips that I heard were a bit longwinded. I also enjoyed the use of soundscape to differentiate the amount of energy when playing on different courts. If you're ranked 100 and playing on an outer court, you'll have a much less exciting experience than when playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Online play also had some good ideas behind it. For starters, online tournaments were a planned feature and there was an even a mechanic to ensure that you wouldn't have to wait around for your designated opponent. If you're in the second round and your opponent isn't showing up for the match, then the AI will match you with another available player and count that as your second-round match, regardless of where the other player is in the draw. The dev team also planned to include a latency eliminator that was supposed to "cache time." We weren't given specifics of the inner-workings, but the idea sounded cool.
Visually Grand Slam Tennis on Xbox 360 and PlayStation had taken a noticeable jump from the days of the Wii, but was still influenced by the lesser-powered system. Character models were nicely detailed but certainly had Wii-centric touches that lessened their realism. Other nice details like slide marks on clay courts were also present, as was an abundance of sweat on the players.
Having seen Grand Slam Tennis first-hand while in Vancouver a few months ago, it's pretty clear why the game was put on hold. There were certainly good ideas fueling the tennis, but the gameplay itself was nowhere near where it needed to be to live up to what EA Sports expects from the title. The company has hinted at the use of motion control for the title going forward, but that would mean implementing Natal and Sony's motion controller and who knows when those will hit the market (all signs point to late next year). For now we'll just have to wonder at what the title might have been had it shipped later this year.
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