Reviews

Grand Slam Tennis 2

Playing without the fear of the side and endlines makes Grand Slam Tennis 2 much more like Checkers than Chess.


Grand Slam Tennis 2

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Players: 1-4
Price: $59.99
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: 2012-02-14
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Were it not for the beautiful HD graphics and character models, Grand Slam Tennis 2 might as well be Mario Tennis 64. This isn't a condemnation of the game -- Mario Tennis remains one of the greatest games in the Mario lineage -- but it does point to a disturbing fact about tennis video games: the AI of the games has hardly changed in the last decade or two.

The real-life gameplay of the sport may be at fault for this. Though an obvious truth, given tennis' one-on-one nature, if you're not hitting the ball back to your opponent, you're losing the game. As such, the sport necessitates that you are always where the ball is/will be. In real life, human error and the difficulty of hitting precise, accurate shots adds drama and variance to this model. In video games, which require a level of automated functionality in addition to human action, the placement of your shots is rarely in question (ie, in bounds).

Playing without the fear of the side and endlines makes Grand Slam Tennis 2 -- and in effect, most tennis games -- much more like Checkers than Chess. Defensive shots are a rarity as the ability to return balls on the fly to exact court locations presents little challenge. The game becomes an exercise in tedium: forehand left corner, forehand left corner, backhand right corner. Game, set, match.

To offset this tried and true model, the designers at EA might have considered adding a real-time accuracy meter to ball striking. Instead, the gameplay revelation in Grand Slam Tennis 2 is the Total Racket Control functionality. This addition theoretically gives you control over each shot. By pulling back on the right analog stick and moving it forward, you add top spin. By simply pulling back and letting go, you strike a slice shot. There are various other deviations from this method, but all are simple to master and implement. The first time that I played Novak Djokovic, I won without surrendering a single game.

Though this gameplay appears remedial, it mostly outweighs the converse problem, which dominates most of sports games: overly intelligent and powerful AI. In the Madden series, for instance, linebackers frequently become adept at reading plays and leaping for interceptions. In most basketball games, opposing teams will go on unstoppable runs. In essence, a significant portion of sporting games’ AI has the ability to say: "You’re Not Winning This." Grand Slam Tennis 2 suffers from the opposite, which, while it remains less infuriating, does not make the game noticeably better.

This issue primarily presents itself in the game’s career mode. After creating my generic defensive baseline striker -- who, for the first time in my experience, I was actually able to design to resemble me (the graphics in the game truly are astounding) -- I tore through a small tournament before heading to the French Open, which I immediately dominated. My player carries a 35 player rating. Djokovic, for example, was in the 90s. The early rounds were against similar low lifes, but as I progressed, I kept waiting for someone like Andy Roddick to dispense of me. Alas, the time never came, and I soon crumbled to my knees in exuberance at center court after winning match (and tournament) point.

It’s not that 19-year-old digital me won the first tournament that I played -- it was the ease at which I did it. I checked the game for difficulty settings but couldn’t find any. Regardless, I was playing on the default difficulty. The game tries to encourage challenging yourself by reducing the number of games and sets per match and increasing the bonuses that you earn if you can achieve goals in limited game time. But given the truly archaic player advancement system and the fact that ranked as 35 out of 100 I was able to win the French Open, the desire to make your matches shorter isn’t to challenge yourself -- it’s to get it over with sooner. In this regard, the game’s career mode isn’t much of a career mode at all. You’re just being better than everyone for a long period of time... with a character that kind of looks like you.

Fortunately, as previously mentioned, the presentation of the game (barring the repetitive commentary, which appears more limited than most sports games) is some of the cleanest that EA has ever offered. Players move fluidly and naturally, the facial and physical attributes of the professionals -- both current superstars and the historical pros -- are pristine, and there are few if any glitches that can frustrate. But without varied play styles, the need to improve your character, or truly innovative gameplay, Grand Slam Tennis 2 lacks the kind of oomph or innovation to make it remarkable.

6
Music

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

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(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

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(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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