The first thing to point out here is that the game is now in HD - releasing on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 - and it's looking pretty snazzy. While the first Grand Slam was very stylistic, the sequel is more concerned with accurate character models and photo-realistic environments. I can't decide if it looks better than Top Spin 4 or not, but it certainly looks good. I was particularly impressed with the animations, which capture everything from subtle foot to foot rocking, to fist pumps and full on racquet-throwing breakdowns. Emotion is something that EA has captured well here.
What gives EA an edge over 2K and SEGA here is that it covers all four major grand slams: Roland Garros, US Open, Australian Open and - crucially - Wimbledon. EA has exclusive rights to the prestigious tournament, meaning this is the only way you can win a grand slam on the world's most iconic tennis court without having to physically pick up a racquet and do it yourself. For fans of the sport, this is a huge selling point.
Unlike the Wii Remote waggling of the original, EA has introduced a new Total Racquet Control system for the sequel. This means you can play any kind of shot with just the right analogue stick. Smashing forehands, backhands, overheads, and volleys - as well as the power and accuracy of each - can be played with the appropriate flick of the stick. It's pretty much the Skate set-up applied to tennis.
That said, I spent the majority of my time with the game playing with a Move controller. I wasn't under any pressure to do this, which scared me somewhat; I'm usually opposed to using motion controls when there's a perfectly good controller to use. For the most part, Move worked well; your actions are mapped faithfully to the character on screen, and even with that familiar delay it's not hard to slip into a good rhythm. What did annoy me, however, was the only time I'd miss a shot was when the AI controlling court movement didn't get me to the ball in time; something I had no control over whatsoever. With a PlayStation Navigation controller, this problem can be remedied.
Despite a new approach to realism, an element of absurdity has been retained in the players and subsequent matches you can put them in. With several decades worth of iconic tennis stars, you can orchestrate fantasy pairings such as Federer vs Sharapova or Murray vs Borg. Complimenting this is the new PRO AI system, which ensures each player adopts the same style you'd expect them to on a real court. To beat any given player, you'll need to exploit their weaknesses and respond to their signature shots appropriately.
These are just the key new features, of course. Grand Slam Tennis 2 plays host to everything you'd expect from a next-gen tennis game, including a ten-year career mode, online multiplayer and practice modes. It looks as if SEGA and 2K have a new challenger.
Grand Slam Tennis 2 is due for release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in 2012.