Title: AO Tennis 2
Developer: Big Ant Studios
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Genre: Family, Simulation, Sports
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 09/01/2020
Price: £47.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Fans of tennis have been somewhat underserved in recent years in the world of gaming. With the two leading game franchises in Top Spin and Virtua Tennis having seemingly died with the last console generation, it has been up to Big Ant Studios to step up to the baseline with their AO Tennis series.
AO Tennis 2 certainly has lofty ambitions, and the game makes an admirable attempt to capture the depth and flair of the likes of the FIFA franchise. However, obvious budgetary constraints ultimately lead to a somewhat hit and miss experience.
Upon loading AO Tennis you’re greeted by the usual selection of game modes including a fully fleshed out career mode, multiplayer suite, a fully licensed Australian Open tournament mode and various other standard matches/tournament options. Before jumping into that, there is also a reasonably well-equipped set of tutorials and training mini-games to help you get a feel for the controls.
The controls and moment to moment gameplay are probably where the game succeeds the most, with intuitive controls and an emphasis on timing that is easy to learn but difficult to master. There is definitely a rewarding feeling when you start nailing a perfectly timed forehand down the line. Ball and player animations are also well done and add nicely to the authenticity of the experience.
Before launching into any of the main game modes, it is also worth delving into AO Tennis 2’s surprisingly robust customisation options via the ‘Academy’ area. In here is a well fleshed out character customisation suite as well as a venue creator. It is also here that you will discover one of this game’s secret weapons, its community. At its core, AO Tennis 2 is very light in terms of licensing, with only 25 real-world players and the Australian Open being the only officially licensed aspects of the game. However, the creation suite has been utilised by the online community to create many fairly decent facsimiles of real-world players and arenas that can be downloaded for free and used in all the game modes.
The career mode is rather impressive in its scope and attention to detail.
Numerous touches help elevate the mode above the norm on paper. The cutscenes and press conference between matches, basic though they are, add some much-needed character to the game and help stop it being so text and menu heavy. The fact that your answers in press conferences, as well as reactions in-game, also affect the sponsorships you’re offered in your career is also a nice touch.
There is quite an extensive set of progression mechanics in place, where you earn money and experience that can be used to boost your player’s skills and stats. Money earned can also be used to acquire different personnel that provide various passive stat boosts to your player. This is in addition to a fatigue system that takes into account travel distances between tournaments and will negatively impact your player’s stats and lead to injuries if you don’t take rest weeks in your schedule. Overall there’s an admirable amount of attention to detail to try and craft a realistic experience.
After spending a while playing against computer-controlled opponents, some cracks do begin to appear though. It’s here that some disappointingly one-note AI starts to hinder the experience. Computer-controlled players have little to no variation in the way they act, hugging the baseline constantly while trying to move you to and fro around the court. The only noticeable difference between someone like Rafa Nadal and a local amateur player seems to be how powerful their shots are. Opponents also have a penchant for moving across the court at inhuman speeds and seldom making errors of any kind.
During multiple hours of play, I can count the number of times an opponent has buried a shot into the net on the one hand. This means that most rallies devolve into a tedious and overlong back and forth from the baseline until one player hits a sublime winner out of nowhere. The first few times you go through a 20+ shot rally of this sort are relatively tense and exhilarating, but they soon become far too common to the point where they feel arbitrary. I can’t count the number of times I’ve hit a sublime, Roger Federer-esque winner despite apparently timing my shot badly. Due to this, extended play sessions do begin to become a grind which harms the extensive career mode in particular.
There is at least a noticeable difference in ball speed between different playing surfaces which provides a little more variety. Still, it didn’t take long before I was simulating more matches than I was playing myself. Online or local play against human opponents alleviates this issue and provides a much more realistic and fun experience, ensuring you can connect and play a match. Sadly the online player base seems to be rather small, and the disconnections are plenty.
Licensed players such as Rafael Nadal look pretty close to their real-life counterparts. Character models for less famous players are a little more…mixed.
Outside of the fully licensed Australian Open tournament mode, which is definitely where the game is at its most polished, the overall presentation is a little all over the place. The animations above are solid, but character models vary wildly in quality. Outside of the more prominent names, most players are mostly unrecognisable. Despite the efforts of the community, the user-generated characters have the usual graphical limitations imposed by using an in-game character creator. The same applies to the courts themselves, where the licensed arenas look great.
However, the smaller courts and user-generated content tends to be a lot more empty and lifeless in comparison. There is also a complete lack of in-game commentary during matches. While commentary in sports games is rarely very strong, the lack of it amplifies how empty and lifeless matches can feel. Once you are in a match, the game runs very well, holding a steady frame rate and remaining relatively bug-free aside from the occasional animation glitch. Load times can be somewhat excruciating though, especially when loading into a match.
Game, Set and Match
AO Tennis 2 deserves praise for its scope and ambition. It’s a game that plays solidly and makes an admirable attempt at crafting an immersive and detailed career mode. However, weak opponent AI and uneven presentation do a lot to derail the experience. Die-hard tennis fans should find a lot to like about this game, but more casual players will likely be put off by the fact that AO Tennis 2 leans heavily towards a more realistic, simulation-style experience. Despite being a game that has clearly been made with a lot of love, a few unforced errors mean AO Tennis 2 falls short of being a truly enjoyable experience.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase AO Tennis 2 from the PlayStation Store on the following link, https://store.playstation.com/en-gb/product/EP4008-CUSA17267_00-AO2SIEE000000000
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.