By all accounts, AO International Tennis wasn’t very good when it launched back in January 2018.
Criticised as being unfinished and full of bugs, Big Ant Studios’ first tennis game was met with mostly negativity. To the developer’s credit, however, many of the major issues have since been fixed via post-release patches. But the game never really recovered from its initial frosty reception.
So Big Ant Studios has tried again, releasing AO Tennis 2 last week on PC and consoles. It seems the developer has learned from its mistakes and thankfully, AO Tennis 2 is a much smoother experience right from the start. It’s still far from perfect, mind, but it’s at least free from bugs and gripes that made its predecessor initially quite unplayable.
Based around the Australian Open championship, AO Tennis 2 features a fully-fledged roster of real tennis players, a host of courts to play on and numerous modes of play. You can jump into a quick match (both single player against a CPU player or in local multiplayer); opt to take part in a championship, or jump into the extensive career mode that sees you create a new character and have them ascend through the ranks.
However you decide to play, you’ll find a mode that works best for you, and thanks to a clean and easy-to-navigate menu system, it’s a cinch to dive into a match. You’re only held back by the game’s excruciating and bafflingly long load times: expect to be kept waiting upwards of a minute for a match to load. It’s irksome when you simply want the instant gratification of a quick tennis game.
On the bright side, those long load times will at least let you get your fix of social media browsing in while you’re waiting. And once AO Tennis 2 does load, you’ll mostly be satisfied with what you get. It’s not a game that dazzles in graphical fidelity – sure, it’s realistic, but only in the way that FIFA was realistic seven or eight years ago. Character models leave quite a bit to be desired and textures aren’t exactly cutting edge. It feels rather outdated when compared to the visuals of EA’s recent sports outputs – but perhaps that’s an unfair comparison. AO Tennis 2 isn’t from a triple-A developer, so its graphical shortcomings can be easily forgiven. It succeeds where it is most important to: in its gameplay.
Playing a game of tennis in AO Tennis 2 feels as good as you’d expect from a modern sports title. It’s responsive to your inputs, and connecting with the ball feels visceral. Getting a good rally going between your opponent is thrilling, especially when you successfully land a good return after needing to sprint across the court to connect with the ball.
It’s unforgiving though; while it’s easy to merely pass the ball back and forth, making use of the different shot types available to you requires precision and practice. Each of the face buttons can be used to perform a different shot type, and these can be further altered with a press of the right trigger. But timing is everything: press a button a fraction of a second too early or late, or hold a button for a split second too long and you could mess up your shot. AO Tennis 2 gives little room for error, and winning a match means actually getting good.
Getting the most out of AO Tennis 2 means, in my opinion, starting from scratch with your own character in career mode. You’ll start out as a nobody, splitting your time between training to improve your skills and playing small local tournaments to earn some money and grow your reputation. You’ll be in charge of managing your own calendar; that means keeping an eye on your fatigue level, and balancing rest days against training and travelling for competitions. Training will increase your skill level in a chosen area, and money can be spent to further increase your stats.
The management side of AO Tennis 2 will likely be just as much of a draw as the actual playing – in fact, if you’re so inclined, you can skip the matches altogether and let them automatically play out for you, Football Manager style. It’s fun seeing your own creation climb the ranks, and sitting through press conferences (complete with multiple-choice responses) provides an entertaining break away from the repetitive nature of organising your schedule.
But if you don’t care about the management side of things, you can jump straight into a tournament with any character you like. AO Tennis 2 is predominantly about playing tennis, after all, so if you’d rather jump straight into the shoes of Rafael Nadal, you’re well catered for. There’s also an emphasis on community-led content, so heading to the ‘Academy’ from the main menu will allow you to access and download player-created content: new players, logos for your outfits, and even locations.
Naturally, you can get in on the creation too if you’d like – the character creator provides you with plenty of options, but it’s not the most refined tool. The majority of customisations come down to adjusting rudimentary sliders, and some of the changes you can make to a character are frankly mind-boggling (how much their face juts out from their head, for example). That said, you can make some true monstrosities if you’re that way inclined.
There’s not a great deal of competition out there when it comes to tennis games on current-gen consoles, but it’s safe to say AO Tennis 2 is one of the better options. If you can forgive its overly-long load times and mediocre graphics, it’ll provide you with plenty of options for a solid game of tennis – which is really all we can ask for, isn’t it?
AO Tennis 2 is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. We reviewed the Xbox One version.
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