Sports games in general have to walk a very fine line when trying to recreate the thrill of the sport but also in making it fun for the player. Go too far in either direction and the balance can be thrown off enough that the intended experience is lost. It can happen in any sports game and when the mix is right it can be amazing to play from football to basketball to racing games. With Tennis there is surprisingly very little titles to really call on other than Top Sin and more arcade style games. The first AO Tennis game failed to get the balance right and was quite a disappointing mess. But now 2020 kicks off with the second attempt to get things right but the question is, did they finally get the balance right?
Starting off it has to be said that this title really likes the financial punch that you can see in titles likes FIFA, PES or NBA2K games so the presentation is rather basic and to the point from the moment you fire the games up. It is also very noticeable and it is still very jarring to see the engine struggle both in the actual matches with animation and player models, something that the first game suffered from and sadly have not been ironed out for this sequel. Whilst I will always be more focused on the actual gameplay and the modes a game has over the quality of the visuals but here the visuals are almost last generation level and even playing on my Xbox One X, it was very noticeable.
The next noticeable aspect is the roster of real-world talent and sadly, it is missing some of the biggest names in the sport in its limited line up of 25 real world stars. Though you have Rafael Nadal as your cover star, the absence of iconic players such as Roger Federer, Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova does make an impact on the game though this is no doubt down to licensing issues, it prevents some of the dream matches that fans of Tennis would realistically expect to be able to have in a video game. Where the game does try to counter this is by having a robust creator mode which allows players to create their own tennis stars and even stadiums to hold matches and tournaments in which also allows the ability to download the creations made by the community, with some very hit and miss versions of the missing star players, into their own game.
The create a player system really tries to offer a truly deep system where not only can you adjust the physical look of a player but you can micromanage every detail of the clothing, bags used and tennis rackets. Depending on how much you enjoy digging around in such systems, you can quickly make your own tennis star to take into career mode or the online mode of the game. For me, this system felt like a stripped-down version of the creator system used in WWE2K games, but it does offer something to make up for the lack of real-world players. I never ended up with a created player I was really happy with and making adjustments to physical attributes using the sliders often felt as if they were doing very little, in the hands of someone experienced it could be used to fine tune a creation. Being able to share your own creation with the community and to download someone else’s is a welcome aspect and adds a little extra to this system.
The game mode that you will find yourself in the most will be the Career mode which allows you to pick either a real-world tennis star or to create your own to take on the road. You can really see the amount of effort that has gone into the design of this mode as it takes into account what a tennis pro would actually do during the professional year. This means that in-between major tournaments you will need to do training in order to prepare but it also requires knowing when to rest your player as well which is a nice little bit of attention to detail and actually has an impact on your performance in matches if you were to over train or even suffer jetlag from travelling to each tournament. It might seem a little over the top to have that level of detail but in a career mode especially in Tennis it is something that adds an element of reality to the mode which I appreciate in sports titles.
Gameplay has been improved a little since the first game with a system that using the controller face buttons to decide the type of shot you want to make but where it still struggles however is walking that fine line between trying to recreate an authentic tennis pro experience and still making it accessible and fun for the player. It still feels far too much on the simulation side which makes the punishment for failing to grasp the control system very frustrating. It also suffers from moments where it fails to respond to button presses, the number of times my player refused to even swing his racket just left me staring at the screen in disbelief. One aspect to the more simulation focus of the gameplay is the ability to emotionally react to a point, win or lose you can show happiness by waving to the fans or you can be angry and show your frustration by throwing your racket down in true tennis pro fashion. This will impact on your reputation and can have an effect on sponsorship deals for your career.
Sadly, there are too many niggles that jump out of the game stopping this from being the smooth tennis game experience it should be. As well as issues with animation and control system being unresponsive at times, the sound in the game constantly feels like something is actually wrong with the game, when the crowd sounds are triggered, they just feel like it was recorded via a box around the microphone. Not to mention a crazy save icon that pops up on screen after every single point, I mean I get it in as far as replays need to be saved but just make it less obvious rather than an eye catching and distracting.
Overall AO Tennis 2 is able to enjoy being the only tennis game available right now that could be seen as ‘up to date’ but that really is because the competition in Tennis video games just isn’t there. Though it is a better experience than the first attempt, it still suffers a lot from having a low production budget which can be seen in the less than stellar visuals and underwhelming roster of real-world tennis stars. The depth in career mode and the custom creator systems offer something that a fan of tennis can sink their teeth into but this still fails to walk the fine line needed to create a really good sports game.
It does enough but it also fails to do enough to really stand out as anything but an average tennis game experience.