Hands-on review: AO Tennis is a Grand Slam winner
It's been nearly over half a decade since we have received a realistic tennis video game on consoles. Thankfully, Big Ant Studios has come to the rescue by gracing us with AO Tennis out now in Australia and New Zealand for PS4 and Xbox One.
The release of AO Tennis is significant mainly because the last realistic tennis game to release on consoles was EA's Grand Slam Tennis 2 in 2012. Before that, Virtua Tennis 4 and Top Spin 4 came out way back in 2011.
Ever since the PS4 and Xbox One consoles came out in 2013, there was a noticeable gap for tennis fans because no tennis video game was announced or released. However, 2018 is a good year because AO Tennis is released first and Tennis World Tour is coming a few months later.
Well I got myself a copy of AO Tennis and played it on the PS4, and I'm proud to say the game is what a tennis simulator should be like. I would even go as far as saying this is my favourite tennis game of all time since it's on par if not better than the gameplay in Top Spin 4.
Top Spin 4 was the last great tennis game with real life physics. Grand Slam Tennis 2 and Virtua Tennis 4 were too arcadey for my taste while the likes of Mario Tennis on Wii U is too unrealistic. AO Tennis manages to bring realism back to a sport that was forgotten by most other game developers/publishers.
When I was fitter and younger, I used to play tennis myself and AO Tennis is the most true to life tennis video game I have played. The physics are excellent mainly because you have the ability to control the power and direction of your shots perfectly.
For example if I'm playing as Rafael Nadal, I can do everything that he excels in such as strong and deep forehands, high angled backhands plus deadly dropshots. It's not just Nadal that plays well either because the real life animation is able to mimic other players excellently too. Karolina Pliskova is also quite useful with her groundstrokes, while a player like John Isner is more about his strong serves and forehands. I even noticed created players with shoddier stats aren't as effective on the court which adds to the realism.
Another thing I admire about the gameplay is that players don't run too fast or unrealistically when returning balls. I remember in Top Spin 4 the game was slightly unrealistic because the opposing player would always run really fast to get shots that were clearly winners in real life.
AO Tennis rectifies this because players aren't abnormally fast so you have to anticipate shots and position yourself on the court properly in order to return shots. The physics also comes in to play because playing on grass, hard courts or clay courts make a difference to how the ball bounces.
The controls are pretty much similar to Top Spin 4 as you can serve using the face buttons or by flicking up on the right stick. As for doing groundstrokes, many different shots are controlled by the face buttons such as a top spin shot, slice, drop shot, lob and flat shot.
Timing your shots is crucial because the longer you hold the face buttons, the more powerful your stroke will be. It took me maybe one or two matches to get used to the controls, but you will learn about the game's mechanics quite quickly if you have played a game like Top Spin 4 before because the controls are nearly identical.
That said, some players will have a harder time getting used to the controls than others. Surprisingly my Mum was able to play this game better than my brother did! I managed to master the game quite quickly, although that's because I have been playing tennis both in real life and in video games for several years now. A cool feature adding to the realism is the inclusion of Challenges. By pressing R2 and L2 together (left and right triggers), you can challenge an Umpire's decision. The Hawkeye camera will track the trajectory of the ball to make sure if the Umpire was correct or not. It's fun to use since I think it's the first tennis game to make use of the Challenge feature.
In terms of content, the game might disappoint some people because there aren't a lot of licensed players right now. The notable stars included are Rafael Nadal, David Goffin, Kevin Anderson, Thanasi Kokkinakis, John Isner, Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, Johanna Konta, Daria Gavrilova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Sam Stosur.
Missing in the game are more famous names such as The Williams Sisters, Roger Federer and past legends like Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick just to name a few. Thankfully, you can create both male and female players so the lack of star players is not too bad if you can create them yourself. Big Ant Studios have said that more real life players will be added in as DLC in the near future so it's not all bad news. We just have to wait and see which players are added though. In terms of game modes, there are four main areas you can go to. There's Australian Open where you can try and be a Grand Slam winner, Career mode where you aspire to be the best, Casual mode where you can play the A.I. or your friends plus Online mode where you play against others from around the world.
I spent most of my time in Australian Open and the Career mode competing against the A.I. on the hardest Legend difficulty mode. I also managed to beat my whole family in Casual mode quite easily. Since none of my family members could challenge me, I went online and the players were way more competitive. That said, online is a little barren now mainly because the game is only out in Australia and New Zealand. The player population should increase when the rest of the world gets it later this year.
Online mode is playable, although lag is still an issue. Lag isn't too bad, but the slight delay makes me lose my timing a lot and I concede several points because of it. Another minor technical issue I have is with the camera when playing with 2 players offline. For some reason, the camera only follows player one leaving player two at a disadvantage being on the far side of the court all of time... Despite this game releasing on PS4 and Xbox One, the graphics in AO Tennis aren't the best in the world. The Australian Open tournament itself is recreated nicely, but the crowd members and in-game character models don't look flashy. The graphics resemble that of Top Spin 4 which is a game that came out on the PS3 and Xbox 360 back in 2011!
The game also does not have the licenses for the other Grand Slams either. Wimbledon, Roland Garros and the U.S. Open are all missing although you can play on other courts that have the same feel as them.
Even though AO Tennis might lack licensed players and has last generation looking graphics, I had a ton of fun playing this game for hours because it's the first new tennis game I have played in many years.
If you ignore the visuals and lack of recognisable names, the actual gameplay in AO Tennis is where this game truly shines. It's a true realistic tennis simulator and I'll be very interested to see if Tennis World Tour can overtop it when that game comes out in a few month's time.
Update: I normally don't change my review scores after they get published, but something needs to be addressed that lowers my original 8.5/10 score. I played more of the doubles matches in AO Tennis,and sadly doubles is unplayable at the state it is in right now. Players are unable to respond or hit the ball during doubles matches. That said, I still love the single player gameplay in AO Tennis and the rest of the review still stands. Therefore, the new score for this game will be 7.0/10 due to the broken doubles gameplay. I still love this game as a tennis fan because it has a lot of potential, but future patches are still needed to make it better. Verdict: 7.0/10 Note: Reviewer bought his own copy of AO Tennis from EB Games on PS4 to review. He made sure to play the game with all the latest update patches installed and played long enough to routinely beat the game's Legend mode A.I. difficulty.