by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
The first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year has begun. The tennis stars have descended on Melbourne Park in an effort to win the coveted Australian Open trophy. Being from Melbourne myself, I can advise that whenever the tournament is in town, the place is abuzz with all things tennis, as the game’s current champions smash aces, hit backhand winners and produce drop shots on their way to victory.
Gamers too, can attempt to win a virtual version of the major prize in AO Tennis 2. Playing as current champions Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams or Australia’s own Ash Barty is a heap of fun as you take on other stars. But the game also allows for creating your own character in the career mode. Starting as a lowly player on the futures circuit, you compete against other no-names to hopefully win some tournaments and gain the accolades that come with it.
Hitting the courts
In AO Tennis 2 gamers can play as the famous stars of the courts in a casual match, complete an Australian Open, play a scenario which includes reliving some legendary matches, and even play against others online. But by far, the meat of the game comes through the career mode. It begins by allowing the gamer to create an avatar for themselves. The customisation is fairly detailed and allowed me to design a player that resembled a fitter, leaner version of myself – one that is more adept to holding a racket than a bottle of beer. After creating your likeness, you then must determine how to spend the start-up cash available to you on your initial skills. Do you put all your eggs in one basket and go for a powerful serve, or do you even out your skills in the hope that you’ll be able to compete in any scenario. Once the initial cash has gone, it is up to you to earn more and increase those stats.
Skill stats can be increased in two ways. The first is through the training drills. Completing the training drills will earn you a small number of points towards that skill that you’ve trained in. The skills learned in training do help in the actual matches, as the drills act as pseudo tutorials. So, as well as gaining valuable skill points for your avatar, you are also improving your own abilities in the various shots required in a tennis players arsenal. Unfortunately, training doesn’t make you rich and famous, so you’ll have to hit the courts against opponents in order to become tennis’ next big thing.
As a no-namer, you’ll start by playing the smaller Futures tournaments, generally against other unsung players. I say smaller, but you strangely still need to win as many matches as you would for the Grand Slams – the only difference being the prize money. But as you win matches, you’ll move your way up through the rankings and gain some notoriety, some valuable cash, and invitations to tournaments with greater prestige.
With the invitations to more events comes the decision making. The career mode puts you in charge of your own schedule, so you must determine whether your avatar should be training, getting some well-earned rest, or playing in a tournament. Choosing which tournament to play can be a tough choice though. Do you travel further for a greater prize at the risk of getting travel weary, or do you conserve your energy and play a lower paying local event. You can also spend your hard earned money on improving your skills and hiring coaches.
As you work your way through your career, you will hit certain points that will trigger some interactive cut-scenes. The inclusion of press conferences and meetings with mentors at these important points allows for a basic story to be played out. Answering questions in a certain way will determine how the press and public perceive you. This story phase isn’t at the same level of detail as those in the latest iterations of NBA2K, but the dialogue was not nearly as contrived as that of the WWE2K games that I’d played recently. It is a welcome addition that adds a certain level of realism to the career mode.
Practise makes perfect
The controls are relatively simple at the base level but do take some practise to perfect. In AO Tennis 2 shots are affected by body positioning, timing of the swing and hit placement. Getting all three aspects right will go a long way towards winning a point. Choosing the right shot - by using the face buttons (ABXY on Xbox controller) can also play a part in winning a point. Early on, as my players skills were still on the low side, I was somewhat forced to aim for the far corners of the court in an effort to tire my opponent, but as you get more accustomed to the finesse of the various shots and player positioning, things do seem to get somewhat easier. Moving combatants from side to side, putting in some hard to reach drop shots, or charging the net to make it tough for opponents to pass were some of my early tactics. Running them around the court has the added advantage of tiring them out, often injuring them. I did find it somewhat annoying though that an opponent would injure themselves but could still move as smooth and as fast for the remainder of the match, even if they would injure themselves on multiple occasions throughout the match.
I also found that there was a fair jump between the Rookie and Amateur levels when you’re getting started, though. On Amateur, I was competing well, but losing rather convincingly on the scoreboard. However, on Rookie difficulty, I was breezing through matches winning 6-0, 6-0 against opponents who seemingly had higher skill stats – it was almost like an arcade mode. Shots rarely go out of bounds on Rookie mode, so it’s mostly just a matter of getting to the right spot to play the shot. But even on the lower levels, opponents do seem to hit some unbelievable shots, and at times I was left thinking that these no-names would be giving Roger Federer a run for his money.
And, in AO Tennis 2, the developers at Big Ant have done a decent job in making the players look like their real-life counterparts. You can easily discern most of the big stars such as Ash Barty and Rafael Nadal just by looking at them, but some of the lesser likes will be less familiar, particularly if you’re not an avid tennis watcher. The courts, especially Melbourne Park have a realistic look to them, and the crowds appear as though they are enjoying the matches. Indeed, the cheering and gentle applause from the crowd adds to the atmosphere. The standard tennis court sound effects of players grunting, the rackets hitting a ball and squeaky shoes add to the realism.
Game, Set and Match
I’m not an avid fan of tennis, and only really take an interest when the major tournaments are playing, particularly the Australian Open (being that it is in my home city). But AO Tennis 2 is a heap of fun - whether you’re playing as one of the major stars in Australia’s biggest tennis tournaments, or playing as yourself and gaining digital fame and fortune in the Career Mode. The controls are simple enough to learn but take some skill to become proficient. The player likenesses are realistic enough to determine who your favourite star is, whilst the court and surrounding visuals provide an added realism to the matches, be it in a small back-court or the centre court at the Grand Slam tournament. Despite some minor frustrations with the jump between difficulty levels, and the apparent obsolete nature of injuries within games, AO Tennis 2 is a game that will keep tennis fans happy – not only during the Australian Open, but during the whole tennis season.
Career mode, and players who resemble their real-life counterparts
Injuries to opponents don’t seem to alter their fitness. Opponents often seem to be able to hit winners from anywhere