Each year as the weather improves for summer and Wimbledon approaches, large numbers of the British public suddenly become big tennis fans. I must admit I’m guilty of that myself and jumped at the chance to check out AO International Tennis from Big Ant Studios.
It’s been a while since I can remember playing a decent tennis game. The Virtua Tennis and Top Spin series spring to mind, however my favourite is still Pro Tennis Tour 2 on the Commodore Amiga.
At first glance, AO International Tennis seems to tick all the boxes. Licensed players, with Rafael Nadal and Angelique Kerber on the packshot. The official licensed game of the Australian Open. Motion capture of the players. AI using ten years of ball tracking data. Career mode, online play and deep customisation. It’s an impressive list.
View the AO International Tennis launch trailer below:
Firing the game up for the first time I decided to take a look at the tutorial section. I thought that this was probably a smart move as the game takes a bit of learning due to the number of different shots you can play. Sadly the tutorial section gets tedious fast. It puts you against a ball machine and has you perform each of the available shots multiple times. For each shot you need to land them in predefined areas of the court.
AO International Tennis lets you play six types of shot, these are: flat, top spin, slice, drop, lob and smash. Each are mapped to a different button combination and timing is key to pull off the shot correctly. You need to move your player using the left stick and then once in position press and hold the correct buttons. You then need to release them just before the ball hits your racket to perform a good shot. If you do it too early or too late your shot is going to hit the net or go too far.
This sounds a little complicated but a few minutes is enough to get the hang of everything. The most frustrating thing about the controls is how it makes you use the left stick to both move and aim where your shot will land. This results in your movement feeling really restricted as there isn’t time to move to exactly where you want and then perform the shot. If you’re a little out of position and playing a good opponent you simply can’t get to where you need to be. There’s also no way to perform a diving shot to really stretch so you end up watching these returns fly past.
The included licenses help make the game feel authentic but there’s just not enough of them. There’s only a small number of licensed players and chances are you haven’t heard of most of them. So many big names such as Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Venus and Serena Williams aren’t included. This is also true of the big Grand Slam tournaments, so you’ve got the Australian Open but no Wimbledon or US Open.
The game tries hard to get around this with the inclusion of a very detailed character creator. There’s a dazzling number of customisation options allowing you to really sculpt the player how you like. It’s also possible to use the PC version (including the demo) to import your own photos, to any platform, to create more lifelike players. To save time there’s even the option to share created players online or download those made by fellow players. A quick look showed me that there are already good versions of the big players like Andy Murray and Roger Federer.
The customisation options also extend to logos and stadiums. Here you can create your own logos to use in the game and build your own version of a famous stadium or create your own unique one.
View some AO International Tennis screenshots in our gallery:
The main event in AO International Tennis is the Australian Open. There’s also a casual mode, full career mode, competition builder and online play. The game looks good, especially the licensed players, but it lacks atmosphere. There’s no commentary and things tend to feel a little dull. The game leans more on the simulation side but that seems to spoil the fun.
A nice touch is the ability to challenge line calls. This feature looks just like it does when you watch tennis on the TV. When you use one of your challenges the camera zooms in to show where the shot actually landed. I’ve had some close calls but so far haven’t managed to make a successful challenge.
AO International Tennis is an alright game but it’s let down by the lack of licenses. The community options do help this but sadly the game just isn’t all that fun to play for long periods.
AO International Tennis was reviewed using a digital code supplied by the publisher.
Publisher: Big Ant Studios Developer: Big Ant Studios Release Date: May 8th, 2018 Reviewed On: PS4 Also Available On: PC, Xbox One