AO Tennis 2 Review: Nadal Tennis Sims are Created Equal
In keeping with its real-life tournament schedule, AO Tennis 2 arrives at an awkward time for Australia, which continues to be ravaged by seemingly ceaseless bushfires.
Because of this, Big Ant's 2020 sequel to their 2018 tennis sim may actually be the only version of the Australian Open we get this year. Postponements loom likely for the tournament which typically kicks off the year of tennis Grand Slams in January.
It may be of little solace, but the Australia-based Big Ant Studios can take pride in representing their home so well with AO Tennis 2. By correcting its predecessor's biggest error, among other smaller ones, it's an obviously better game and a worthy sim for tennis fans.
AO Tennis 2 Review: Nadal Tennis Sims are Created Equal
The single greatest issue I had with AO Tennis two years ago was its inability to capture the magnitude of a moment. Winning a pick-up match against an unranked opponent was presented virtually the exact same way as winning the Australian Open itself. There was a clear disconnect between what the schedule would tell you and what the athletes and crowds would tell you.
I'm betting I wasn't alone in that criticism, as Big Ant clearly set out to improve on the series' presentation in AO Tennis 2. To that end, they've made blatant and welcome strides. Stylish opening segments depict TV-like coverage of the sport, and even as these poses and interstitials are themselves quickly overused too, it's miles better than the totally absent celebratory atmosphere of the first game.
On the court, you now have more control over how you react to the match too. As in the game's much more robust Career mode, you can respond positively or negatively during any break in the action, and how you choose to present yourself on the court will determine how fans around the world look at you.
Career mode, in general, feels like it's gone pro this time around. Last time out, the game's Career mode was basically a list of games to play. This time around, it's driven by narrative and plenty flexible for players to insert their own as they climb the ranks, form rivalries, recruit Doubles partners, and win it all. The UI is teasingly loaded with things to do, just as a real tennis pro would have to contend with, and you can choose how much you engage with the schedule every given week.
Unfortunately, there does seem to be no way to shorten matches in Career mode, which can be a nuisance. It leaves Career feeling like if Madden 20 made you play 15-minute quarters. There's a lot to do, and for those who want to sink into all of it, it will be a worthy adventure as you carve out your own story, but for those who hope to multitask AO Tennis 2 with other games, it appears there exists an impasse.
On the court, the same excellent gameplay returns. It's mostly in the same form as it was left in AO Tennis after a few patches fixed a rocky launch. Some new methods, like underhand serving, make their debut, while ball and racket control feel nuanced to represent the many players' unique styles and skill levels.
But for the most part, the series continues to implement a gameplay system similar to what other tennis sims have been doing for years. However, given the improvements to presentation and the much more robust Career mode, I consider AO Tennis 2 the best tennis game out there right now.
While AO Tennis 2 does repair some of the biggest legacy issues plaguing the series, one that remains is made obvious in its title: AO Tennis 2 is still, and perhaps always will be, a tennis sim that only captures the sport Down Under. Tennis licensing is apparently a weird beast, or maybe Big Ant just prefers focusing on the local game, but to not have all the Grand Slams leaves the chase for glory feeling incomplete. It's no doubt still a great tennis game, but I'm hoping future iterations can expand the simulation to highlight the world of tennis, not just tennis in Australia.
At least the other glaring holes are once again wildly easy to plug. Designing your own venues and players is once again generously robust. I counted 19 settings to tweak just for a player's nose alone. With this expansive creation suite, gamers carefully birthed over 20,000 created players in the original game.
Thankfully, all of that game's created content can be imported here as you see fit. That means the roster, which clearly has many holes to fill, can be fixed with a few minutes of quick player downloads. Strong sorting options means you'll find the best versions of each player too.
In fact, if you really wanted to, you could use the Create A Tournament mode to fake your way through other Grand Slams, and the results would be alright, but it never stops feeling like AO Tennis 2 still misses something it should have. Then again, I do consider that may be my American sports-centric brain doing the configurations there. A worldly sport like tennis can't as easily be contained in a single game as something like football or basketball which, despite being played all over, are obviously much bigger in the States than anywhere else.
Then again, FIFA figured it out.
AO Tennis 2 Review: The Bottom Line
- Introduces an extensive, story-driven career mode
- Improves the presentation considerably
- Creation suite makes it easy to fill the roster's holes
- Can't shake the feeling of being an incomplete picture of the sport
Not without issues, AO Tennis 2 is my pick for the best tennis game on the market today. There's obvious room to grow, but this has quickly become Big Ant's best series in their ever-expanding catalog of sports titles.
It looks good, plays great, and now offers all of the modes and menu options you'd expect in a sports game with a much bigger budget. Big Ant Studios has served an ace this time around, and I'm eager to see how they continue to improve the series in the future.
[Note: Big Ant Studios provided a copy of AO Tennis 2 for the purpose of this review.]