When Tennis World Tour released in May 2018, it’s no understatement to say the game was a complete mess; it was buggy and broken, to say the very least. As time went on the developers even kept lying to fans about future updates to fix the game, most of which never saw the light of day. Over two years on, to the surprise of many (including myself), we have a sequel, Tennis World Tour 2. Before you judge a book by its cover, fortunately the game is now in the hands of AO Tennis 2 developers, Big Ant Studios, and not Breakpoint Studios. Let’s see what they’ve managed to serve up this time round.
As soon as I started up the game the first thing I immediately noticed was how polished the menus and UI are–beautiful, slick, and loading times as fast as Isner’s serve. It’s something so small in the grand scheme of things, but given the first game had horrible ugly menus with the rest of the game somehow even being even worse, it was nice to have a positive impression of the sequel right away–something that just screamed out: “I’m not like my predecessor!”
Going through the menus there’s typical modes seen in most tennis games: exhibition, career, tournament, tennis school, and online. Looking into the professional roster, it’s by far the best ever seen in a tennis video game, from the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, all the way down to young up and comers such as Jannik Sinner and Cori Gauff. In total, 36 pros with an additional two legends, Gustavo Kuerten and Marat Safin, are available in the legends pack. The only real downside is that only 11 of the players available are women, leaving a predominantly ATP Tour based roster.
(A stunning roster of professionals)
Moving onto stadiums, the base game only contains unlicensed courts, with some loosely based off real ones. If you do want authenticity you have to buy the Ace Edition version of the game or the annual pass, which contains the three main courts at Roland Garros alongside the centre courts at the Madrid and Halle Opens, with more to come. It’s a shame that these aren’t available in the regular edition, but at least players who are keen on such content are given the option to have it.
Entering the career mode, the first thing I noticed was that customization wasn’t exactly great. You get a set of preset faces and then the option to customize certain features from further presets. Further into it, I was surprised at how limited play animations there were for my player–just three for groundstrokes and the serve. This is made even stranger as there are a whole bunch of return stances (unique to each professional player in the game) and ten ball bouncing stances. It’s nice to have so many options with those, but where it was seriously needed is in groundstrokes and service motions, the heart of the gameplay.
Once I was done creating my player, I started my career and found it to just be a typical by the books sports game career mode–your goal is to rise up the rankings and win the biggest events. You choose what events to play and who to coach you for additional perks to your player. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but if you’re looking to rise your virtual self to the top of the tennis rankings it will probably satisfy your needs.
(Not too many customizable options here)
Entering a match for the first time you can immediately visually tell this is Tennis World Tour and not AO Tennis just from the art style. The game won’t make you drool like big budget sports games such as FIFA 21 or NBA 2K21, but It looks clean and for the most part the stadiums hold their own. The visual issues start with the player models. These are a bit hit and miss, but thankfully you can still tell who the player is meant to be even when they don’t look anywhere as accurate as they should.
Sound is sadly not up to the same standard as the visuals. It’s nice that crowds respond sooner after points are won, but you can’t help but feel it should be more responsive as there’s still somewhat of a noticeable gap between the point ending and the reaction. Throughout points the lack of atmosphere is disappointing, something tennis games have never got right. When playing an epic point between Federer and Nadal, I should be hearing “ooohs” and “ahhhs” throughout the rally, not silence. What I found most disappointing is while all the issues with the umpires and line calling have now been fixed from the first game, pronunciations of many professional players were still incorrect, breaking all immersion. A simple YouTube clip of Kvitova in action, for example, would get you the correct sounding name, so it’s hard to know what exactly went wrong here and why they were recorded this way.
(It sort of looks like Elina Svitolina, right?)
Moving onto the most important aspect of the game, gameplay, the moment you hit a serve you can tell the game is already a little different than its predecessor. Now you have to time both the ball toss and swing to hit a great serve, a welcome addition as in far too many tennis games of the past it’s been far too easy to serve unrealistically great. When the ground game kicks in, you immediately know you’re playing a Tennis World Tour game and not the likes of AO Tennis, Virtua Tennis, or Top Spin. That may sound horrible, but here’s the good thing: while it feels like the first game, it’s improved on almost every level.
Movement is far more responsive, balls aren’t hit without physical contact between the racquet and ball (something far too present previously), and you’re actually finally able to construct points. You can use the slice to bring your opponent forward, top spin to drag them out wide, and flat shots to penetrate the court. It actually shocked me how well a mix of all three worked against the AI at times. The net play also felt far more refined than most other games; when I hit good approach shots I was often able to finish the point with a volley. When I didn’t, it was a guessing game at the net which way my opponent was going to pass me, just like real life.
(Roger at the net, need I say more?)
Unfortunately, not everything regarding the gameplay is an ace, though. While it’s fun to have long rallies and work points, it never really looks like “real” tennis but always a video game. Animations are improved from the first game, such as Nadal’s serve looking nowhere near as awful as it previously, did but they’re still far from being accurate. The challenge system also returns from AO Tennis 2 and is fun for the first few goes, but after that the novelty wears off and you’re just wishing for every line call to be accurate.
Then there’s the sprint button. There are so many times where the AI will blast a ball (a few times from unrealistic stances such as a low ball after a dropshot)–given the sprinting mechanic works by holding down a button, there are times where it simply isn’t a good idea to have it controlled by the player; it just doesn’t work in such a moment as its responsiveness is disjointed from the rest of the movement, an issue the first game also had. If you look at one best ever tennis games out there in Top Spin 4, sprinting was done automatically and aided gameplay rather than hampered it as it does here.
My biggest negative, however, is skill cards. Anyone who’s played the first game will know these impact a player’s attribute when activated. In Tennis World Tour 2 this is taken one step further, where once gaining points from winning matches in game, you have the option to buy these in game to use in matches with limited use. It’s an interesting idea on paper when the attribute suits the player, such as something realistic such as Federer serving bigger down break point, but given it’s a mix and match it just gets too overly messy for its own good. I’m here to play matches between my favorite tennis players, not mess around with additional skill management and when to activate them during a match. Unfortunately, you are also unable to turn them off and are stuck with them constantly in the corner of your screen during gameplay, whether you like it or not.
The last downside is one many players of the game’s predecessor won’t want to hear. Yes, sometimes this game still doesn’t play the shot you request. For example, you might want a top spin shot but instead it will play a slice. Thankfully it is nowhere near as frequent as before, but it really shouldn’t be something that exists altogether. The fact that this was never the issue in any Virtua Tennis, Top Spin, Grand Slam Tennis, or AO Tennis game just makes it all the more confusing how this has not been fully rectified yet.
(Doubles is in the game but like in most tennis games it feels like an afterthought)
Overall, Tennis World 2 is quite a few Grand Slams better than the game that came before. For the most part every single aspect has been massively improved, but you can’t help but wonder why Big Ant Studios chose to take this challenge on. What they’ve created with AO Tennis 2 is far more impressive than what they’ve been given to work with here. A huge amount of this game’s shortcomings stem from the first game, such as the sprint button and skill cards. It might have honestly been better for Big Ant Studios to start fresh if they weren’t going to use the foundation they laid in the AO Tennis games, which I for one am very surprised they did not.
Tennis World Tour 2 is not a bad game, which I’m delighted to be able to say, as I feared the worst after Breakpoint Studios’ effort. But it’s not great; if anything this is everything the first game should have been to put the series off to a solid start. If you’re looking for an “arcade” tennis video game you can’t do much wrong with this. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something more on the simulation court, then it’s no doubt worth checking out AO Tennis 2 instead.
Final Score: 6/10
Reviewed on a PS4 Pro at version 1.02.
Review code provided by Big Ant Studios.
Main Photo courtesy of Big Ant Studios.