Tennis games this gen are much less popular than they were last gen. With that in mind, it was always fair to assume that someone would tap into this void and throw something up to please the niche fanbase. Enter AO International Tennis, the latest from Big Ant Studios. Big Ant Studios are known for releasing games that err on the side of unpopular, made apparent by the likes of Casey Powell Lacrosse, Rugby League Live and Don Bradman Cricket. While their attention to the less than popular sports-to-game titles is respectable, the same unfortunately cannot be said about the quality of their products.
AO International Tennis is by no means the exception. This game originally released a small while back in Australia and New Zealand in time for the Australian Open, but is now globally accessible so that the rest of the world can get in on the action. Sadly, however, much like the aforementioned Casey Powell Lacrosse, AO International Tennis is underdeveloped and as a result, underwhelming. Tennis, regardless as to the size of the court and the restriction of movement, is a sport that demands a great deal of energy, precision and endurance. These three elements are unforgivably absent from AO International Tennis.
Starting out the game, players are able to take to an in-depth creation suite spanning stadium and avatars alike. The player creator tools are remarkably deep and intuitive, allowing fans to hand craft whoever they like, including the adjustment of stats. It’s a well implemented system that almost alleviates the lack of big names, seeing as how players can literally replicate superstars and apply to them their fitting attributes. In career mode, on the other hand, creating a player will come tethered to a stat-cap for obvious reasons; allowing fans to start from the bottom of the proverbial ladder and earn their way up.
This is achieved via taking part in different tournaments and events, fairly standard stuff to be honest, but isn’t that the point? Before jumping into this mode, it may pay off to take a deep dive into the tutorial section, a place that will teach you the basics of play and ready you up for your personal journey at hand. AO International Tennis makes for an excellent first impression, that much has to be said. The biggest shame here is that this initial appreciation is almost entirely chased away by its frustrating gameplay and tedious mechanics. AO International Tennis screams of rushed-to-the-market development.
The gameplay is poor as far as functionality goes, slapping together a range of systems that either prove too annoying, or too imperfect. Sure, there’s a wide selection of shot types that can be utilized with ease, but this is a bit of a backhand in place of how everything is setup. Trying to monitor the power of your shot alongside the angle and general movement is too much legwork. It doesn’t sound like much of an issue when described in that singular sentence, but the practice is precisely that. It makes successfully landing your chosen shot, as well as its force, more trouble than its often worth.
It doesn’t help matters that the player movement is also a bit off. For instance, you can run around like a headless chicken when the ball is on the opposition’s side of the net, but when it makes its way back to your side, you’re almost stuck in the mud due to the previously alluded to mechanics. The absence of player control, grouped with the (more often than not) frustrating shot system, only emphasizes how poorly constructed AO International Tennis is. Which in-turn, highlights its wasted potential. I wish that I could say that it was easy to overlook, though, with this being its forefront control-pillar, I sadly cannot.
Mercifully the visuals are not half bad. Nothing spectacular, though the animations can be iffy at times, but nothing so bad that it pulls this title further down. AO International Tennis’ audio cues on the other hand are possible the game’s best asset, make of that what you will. The level of authenticity as the rackets make contact with the balls, as well as the crowd noise, is both solid and well developed throughout. The bottom line in all of this is that if you can overlook the problems outlined above, you may just be getting your money’s worth. There’s certainly no shortage of content within, that’s for sure.
Other issues tend to lean on long loading times, which can be in excess of over half a minute to a minute. There’s an issue with the animations during any given game, too, being that if you accidentally press the wrong button, you’ll need to wait out the animation rather than cancel it. There’s also the matter of missed opportunities. EA’s sports titles exceed due to some interesting gameplay progressive elements, such as rivalries and personality. Something AO International Tennis (quite ironically) fails to deliver. This game should have spent more time on the drawing board, that much goes without saying.
AO International Tennis may well be enjoying its space on the market with little else to contend with, but even then, this is not worth the investment. The gameplay lacks finesse and refinement, serving up frustration in place of fluidity. Tennis is a game of endurance, precision and energy, three elements that AO International Tennis fails to deliver. With that in mind, its abundance of content means very little.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.