AO Tennis 2, you could say, is the official tennis game of the year. Big Ant Studio have made some smart upgrades to their previous effort, resulting in a great second outing for the series.
The main game mode available – other than playing the Australian Open for yourself – is the career mode. Here, you can either create a custom player or pick from some renowned real life stars, such as Rafael Nadal. I found the create a player mode fluid and easy to use.
Once your player is chosen, you are brought into your career. It features a work planner where you can select tournaments around the world to compete in. Competing increases your ranking so you can play in more high-profile tournaments. They only have licenses for the Australian Open name – events like Wimbledon are named “London Open” – but you’ll be able to recognise each easily, and it’s still called a Grand Slam. You can also take part in training sessions where you improve your character’s attributes in various mini games.
There are some cheesy cutscenes between you and your dad, as your manager, in what seems to be your house. It is a nice added touch – I don’t want to spoil what you see but it makes your road to success feel a bit more real. Player attributes can be enhanced by spending skill points that you’ll unlock from your time out on the court. You can even spend your earnings to enlist staff to further aid your development; for example, you can hire an assistant to improve your form or a doctor to lower the time you are out of action for if you get injured, although I never actually got injured whilst playing.
If you don’t want to build your character up from scratch you can just create a player in the Academy hub and make him a star player. This means you can qualify to take part in big Grand Slams straight away, but really, where’s the fun in that?! Also in the Academy hub you have the ability to create your own venue or a scenario. Another nice added touch if you want to build a beautiful arena and then take part in it.
One thing I thought was brilliant is that you can download players other people have created themselves and add them to your career mode. You can also create additional players, such as your friends, and can add them to your career. As the number of official players available is limited (greats such as Roger Federer and Andy Murray are missing, for example), the ability to download more user-generated pros and add them to your career mode means you don’t have to play with a bunch of randomly generated nobodies. However, you will need to create a player playlist in the Academy section before starting your career mode to bring them in.
On Rookie difficulty you can pretty much never hit the ball out of play and won’t struggle at all. It’s a nice mode to ease you into the game, but I wouldn’t recommend it for long as it can get boring very quickly. Once you start playing at a harder difficultly, timing your shots is key. You need to find that sweet spot to prevent you from hitting the ball into the net or out. It is a bit of a learning curve and sometimes your player will randomly stop running after the ball, but all in all it is fun to play and you get a sense of reward when you having a long rally and you pull of a sweet shot to win the point. After each point you can give a negative or positive response to how you feel about what just happened which is another nice added touch.
I didn’t really enjoy playing doubles as at times I found my AI partner to be annoying and randomly not hit shots which he could easily hit clear as day, thus you missing out on points. Granted, that’s more of a personal thing as I like to be a lone wolf on the court! There are a variety of choices around how long you want each tennis match you play to be, so you are not stuck in having to play full length sets. You can even go as low as playing one game per match-up, but if you do enjoy five set epics, you can save mid game and come back to it later.
Visually AO Tennis 2 looks alright, though it’s nothing spectacular. Some of the faces look a bit blocky at times and you don’t get a good feel for the people in the crowd as they’re all blurred – this is common across most sports titles to be fair though. I particularly enjoyed the intro that plays when you come onto the court, which is a fun little montage of your player. However, the load times between matches can be tedious.
The music during the menu screens doesn’t seem to have any big artists playing, though that doesn’t stop it from having some great tunes in there. There is no commentary during the matches which is a shame, though the umpire at least announces each point. Whilst it might be nice to have some commentary elements, we all know tennis is a quiet game and it’s all about the noise of the ball hitting the racquet.
AO Tennis 2 is a greatly improved second instalment to the franchise. Trying to overshoot your hits is a satisfying experience. Career mode is the best part of the game, building your character to be a dominant force and trying to get that world number 1 ranking and winning all 4 Grand Slams.
If you are a tennis fan, I would recommend buying this game as you’re unlikely to be disappointed. It’s a shame more big tennis players didn’t put their name into the hat, but with the brilliant editor and the ability to publish your creations this can be overlooked.