More Early Access release or proof of concept than actual game, one can only wonder why Big Ant bothered to release AO Tennis last week. Oh, the Australian Open (hence the AO in the title) began its annual Melbourne takeover. Timing and what not. From the makers of the impressive Ashes Cricket
, comes AO Tennis - the official game of the first grand-slam tennis tournament of the year, the Australian Open.
And outside of the moderately impressive looking Rod Laver Arena and passable player models, it’s mostly terrible.
Where to begin? Well, without going into detail about how player physics and ball momentum feel off and robotic, when they aren’t behaving erratically or seemingly doing their own thing, one simply needs to look at the presentation. Outside of the fact that there’s no real commentary, pre-game or post-game chatter, or any real music (apart from Track 03 of the Generic Menu Music CD utilised on the main menu), there’s something lifeless about AO Tennis.
Boring even. Cut-rate.
This decade’s trend towards replicating the style and spectacle of TV broadcasts in sports titles is nowhere to be found here. In fact, AO Tennis is mostly silent. And even when it does enter the audio realm the results are rushed at best. Every sound effect, when you’re in a match, sounds as if it were compressed to within an inch of its life. And that’s after adding a hefty dose of echo and reverb to simulate that arena sound.
After switching to the live Australian Open broadcast and then back to the game, my suspicions were confirmed. Tinny, hollow, and lifeless sound effects coupled with 0.0% commentary or any presentational flourish outside of a large ‘AO’ logo flashing across the screen to transition between points. Now, all this talk about sound is to highlight that even this most basic aspect of a sports game is handled better by Wii Tennis. Which isn’t a knock against the motion-controlled classic, but AO Tennis as a whole.
If it can’t sound right when a racquet hits a ball, how will it play?
As a huge fan of Virtua Tennis, it was wrong to expect the same super-fast and fluid movement from that arcade representation of the sport – or, a mode where you go ten pin bowling on a tennis court. AO Tennis is proudly more simulation than arcade, something that the pre-release and review material supplied was very clear to point out. More like Top Spin then? Well, not really.
As a simulation it isn’t easy to win a point in AO Tennis, nor should it be until you get a handle on the controls and buttons. Where, you get dedicated options for flat, top spin, slice, and lob. Plus, combinations for drop shots and running towards the net. Exactly how-to time power and shot release isn’t explained at all in-game, outside of a couple of hints drip fed through the loading screens. So, the first obstacle to overcome is simply figuring out how to play
AO Tennis. And it’s a long-winded bout of trial-and-error.
Perseverance is required, mainly because the more accurate ‘green’ shots require you to let go of the button long before the ball reaches your player. It doesn’t help that even when both the power and green indicators look okay, shots still end up failing or worse – fire off in weird directions at weird speeds due to questionable physics.
Superhuman perseverance is also required, thanks to the dull and bland presentation. In the modes and gameplay stakes AO Tennis is as bare bones as they come, essentially offering a variety of varying exhibition matches and a surprisingly detailed player creation tool.
And that’s surprising because the Australian Open mode feels like an afterthought. Instead of picking a player you instead get to play a series of elimination games with no visual clue that you’re even playing in the tournament outside of the ladder between games. Due to licensing most of the names are made up, and with no real reason given you can then select any game or player to play or simulate that match. There’s no congratulations when you win or any sort of in-between flourish, the tournament ladder fills out until a winner is selected.
Outside of that there’s a casual/exhibition mode that is basically the same thing but without the pretence of a tournament. If AO Tennis were an Early Access title one could point to the buggy but almost there
physics, control, and interpretation of pure tennis as the light at the end of the tunnel. No such light exists here because AO Tennis is more than an update or two away from being worthy of a full priced release.
At its core AO Tennis it’s buggy and feels rushed. The transitions between just about every animation is jarring and hitting the ball results in a dice roll on whether what you intended happens. No doubt there’s depth to the mechanics and options, that’s to be expected for a tennis simulation. But putting the time and effort to learn the ropes isn’t worth it.
AO Tennis’ erratic behaviour consistently breaks the illusion of watching or playing a game of tennis. Throw in an overall lack of features, and limited number of professional players outside of the cover stars, it’s hard to recommend this. Even to the most die hard of tennis fans. Morbid curiosity perhaps, just to see an example of a rushed, broken, and featureless game passing itself off as a premium sports experience.