AO Tennis 2 is a follow up effort from Big Ant Studios, in collaboration with BigBen Interactive, that aims to course correct the mixed reception to the initial release of the first title, with a brand new, story driven career mode, and gameplay tweaks aplenty.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Tennis video games was a highly saturated market, given the dominance of Virtua Tennis and Top Spin in previous console generations. But those franchises have remained dormant since 2012, and outside of some dreadful attempts at squishing the mechanics into ill advised mobile ports, it's fairly open season. AO Tennis, the Australian focused counterpart to BigBen's Tennis World Tour, are two fairly maligned efforts that did little to win over hearts and minds. However, developer Big Ant Studios should be commended for following up with AO Tennis 2, and all indications point to a massively more ambitious (and crucially, polished) sequel.
There is a renewed emphasis on the now narrative based career mode, drawing parallel's with 2K's similar efforts and their NBA series. Although AO Tennis isn't attracting the star power of Anthony Mackie, there's clearly effort being made here, with fully voiced and mo capped cut scenes, expanded character customisation, and some pleasing touches like cloth physics and reworked animation. It speaks to a wider desire to pitch AO Tennis 2 as a legitimate experience, and when you factor in the reputation system, you can see they're aiming high.
Your behaviour on the court directly affects your standing with the crowd and sponsors; you can even laugh at an opponents mistakes! "Choose your answer" style press conference sequences tie in and directly affect the outcome of the game. We highly doubt there's more than a handful of endings, but your choices will definitely have an impact. You can take a more neutral approach, indulge in more sarcastic responses, or play the PR game and maintain a squeaky clean facade.
Several features make a welcome return, including the venue creator and player character customisation. One neat addition is a complete recreation of every single Australian open venue, rendered and arranged in excruciating detail. The average player might not clock the significance of this level of painstaking effort, but there's good will needing to be earned following the tepid response to its predecessor. Doubling down on making this the go to title for the Australian Open is a logical way for sceptical fans to be satiated.
Local and online multiplayer (available from launch) are neat inclusions, with couch PvP and co-op support a huge box tick. In fact, everything in AO Tennis 2 seems to have been designed from the ground up to respond directly to prior feedback. There's a sense that Big Ant Studios are taking this opportunity to finally deliver on the untapped promise of the original, by addressing everything that needed fixing.
We can't help but be intrigued by the work being done here. Of course, the career mode, as a self-contained experience, could still fall flat if the narrative elements aren't up to scratch, but with completely overhauled animation, bold steps taken to ensure authenticity, and an overall feature rich package, AO Tennis 2 is in a much better position to nail its core premise.
AO Tennis 2 launches on 9th January 2020, for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.