AO Tennis 2 feels like the culmination of more than a decade in sporting video game development, and a testament to Big Ant Studios' unwavering determination to deliver a definitive, feature rich effort in a sub-genre that has gone painfully unsupported in recent years.
It's fair to say that, despite a rocky launch and numerous bugs that desperately needed squashing, the first AO Tennis had its heart in the right place, and the numerous updates and support earned Big Ant Studios some significant good will. This fully fledged follow up doesn't get everything right, with some odd design choices that miss the mark, but on the whole, there are improvements in key areas that make a world of difference.
This feels like the game they always intended to make, and if you're a tennis fan, or keenly aware of the inexplicable disappearance of both Virtua Tennis and Top Spin, then there's definitely something here worth investigating.
Mechanically speaking, although it takes a little time to adjust to the flow / timing of shot placement and power, you'll quick find yourself pulling off winning rallies in no time. It's worth mentioning that there are eight (!) difficulty settings, offering plenty of challenge for seasoned players.
Character movement feels realistic; don't expect to be zipping around the court at a breakneck pace. But thanks to some superb animation, the action feels weighted and authentic.
Moment to moment gameplay is sprinkled with some lovely touches. The umpire will shush the crowd when they get too rowdy. You can express positive / negative reactions to a wide variety of outcomes, with headline updates in career mode offering a snapshot of public perception based on your behaviour.
AO Tennis 2 also offers the best version of the "challenge" system we've ever encountered in a tennis videogame. A simultaneous tap of the main triggers and you'll be able to review the last call made, much like in the real tournament sport. Where things get interesting is A.I. line umpires will very occasionally make mistakes, giving you grounds to question a decision and potentially reverse it.
It feels organic and real, and massively aided in delivering exactly the kind of believable experience being touted by the developer.
In terms of value for money, AO Tennis 2 has a lot going for it. Custom tournaments, a career mode (now with cheesy cutscenes!), local and online multiplayer, player creation, custom logo design and a map editor, alongside innumerable options to tweak your preferences to your liking.
There's a lot to see and do, but crucially, it's also very straightforward to simply jump into a quick exhibition match and get playing. But, if you're willing to spend the time and tinker, you'll find that the character creator is one of the most detailed implementations of the concept in anything. Everything, from detailed physical parameters, to the multiple colours on your racket bag, can be changed to suit your taste.
We'd be remiss if we didn't point out a few bits and pieces that prevent AO Tennis 2 from fully achieving its potential. We're reviewing the game on Xbox One X, and load times aren't great. It doesn't feel well optimised, which is a shame. We also found it bizarre that characters mid game will mime their confrontations and aren't fully voiced.
Online multiplayer is functional, but we experienced a mess of choppiness and lag after various attempts. Our internet was running fine at the time of testing. Although the UI is quite clean, the logo creator is a pain to navigate. Constantly having to switch between the tool kit and drawing functionality is needlessly fussy, and can be a barrier to making content.
On top of that, we experienced a couple of strange glitches where settings in career mode didn't translate once gameplay kicked off (specifically in relation to the number of sets per match), and the odd visual hiccup.
Despite some missteps, we have to give credit where it's due. AO Tennis 2 is an authentic (and most importantly, fun) tennis game that tries its level best at every turn.
AO Tennis 2 is available now, for PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.