Some people love racing games, others live for FPS titles, I’m known as the guy on the team who sinks more time into tennis games than any other. It’s been a running joke that every time people log into the PSN, that I’m always playing Virtua Tennis World Tour on Vita.
Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s a very solid game, but the main reason why I’m still playing it five years after release is due to the fact that there hasn’t been a single major tennis game release on a home console since Virtua Tennis World Tour on the Vita which released six years ago.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when Melbourne Studio Big Ant revealed AO Tennis. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous, due to the fact that all of my hopes and dreams were being placed on this single title. Most of my nerves came from the fact that the period between announcement and release date (January 16th) was so short.
After going hands on with title, I couldn’t be more excited. Walking into the studios, where a gameplay reel was playing, I immediately noticed that it looked a lot like Top Spin 4 (which I regard as the best tennis game of all-time). This is for many reasons. Whilst Top Spin 4 wasn’t perfect, it managed to incorporate timing, stamina and movement whilst still being easy to pick up, with the gameplay remaining complex enough for hardcore tennis fans to have the most epic of rallies.
Picking up the controller, I felt right at home. The control scheme will be very familiar for those that have played Top Spin 4. Serving can be controlled with face buttons (flat, top spin or slice) as well as with the right analogue stick for those that want to bite off a little bit more than they can chew.Controls in rallies are also very familiar, with you being able to hit flat, top-spin, slice and lobs, with power being increased by holding and releasing or just tapping to hit a more controlled shot. You can also rush to the net or hit an inside out shot exactly like you could in Top Spin. Stamina also plays a part in long rallies, although this is evidently still being worked on as I didn’t feel that it had much of a part in my character slowing down or balls going wide/long.
New to AO Tennis is a challenge system, which has become a staple of tennis in recent years. It works well as far as I can tell, with some genuinely close calls going either way.
Presentation wise, this is definitely the best-looking game. Nadal and Goffin were two of the players I got to see in action and both looked very similar to their real life counterparts (thanks to photogrammetry tech that Big Ant have become very fond of in the last 12 months). Animations for the most part were also realistic and smooth, with a few shots here and there looking a little bit weird, but I never felt that it impacted timing and movement and hopefully it’s ironed out a little bit more over time.Speaking of players, the final roster doesn’t look like it’s been finalised yet and quite frankly I’m not sure who we’ll see in the final game, but luckily Big Ant’s signature player creator, tournament creator, stadium creator and logo creators will all feature here quite prominently.
All I’ve wanted since the PS4 released is a good tennis game. I wasn’t expecting to have one as early as January 16th, but AO Tennis is shaping up to be very, very good. With another tennis game (Tennis World Tour) also releasing next year and claiming to have developers from the Top Spin team, it’s going to be interesting as I believe that AO Tennis might not have only captured the brilliant Top Spin feel, but potentially have taken it to the next level.