AO Tennis 2 trainer may have been a sluggish first swing that pinged off the frame and fell just short of the wall, but its second attempt at landing in the service box was provided with far greater strength and precision. It’s the sport’s better-looking, smoother-playing, and more fully featured simulation, one that eradicates the majority – if not the whole – of its undercooked predecessor’s unforced mistakes. This drastic transition hasn’t happened in the tennis world since Andre Agassi stripped off his wig.
Admittedly, many of these changes have come over time; constant post-release patching by developer Big Ant has turned the original AO tennis from broken mess at launch into a more competent sim some 12 months later, improving control responsiveness and introducing additional community-focused features like a strong stadium builder to it. AO Tennis 2 builds on that restructured base, further smoothing the on-court experience with a raft of new player animations and enhanced ball mechanics, as well as adding a welcome splash of personality and meaning to its career mode, The Journey, a la FIFA.
Despite the fact that the Australian Open is still the only major tournament it is officially licensed, and its player roster still lacks a number of big names from both men’s and women’s tours, AO Tennis 2 feels substantially fleshed out at the start as it inherits two years of community-created content from the previous game. Thanks to the strength of its player, logo and stadium design software, not to mention the hard work of others, I was able to import fairly convincing community-made recreations of unlicensed players such as Andy Murray and Roger Federer as well as entire stadium complexes focused on Roland Garros and Wimbledon, accurately modelled right down to the courtside advertisement signs.
Such additional user-created players and stadiums give the multi-year spanning career mode variety and realism, but it feels somewhat limiting that you can only introduce new players at the very beginning of a career. For example, if you’re in your career for several years and you’re spotting an amazing user-created Serena Williams shared online, you’ve got to either restart your career if you want to import her or just go out, which is annoying.
Still, I enjoyed the career mode progression loop which involves completing training drills to raise your different skill level caps, entering tournaments to win prize money, and then investing the prize money either to increase your player attributes or hire support staff to give your stamina and the like additional buffs. Whereas the story-driven cutscenes and interactive press conferences were obviously made on a budget limited enough to lace a couple of tennis shoes, they also do a good job of breaking up the otherwise static nature of menu management between tournaments.
For the most part, out on the court, AO Tennis 2 is offering an entertaining and competitive tennis brand. Different player styles sound special – Rafael Nadal is lethal from the baseline while large-serving John Isner is a force in all four corners of the court – and there’s a tangible difference in ball speed and bounce around the various play surfaces, adding a greater sense of strategy and variety to each tournament. There’s also a broad range of difficulty modes on offer, with no less than eight to choose from; if you want to drop it down to Rookie for a hit-and-giggle Virtua Tennis style or ramp it up to Grand Slam for the stiffest challenge possible, there are choices for you.
That said, there remains an occasional unresponsiveness to the aided movement scheme that left me feeling excessively annoyed at least a handful of times in every match I played, including on the more modest settings of difficulty. Although a menu slider is available to change how far your player would automatically travel to reach the ball, I could never find the absolute sweet spot. The more I played AO Tennis 2, the more expert I became with the timing needed to sweep an offensive topspin winner down the sideline or rush to the net to nail a sharply angled volleyball, but I was never one hundred percent sure when my player would unexpectedly abandon an overhead smash or sidestep across the court when I wanted them to run flat-out or dive. Assisted movement definitely makes sense in AO Tennis 2 given that you are monitoring both your player’s location and the shot aiming reticule with the same thumbstick, but I feel that the current system is just shy of being optimized to the point where it is always accurate. Additionally, there were a handful of times when animation breakdowns helped AI players hit balls that seemed to be nowhere near them, only furthering my frustration.
Such occasional weaknesses have never been enough of an obstacle to make me want to throw my controller, although I definitely would have McEnroe a lot of virtual racquets thanks to the addictive reaction animations of AO Tennis 2 which can be activated in between points. Giving a friendly wave of appreciation to the crowd or tossing a sarcastic thumb to the umpire chair brings some insight to any argument I enjoyed in the absence of any in-game announcer, and it’s a pleasant touch that your court conduct directly affects your future career sponsorship deals.
Elsewhere, the broadcast presentation of AO Tennis 2 has been improved with a variety of matching metrics that appear on screen, such as percentages of win-predictors and time-pressure figures, and the ability to contest a line call returns from the previous game. While from the viewpoint of the broadcast-style camera, it seems like guesswork at best to determine which closing calls look in or out in the half of the court your opponent has.
The Verdict While the original AO Tennis might have launched with ample squandering ability to make even Nick Kyrgios shake his head, AO Tennis 2 has taken a big step forward to more closely resemble an all-rounder in Ash Barty form. It might still benefit from more post-release balancing and bug fixing, but as AO Tennis 2 stands it is the sport’s best videogame simulation in years.