Hot on the heels of AO Tennis, Tennis World Tour is now out on PS4 and Xbox One. Does it serve up an ace, or fall victim to a series of double faults?
AO Tennis was met with harsh criticism upon its release in January, and despite a series of patches and updates this feeling still echoed when it released in US and EU territories last month. Although not brilliant, we actually enjoyed our time with the game post-patches – but we were looking forward to Tennis World Tour as well.
And why not? The signs were great – it was being worked on by people who previously developed the excellent Top Spin 4, looked great in trailers and it has a number of high profile licenses that include Federer, Dimitrov, Zverev, Goffin, Thiem and Wawrinka. There’s a disappointingly low amount of female licenses, but high fliers like Wozniacki, Mugaruza and Kerber are accounted for. In addition, legends like Andre Agassi and John McEnroe are available as well, though not as part of the standard package.
So it sounds great on paper, but it didn’t take long before the first cracks started to show – and it was tennis icon McEnroe who did it. He provides the in-game commentary, and it’s pretty bad to the point of the game being better off without it. There’s a huge lack of lines – to the point where Big Mac repeated himself for the first time after no more than three points. What’s perhaps worse is that the commentary seems completely inaccurate at times. I’d play a dropshot, only to hear “wow, such power!” from McEnroe. At other times, I’d get a comment on my forehand when it should have been about my backhand, or vice versa.
The umpire voiceover suffers from similar mistakes in logic – after winning the first set, he’d always announce we were getting ready to play the “final set”. Either he’s extremely confident in my abilities, or he should have said “second set” instead. Silly mistakes really, and something that should have been fixed pre-release and they’re apparent from the get-go.
The gameplay suffers from a similar lack of polish, though it takes a little longer before its shortcomings show up and the career mode generally works quite well. You start as a player ranked 100, only eligible to play in minor tournaments, and doing well lets you develop your skills and attributes. There are mini-games that you can play to boost your skills, but the effects only last two months so I would always pick a tournament instead – winning it would give me a permanent stat boost. The career mode also has random events (some that I haven’t encountered yet but are visible in the trophy list) and the ability to hire/fire trainers and agents – all with their own perks. There’s also a card system where you select from a collection of unlocked perk cards, with the option to diversify based on your desired style or upcoming opponent. There’s a lack of tournament licenses (AO Tennis at least had the Australian Open), but the career mode is solid and one of the better ones we’ve seen in any tennis game.
The same can’t be said about the gameplay though – the actual tennis simulation is serviceable, but has plenty of little issues that plague it. It didn’t stop me from winning a match, but my player would somehow always use up about half of his stamina within the first few points – even though my stamina ranking was pretty well developed and I had my opponent on the run for most of the points. This effect only gets worse when playing against the top players, so I would resort to unnatural tactics as a result.
That might sound vague, but what rarely happens in Tennis World Tour is one of your shots hitting the net. As a result, I’d play a ton of dropshots – low risk, either luring my opponent to the net (I’d follow up with a passing shot or lob) or winning the point right away. The alternative, playing out the rally, wasn’t very fruitful – as my stamina would quickly get too long to be competitive this way. I was happy to get the wins this way, but I can’t say it felt very satisfying to play this weird way of tennis.
What’s perhaps most astounding is that Tennis World Tour is the second tennis game this year, and both games have a distinct “I’m not finished” feel at release. AO Tennis has received a ton of patches already and I’m glad I didn’t play it when it first came out, but Tennis World Tour actually shipped without an online multiplayer mode – in addition to the flaws with its commentary, gameplay logic and a few balancing issues (that include why some of the choices in the career mode just aren’t appealing). The crowd was lifeless as well, but this was partly fixed in a post-release patch.
It’s a shame, because while AO Tennis came out of nowhere it was Tennis World Tour that had a lot of promise behind it. The sad truth is that it currently feels unfinished and unpolished, and won’t leave the kind of mark that Top Spin and Virtua Tennis did back in the day.