AO Tennis 2, developed by Big Ant Studios and published by Big Ben, is a big improvement over the first game – here’s why in our review of the PS4 version. It’s also coming to the Switch, Xbox One and PC, with the PC version already being out globally and the console editions launching on February 11 in North America.
2018 saw a bit of resurgence of the tennis genre, with AO Tennis and Tennis World Tour launching more or less in the same time frame. For various reasons, neither title managed to bring back the excitement we had for games like Virtua Tennis or Top Spin – and things went quiet again on the tennis front. When AO Tennis 2 was announced it promised to fix a lot of issues with the original game, based on feedback from critics and players alike. Yearning for a good tennis game, we were happy to see if that claim held up – and for the most part, it does.
How big the jump forward is depends on your experience with the first AO Tennis (the AO part stands for Australian Open). We kept it on our PS4 for quite a while and noticed it received countless post-release updates, which ended up vastly improving the game. Those who stuck around eventually got a much better game than they did on release, and the improvements in AO Tennis 2 aren’t as big for that group of players as a result. The biggest fix was undoubtedly to the game’s control, which are far smoother, tighter and more responsive in AO Tennis 2.
Besides fixes and improvements to the core gameplay, AO Tennis 2 also feels like a much more complete package, despite the absence of a lot of licenses. The Australian Open is the only licensed grand slam tournament, and the majority of big players on the circuit are absent in the game – though world number ones Nadal and Barty are accounted for. There’s a big bonus stemming from the fact that Big Ant invested in community-created content for the first game though, and that is that user-created version of famous players and venues can easily be imported into the game and enjoyed. Although I’m not into player/venue creation myself, I’m reaping the benefits with AO Tennis 2 as I’m suddenly playing Nadal vs “Federer” again.
Although it wasn’t developed with the kind of budget that FIFA or NBA 2K has, AO Tennis 2 features a story-driven career mode that includes the gameplay loop of playing tournaments and going through training exercises. This helps you improve your player’s stats and climb the global rankings – eventually becoming a contender for the bigger titles on the circuit. You can also infuse your player with a bit of personality by selecting how you react to key moment in a match – rage in frustration, or stay polite? Your choices can affect what happens in terms of sponsorships as well, which is another nice touch.
Which core stats you pick and which ones you develop can have a big impact on your playing style, and the surface you play on has a big effect as well. Much more so than in the first game, you can tell why Nadal dominates on clay while players who play offensively with a lot of power are better suited to harder surfaces. This showcases the improvements made to the game’s physics engine, and it makes for a more engaging game no matter which difficulty level you play at.
Despite the massive improvement over the first game, I suspect that AO Tennis 2 will also be getting a few updates post-release. Though better than before, some of the animations can feel unnatural, lacking fluidity or letting players return shots (in ways) that didn’t seem possible. But considering how Big Ant showed us their dedication to the first game back in 2018, I’m confident that the sequel will also eventually turn into a more polished version of what we’re getting at launch. The big difference being, of course, that the version we are getting now is already the best tennis game since 2011.