Ahead of the launch of AO Tennis 2 next month, Stevivor was invited to Big Ant’s Melbourne-based studio to check out differences between it and the original AO Tennis. Chief among those is the addition of a robust career mode.
AO Tennis 2‘s new mode marks one of the first attempts by Big Ant to add a career mode into one of its sports titles. Development Director Mike Merren told Stevivor the studio is aiming for realism in terms of both the gameplay experience and what the studio itself can do. The latter means players won’t be voiced in order to maintain authenticism in the face of myriad player customisation options available. Simply put, Big Ant doesn’t have the resources to record dozens of vocal variants to do so.
Career mode is available in both singles and doubles flavours, though single-player careers will provide the option to invite a doubles player from match to match in order to participate. While you can start a career as a current player like Rafael Nadal, you’ll lose access to the narrative Big Ant has created; newbies will work with their mentors to improve their world ranking and will take part in press conferences after matches. In those press conferences — in which I once again appear alongside Press-Start’s Shannon Grixti and award-winning journalist David Milner — you’ll get the opportunity to forge your image, responding to questions either earnestly or by drawing inspiration from petulant child Nick Kygrios.
You’ll start out with a set amount of cash, which in turn is used to purchase new skills, but your money doesn’t go very far. For more, you’ll need to enter and win tournaments and secure sponsorships. You plan your career week by week, picking events; some may involve a lot of travel that will fatigue your player. It’s a risk/reward system — do you fly halfway across the world for a big payout or focus on a nearby tournament that pays poorly but will increase your world ranking?
On the court, gameplay essentials haven’t changed much when compared to AO Tennis, but new additions are present. I really enjoyed the new ying and yang reaction system — and I call it that because that’s what associated Achievements are titled — providing the chance to use sportsmanlike or unsportsmanlike reactions while you play. Was a shot called out? If you don’t want to risk a challenge you can at least tell the chair umpire how blind he or she was. If you fluke a shot that hits the net and just barely dribbles over, you can be sportsmanlike and acknowledge your luck in order to win the favour of your opponent, the press and the crowd.
The new animations, refined facial scanning and attention to detail in clothing and physics detailed in the first AO Tennis 2 developer diary are certainly apparent when watching introductions, sequences between sets & games and the like, and it certainly is a treat to get a glimpse of what the fully realised Melbourne Olympic Parks precinct will look like a full two years before its real-life counterpart.
With lessons learned from AO Tennis under its belt, Big Ant looks ready to release a sequel that will please tennis fans. We don’t have long to wait to see if my assessment proves true; AO Tennis 2 heads to Windows PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch on 9 January. Take my advice though: play on any other platform other than the Switch version.