Usually, it's better to polish a game before its release, not after...
Original review – 15 January 2018
AO Tennis will be great in a couple weeks. Probably.
As I begin to start this review, late at night on Monday, 15 January, it’s clear there are still gaps in the presentation. Things are half-finished, rushed in order to coincide with the start date of the real world Australian Open. Only 6 male and 12 female professional players are available, though Big Ant’s already confirmed missing players like John Isner.
A career mode isn’t available on Xbox One, nor will it be on launch day… though it’s ready to go on PS4. Online servers weren’t available during the narrow window provided for review. The titular Australian Open mode ends with little fanfare, literally ending in the same way as any other, casual match. Players celebrate their opponent’s double faults or shots that bounce off the net and squeak over the line in the same way they celebrate a successful 20-hit rally.
In fact, most of the same bugs present in our preview remain — you’ll randomly end up with 250 challenges during a match for some reason, and occasionally, players will launch the ball as if rockets were attached to their racquets. I still can’t receive a serve from the bottom right of screen and put it across the next towards the left. The only bug I encountered that’s been fixed since my preview is player teleportation — a 5GB, pre-release patch has put an end to crazy, impossible shots from the baseline.
While controls mirror that of the Top Spin series — with face buttons dedicated to lob, flat, top spin and slice shots — AO Tennis is a very different beast. A simple UI tool hovers over your players head at all times. A white dot will tell you if you’re releasing your shot button of choice too early or too late — red is bad, yellow is alright and green is perfect. Beside the dot is a power bar, which is fairly self-explanatory — the amount of time you hold your shot button controls the power at which it leaves your racquet.
It seems simple, but the system is proving incredibly hard too master. The game’s a bit too fast for its own good, forcing you to have inhuman reflexes. Between positioning your player, deciding on a shot and getting the timing of your button press sorted, the ball’s already bouncing off your racquet. Each point that you play for really needs to be earned on Amateur difficulty and above, though on the plus side you’ll really celebrate each and every win… just like your on-screen player.
I vainly played as myself (more on that here) despite my unique honour of being AO Tennis’ lowest-ranked player (another aside: I’m OVR 51 on Xbox right now and 70 on PS4 as of today). My digital self feels like it too, with poor stats from flat returns to reaction time. Though only digitised journos possess better stats than I have, it doesn’t matter; unless you’re playing as Rafa — or until Big Ant refines how players’ stats impact gameplay, finding the sweet spot that so many players hunger for themselves — be prepared to struggle.
Big Ant has rushed the release of AO Tennis to have it on store and digital shelves in time for the Australian Open. The Xbox One day one patch isn’t available right now, on day one, so essentially there are two different versions of the game available to consumers on console. I’m left dumbfounded that I was given a review copy when AO Tennis seems more like an early access affair than a full release. Right now, all I can advise is to be patient and wait on a purchase unless you’re a true tennis diehard (and if you’re that desperate to play, go PS4).
Despite the half-baked nature of AO Tennis, there’s a lot to be hopeful for. Most mechanics at feel like they’re almost there; we’re not willing to make a final decision while Big Ant tells us there’s more to come. We’ll give the game a week or two to evaluate and compare patches before we issue our final decision. Stay tuned for a update on this review when we’re comfortable with the new content. Until then, enjoy a bunch of gameplay capture from Stevivor.
Provisional review score at time of writing: 5.5/10
Review update 1 – 16 January 2018
With the day one patch still unavailable, I’ve spent a handful of hours on the PS4 Pro, trying it out alongside Career mode. It’s better than what I experienced on Xbox One… but there’s still a long way to go.
Players will launch the occasional rocket into the net, ripping you from immersion. While Big Ant says that “tuning of difficulty” has been factored into the day one update, I feel like points are still hard to earn. I have noticed that AI opponents seem to enjoy double faulting on their serve. I’d never encountered a single double fault during my 10+ hours on Xbox.
Career mode is a neat little addition, letting you play as a player-made character or existing star (or in my case, both… kinda… as myself). Things kick off with a calendar listing upcoming tournaments; you usually have the choice between a harder, high-paying tournament or easier, lowly-paying tournament. The risk-reward system means you essentially need to decide if you want to go for easier, meagre XP gains or the full monty. Best yet, you get the choice to set the number of games and sets that make up a match, meaning you’re not necessarily going to be playing for hours just to get through a single tournament’s round.
While Career gives AO Tennis some life, it still has the same issues as the game proper — major wins are celebrated the same as minor ones, and winning a tournament is hardly acknowledged at all. It’s enough to bump our review score up to a 6.5… though, because the mode isn’t available on Xbox as yet, we’re splitting the difference at 6.
Perhaps the best thing about the PS4 version — at least from this Achievement hunter — is that Trophies seem to work without flaw on Sony’s console. Over on Xbox One, however, users are reporting that six Achievements are bugged. This writer can confirm as much — I’ve served an Ace, won a game with nothing but Aces and ripped more than 300 backhand winners but alas, no Achievements have popped. I’ve asked Big Ant for comment on the issue, as well as for an ETA on the Xbox One’s day one patch. I’ll keep readers updated as I learn more.
Our provisional review continues.
Provisional review score at time of writing: 6/10
Review update 2 – 25 January 2018
What’d I tell you? Almost a fortnight later, AO Tennis is starting to look appealing.
A number of gameplay tweaks have made games, sets and matches enjoyable. Proceedings feel realistic, with most issues addressed. Sadly, the occasional rocket-powered shot straight into the net rips you from immersion, as does the lack of pomp and circumstance with victories, though you do get a special cutscene after winning the Open.
There’s still a lot left to be desired — the game’s roster has yet to expand, and none of the user-created stand-ins for the likes of Roger Federer, Kei Nishikori or [insert any number of your favourite tennis stars] feel like they’re worth the download. This is definitely a game I’d recommend to tennis fans, but I’ll finish up with a final piece of advice to Big Ant: get your licensing and your gameplay refined before you release a title, not in the weeks (or months) following it.
AO Tennis was reviewed using a promotional code across Xbox One S and Xbox One X, as provided by the publisher. An additional code was provided on PS4. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.