AO INTERNATIONAL TENNIS
Bradman developer takes a swing at green balls
Between Smash Court, Top Spin, and Virtua Tennis, PlayStation has never been short of ace-thwacking excellence – making the four-year wait for a PS4 tennis game all the more curious. Thanks to developer Big Ant, that wait is now over. The Aussie studio’s Don Bradman series revitalised the cricket genre; AO sets out to do similar for tennis, but on its own terms rather than by aping Sega or 2K’s racquet legends. End results are mixed, and indeed AO attracted pre-release criticism for not being Virtua. That’s unfair. Merely striking the ball does feel alien at first, but it’s a result of sim-focused nuances that, once mastered, are the highlight of the game.
A small curved meter denotes power as you hold down any shot button – r to slice, say – with an accompanying dot changing from red to orange to green and then (if depressed too long) back to red. That traffic-light system carries a neat sense of risk/reward, while aiming has its challenges too. It’s done by positioning a marker using the left stick while holding any shot button, but the left stick is also used for player positioning when you’re not charging a stroke. This complex system becomes second nature, and all the more satisfying, after four hours’ play.
The ensuing variety see points won in all manner of ways. Aces barely tickle the service box, lobs catch a smidgen of chalk, drop shots escape the net cord by inches, and in each scenario you celebrate as if on Murray Mound. Which only makes AO’s lack of longevity harder to stomach than strawberries in curdled cream. AI opponents often feel interchangeable; while licensed names include Rafael Nadal and David Goffin, your on-court foes lack depth in their tactical approaches, turning multi-set tournaments into a slog.
NOVAK OR NOTHING
Presentation is similarly deflating. PS3-calibre visuals are easily ignored when the on-court action sings, but the vanilla ‘broadcast’ elements – zero commentary, minimal pre- and post-match cutscenes – are more difficult to look past. Career mode offers tournaments from across the globe but, aside from the court surface, all merge into one. The best TV-style inclusion is the neat ability to challenge umpire calls by hitting pi and after a point, complete with Rolexsponsored overlay to match real-life. If only the rest of the game felt so authentic.
Sensibly borrowing from Bradman, the excellent ‘Academy’ feature enables you to offset this to a degree by downloading community-made creations. On day one of release it was already possible to add lifelike versions of Novak Djokovic and Justine Henin to your roster. In that sense, you can make your own fun, but again those characters turn homologous after sustained play, and this likeable rookie remains a year or two away from championship contention.
A more-than-passable first effort from a studio more famous for its cricketing output – yet presentation and longevity issues make it less excellent, more AO-K. Ben Wilson
The controls won’t appeal to Top Spin fans, but prove worth the adjustment time.
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