AO IN­TER­NA­TIONAL TEN­NIS

Brad­man de­vel­oper takes a swing at green balls

PlayStation Official Magazine (UK) - - REVIEW - @Ben­jiWil­son

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.

VER­DICT

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.

INFO FOR­MAT PS4 ETA OUT NOW PUB BIG ANT STU­DIOS DEV BIG ANT STU­DIOS

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