Right now the Australian Open is on in Melbourne where the best of the best compete in 1 of the famous 4 major tournaments. Naturally, any sport with a large following is ripe for a video game version to connect fans with the sport all year round. Developers Big Ant Studios have been able to successfully do what many can’t, in timing the launch of their game with the arrival of the correlating sporting event.
While there’s certainly been plenty of tennis games over the years, AO Open is the most accurate depiction of the game so far. Being a fully endorsed title, the game features real players, real courts, and real sponsors logos. Even the peripheral courtside elements you’d expect like the umpires chair, the linespeople, and ball kids are all accurately represented. This helps to give the game an authentic feeling and fans of the sport can play as their heroes.
When firing up the game, you’ll be faced with some options as to how you want to play. You can choose to jump straight into the campaign mode where you start out as a rookie and play through matches to elevate your ranking and progress through your tennis career until you reach the top spot.
Alternatively, you can choose to play multiplayer both locally or online. Having the ability to play against a friend locally on the console is a welcome inclusion, something many titles forget is still a massive asset. While gaming online is certainly popular and allows people to play against each other from anywhere in the world, if you do find yourself over at a mates house, its great to be able to grab a second controller and compete.
In terms of game modes, you can choose from Singles, Doubles or Mixed Doubles. Naturally, a game reflecting reality also reflects the diversity of genders that play, offering both male and female characters in the game.
When building a sport-based title, you have an immediate problem on your hands. How do you create player movements and animation cycles that reflect the real thing? Thankfully more than 10 years of ball tracking data is available from Australian Open championship matches, which the developers leveraged in making this game.
This means your computer components player like they would in real life. This data, combined with 3D scanned and motion captured players power an AI model that makes your digital opponent respond to your shots in an authentic way. It also means the limitation of those players is real, things like height, speed, reach are all reflective of each player’s attributes.
While the Australian Open plays out exclusively on hard courts, there is an option to play on other surfaces like clay and grass, which provides a different experience. Like changing your tyre compound in F1, the differences can be subtle but does extend the game’s diversity of gameplay options. It is likely the choice of venue in the stadium (Rod Laver Arena) or outdoor courts and the time of day that has much more relevance to the AO, with many high profile games playing out in the evenings.
The game’s player creator allows you to customise physical and skill attributes. This configurator is one of the more advanced with almost every element being configurable. This means you can create a player that looks like you although I would like to see further options for clothing. Something that is strange is the ability to adjust your character’s attributes with no limits. I expected to find a set number of attribute points that I could distribute across skills like speed, serving, power etc, instead I found an unlimited ability to crank everything to max. This raises the question, why would you ever create a player with less than the best attributes? Weird and something that is definitely an area for improvement.
The Logo creators was definitely a big disappointment, but thankfully it has no bearing on the game, so you can easily forget about it. As someone who’s used lots of livery editors on racing titles, creating logos should be easy and it just isn’t, it isn’t intuitive and frankly not worth your time.
Having developed sporting games before, the developers had a decent catalog of code to borrow from. One such borrowing is the replay system which actually works great for reviewing those close points, or those special shots you want to capture and share with the world. There is no hawkeye though, that’s one replay you’d like to have when it’s a line-ball decision and something that’s a strange omission given the attention to detail on display elsewhere in the title.
Price & Availability
The game is available now on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Available at Amazon Australia (free delivery), JB Hi-Fi, Target, BigW and more, the price across the board is A$79.00. If you have the internet connection to support it, digital download is also available.
For those Xbox One X owners, you’ll be happy to know that AO Open is on the list of Xbox One X Enhanced Games which means it supports high-resolution textures, 4K graphics, and HDR support.
If you’re more of a mobile fan, the company also make a mobile version for iOS and Android and get this, it’s free.
AO Tennis may not be made by an A-list development studio, but what Big Ant Studios has been able to achieve here is impressive. The game really is a great reflection on the sport and will enable fans to connect with Tennis all year round. As I mentioned at the start, aligning the timing of its release to match the Australian Open 2018 was incredibly smart and should provide a nice boost to sales.
While the purchase of this game is a no-brainer for tennis lovers, what about the casual fan, someone who wouldn’t call themselves a tennis fan, who has so many other potential gaming purchases available to them, should they consider buying this game? The answer is yes, assuming your coffee table has a second controller. This is one of those games that’s great to just pick up and get straight to challenging a mate. Whether it is a bit of fun while having some drinks on a Friday night, or just want a game that doesn’t take much mental energy, this game is easy enough and approachable enough for almost anyone to pick up and play in seconds.
With this success behind them, Big Ant Studios should be well placed to take a proposition to the ITF to make titles for the other majors or even better for fans, 1 game that includes them all.