In this year of a pandemic sporting occasions have been few and far between. One sport that seems to have been hardest hit has been tennis. I’ve genuinely missed Wimbledon fortnight, which to me is the epitome of British Summer.
Up steps Tennis World Tour 2 then, a tennis game that packs in all the top stars of the game, all the stadiums* and tournaments you know and love. Could this fill a void for us tennis fans?
The first Tennis World Tour game wasn’t particularly well-received with a lot of criticism being aimed at the player movement (or lack of) in this sequel, Nacon, and Big Ant Studios have promised new mechanics, more animations, more players, and more strategy.
This sequel follows the same path as the original game capturing the more strategic elements of Tennis, namely working on the timing of the shots. The game plays as you would expect. The face buttons on the controller are your topspin, flat, backhand, slice, drop shot, and lop and that’s pretty much all you have. But unlike classic games such as Virtua Tennis, Tennis World Tour is not a quick pick up and play, this is more of a strategy game where the timing of your shots is key.
It works a little something like this. During a match there is a short time frame for you to hit your shots, if you hit them too soon, your shots could fire wildly outside the tramlines. Too soon and you stand a chance of hitting the net. Get the sweet spot and you have yourself the perfect shot that could win you the point. The trouble is there is no indication of the perfect timing. It’s left down to guesswork, it’s more a case of luck than anything. Having played a lot of tennis in my youth, I know the science behind the timing of shots, this game appears to be nothing like the real thing. Amongst your arsenal of shots, you also have a charge shot. This does give you a small energy bar, the more full it is the harder the shot. But this almost fails instantly simply because you have such a small window of opportunity to take the shot yet the charge meter takes too long to fill up so you’re inevitably going to hit your shot too late, if at all.
It might just be me but I really struggled with this system. Even while playing out the training, which doubles as a sort of tutorial there is no explanation of how the timing works, no hints on how to gauge the best time to hit a shot. It’s purely down to luck if you hit it right or not.
The other shot element you have to pay attention to is the shot direction, there’s no point hitting the ball straight back to your opponent so you need to direct the shot to the empty part of the court to stand a chance of winning the point. The directional control in Tennis World Tour is woefully inconsistent. Running across court ready to wallop a backhand crosscourt can end up going in the total wrong direction, no matter how hard you hold LEFT down on the analogue stick.
Shots aside the other important factor in tennis is positioning yourself on the court in preparation for the fizzing ball heading your way. This is where Tennis World Tour literally falls apart. What Big Ant Studios have tried to do is take some of the guesswork away and add a little bit more of the Virtua Tennis magic in. Unfortunately, it fails terribly. In a bid to make the game that more accessible they have implemented a kind of auto movement which fails to give you any kind of control. A lot of times I want to nudge my player left or right a bit to play the shot I wanted, but the player didn’t move, it was like he was stuck to the ground.
The number of times I missed shots or hit them in the net because the player wouldn’t move how I expected him to move was agonizing. Even in the training levels it’s a struggle to get to grips with the timing and placement. I think the idea was to have some kind of rhythm to the game, but alas, it’s a constant fight between you and the player. Tennis is a free-flowing fast-paced game. Tennis World Tour makes you feel like you’re running in treacle. You would think that having a sprint button would make the character more nimble than a ninja on Red Bull, but again, it’s useless it’s not an instant sprint, leaving a delay between the button being pressed and the character deciding to sprint. This is made even worse when the game is trying to move the character for you.
Thankfully the new serve system is a lot easier to master, the initial gauge swinging left to right, and then a second gauge to time the toss and serve action. It works well if you’re hitting it straight. Its a game of luck if you wish to try and place the serve.
Something else that really grinds my gears is the AI. Not so much of the opposition but all the computations that go on behind the scenes. There is a lot of game here, from training to tournaments to the world tour, taking your created player from wild card entries to world champion.
So check this, I managed to get to the semi-final without serving a single-serve. Granted the games are only one set (can change to full length if you want), but all my rounds to get to the semi-final of the tournament always had the opponents serving. There also seems to be something funky happening with the games overall. Playing an exhibition match or a tournament, it always seemed easier to win a point if the opponent serves, and a real struggle to win anything when it was my turn to serve. Couple that with the shot and movement issues and you’re left with a frustrating game.
Which is a shame because there is a lot of game here. You have exhibition matches, Career mode, online and offline doubles. One of the major elements that are retained from the first game is the card-based skill system. You can buy cards from the in-game shop (no microtransactions) to buy skills that increase your serve power, stamina, shot strength, or to reduce the opponent’s stamina and so on. It adds a nice level of strategy to the game, but this doesn’t come without its own issue. The cards are lumped into separate categories, power stamina skills, and so on. When assigning your cards to your player you know what is what, the cards are clearly labeled and easy to assign to any direction of the D-Pad. However, in the game, these cards are condensed into just the icon for each skill set. So you need to remember what card is assigned to which button because you can’t tell from just the icon. During my play, the use of cards was just down to guesswork than any kind of strategy
Something else that bugs me is that despite the promise of more animations and so on, The game still looks like a PS3 game and the characters seem just as janky as the first game. *And it’s a little annoying that if you want to play with all the top stars and in the official tournaments you have to purchase extra packs.
Putting this all together Tennis World Tour 2 is a game that has much potential, and you do get a lot of game for your buck, it’s just a shame that it plays so poorly. There is definitely a learning curve and you will need the patience of a saint to get through it. There is a kind of rhythm to the game to get the right serve, shot, timing, and cards right in every game which makes it exhausting.
As it stands Tennis World Tour 2 has a chance to wear you out more than an actual game of tennis.
Tennis World Tour 2 is out now on PS4 (reviewed) Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC via Steam.
Developer: Big Ant Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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