Sports games release on Xbox every year without fail however one genre that is commonly overlooked is Tennis. Apart from the sublime Virtua Tennis games and a handful of Top Spin titles we’ve really not seen anything that can take the throne from SEGA’s racket wielding masterpieces. AO Tennis (also known as AO International Tennis) looks to upset the apple cart and assert itself as the best Tennis game on Xbox One, but is it more double fault than ace?
Initially I was rather underwhelmed by what I saw on the title screen of AO Tennis. A blandly rendered tennis player who I could not identify for the life of me stared back at me menacingly while the game waited for me to press the menu button. Once you’ve done this you are presented with a few options to check out. The two main areas that most people will spend time are on the career mode and playing in the Australian Open. As well as these there is also the option to play a casual match with whatever rules you decide on, and a tutorial mode which I advise you check out before doing anything else.
The first thing I tried was the casual mode thinking that because I have played a lot of older tennis titles I’d have no issues with playing and I was very, very wrong. After selecting Rafa Nadal as my chosen character I set up a simple one set game and proceeded to wait for the game to load. An automated heads/tails section came up which I won and feeling confident I chose to serve first. I immediately hit a double fault, but after a bit of experimenting I managed to get a serve over the net. The AI character returned the serve and I attempted to position myself to smash a foreline winner down the baseline. What actually happened though was that I hit a feebly weak shot that barely cleared the net and went straight to the AI who punished the mistake by blasting a shot past me. Frustrated by what felt like broken controls I backed out and went to the tutorial section to get a better understanding of what I needed to do to be able to play the game well.
Hitting a shot is not quite like any other tennis game I have ever played. Instead of just holding the shot button like other games you’ll find that whenever you are positioned near the ball your player will automatically start to do part of a shot animation. Once this happens you need to quickly press the relevant button for the shot you want to carry out, this will make a little white dot appear on the other side of the court and this is what is used for aiming. Holding the button down will add power to your shot, but using too many consecutive power shots will have adverse effect on your stamina bar. For the first hour or so I absolutely hated the control scheme but after giving it some time I came to rather appreciate how it worked. Drop shots, lobs and cross-court spin shots can be pinged out with ease after a while which will definitely help you dominate some of the weaker players you can go up against.
As I mentioned above Rafa Nadal features in this game, and there are a half decent selection of other licensed players here too however it is glaringly obvious that a significant number of the top 20 players from the men and women do not feature. Whether that was due to budget costs or licensing I am unsure but I missed the opportunity to play with all-time greats like Roger Federer. A compromise would have been to feature legends from different eras like Pete Sampras, Tim Henman or Bjorn Borg although I suspect that would also have been rather expensive to include.
Visually all the players look like they should, although some of the animations feel a little stiff from time to time. The courts are simple enough although from certain angles they tend to look a little blocky but what is here is sufficient. Although this game is based around the Australian Open you do get to play on a variety of court types which is welcomed and they all look the part. The sounds used work well although there isn’t really much to write about here as they are rather minimal. All the necessary grunts, groans and ball bounce sounds are in the right places, and the umpire sounds the part too.
One of the problems I do have with AO tennis is the frequency in which the game crashes. This usually occurred after winning a game in the Australian Open but to make this more annoying it would seem to lose some of the progress I had made so I would have to replay several games to get back to where I previously was. There is an option to play online but at the time of this review I couldn’t seem to get it to connect to anyone even after multiple tries so I can’t really comment on this unfortunately, but at least the option to play friends or randoms is included.