Big Ant Studios have been championing Tennis games for some years now, managing to get elite stars like Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal to grace their covers.
Tennis World Tour 2 is another heroic effort to keep the sport alive in the video game world, but after spending some time in training, exhibitions, career, and online, it’s become abundantly clear that this sport is desperately in need of the EA or 2K treatment.
Not to completely diminish what’s been achieved here, because there’s some good gaming to be had, but just when it feels like the game is about to get fun, its overcomplicated mechanics serve more as stumbling blocks than an enjoyable way to play.
TWT2 never captures the magic of the rallies in a Virtua Tennis. It’s never quite the switch off and play fun of a Mario Tennis. And it’s simply not as complete of an experience as Top Spin 4.
What we have here is a game that, at one moment, makes you feel like you understand how to angle and aim shots, how much power to put behind them and when to make key decisions between shot selection. Then the next minute feeling like you’ve absolutely no idea what you’re doing or how to do it.
Serving starts things off oddly, having you tap a button, then hold until the ball reaches its peak, releasing to serve. But you also have to angle the stick at the same time, and then get yourself ready to move for the imminent return. The window of time to react is small and you need to be sure that your follow up shot also has some creativity and bite to it.
Rallying can be mixed up with several different types of shots, each put behind different combinations of buttons on the pad. You can lob, volley, drop shot, hit the baseline, go for some spin, or give it some slice. And you’ll need to use your shots wisely, being careful not to hit your shots wide or too far out.
The bizarre card system doesn’t really help much either, giving you temporary boosts to endurance stats, and performance buffs on certain shots. Except it doesn’t often feel like it’s actually doing anything different as shots still kind of play out the same. The point is to help with serving and have less of an endurance drain on – for example – a slice shot.
Each player has a green bar of health below them which is gradually depleted over the course of a match, so that adds to the strategic layer of the game and helps indicate what shots to go for, when to sprint, and how much power to invest in rallies / serves.
To be honest, that’s part of the game’s problem. It’s trying to be too strategic and in so doing, sort of loses the simple fun of the sport which comes from epic rallies and performing spectacular, highlight-worthy shots. Other games are most successful when they identify the core strength of sport. Take a look at PGA Tour Golf from earlier this year, for instance, there was so much fun in its simplicity but there was enough in there to also appease veterans and keep you playing for months to come as you try to master the mechanics.
Tennis World Tour 2 demands skill to even be semi-competitive, even on the lower AI difficulties. That’s a huge problem as you kind of have to have experience of these games previously or be extremely persistent and resilient to fight through the rough edges.
Another big problem is that there’s some glaring roster ommissions here. No Serena or Venus Williams. Nor will you find a Novak Djokovic, Simona Halep, Andy Murray, Sloane Stephens, Jo Konta, Vika Azarenka, frankly, the list goes on. It just doesn’t feel like a complete tennis experience when over half of the female top 20 are missing and several elite male players have been cherrypicked for selection.
The real issue, though, is the disparity between male and female players. There’s just ten female players compared to twenty seven male players! That’s ridiculously lopsided, and considering the quality of women’s tennis at the moment – with many of its major stars excluded – it doesn’t really paint a game supposedly about world Tennis in a good light. Naomi Osaka was the talk of the US Open this year but she’s nowhere to be seen here.
Imagine playing FIFA without Harry Kane or Madden without Tom Brady. I get there may be some licensing issues involved here, but this is exactly why we so desperately need a fully licensed Tennis product to give us a complete experience. You can’t even play at Wimbledon and can only be at Roland Garros with the appropriate edition of the game or standalone DLC.
Tennis World Tour 2 has its moments, the career mode can be good fun with creating your own star to tackle charity matches and tournaments to earn money for cosmetics and cards. You also can’t beat the feeling of playing as Nadal and going head to head with Federer. But be prepared to work hard to love this game and to get the most out of it. Nothing comes easy, and it may just make you wish for a game that seems no closer to coming to fruition.
+ Some great player likenesses
+ Rallies can feel satisfying
+ An entertaining career mode
– Roster split between male and female Tennis players is very disappointing
– Many big name exclusions / limited major tournaments to play in
– Gameplay feels overly complex and takes a lot of getting into
– Card system just doesn’t feel like a natural fit
Tennis World Tour 2 is now available on PC, PS4, XO, Stadia and Switch
Code kindly provided by Big Ben
Tested on PS4