AO Tennis 2 could have been named Nick Kyrgios: The Game and we doubt anyone would have batted an eyelid. The controversial Australian superstar is a compatriot of developer Big Ant, and has clearly inadvertently influenced the studio’s sophomore Australian Open tie-in. With a morality system allowing you to react positively or negatively to every point, as well as the World Number 30’s now-trademark underarm serve, the title would clearly get the Canberra native’s seal of approval.

This is a huge improvement over the team’s previous effort AO International Tennis, which was in a bad shape when it clipped the net a couple of years ago. The company kept plugging away at it, however, issuing a series of patches which have seriously raised the baseline for its sequel. Not only does this follow-up play smoother than its predecessor did at launch, but the presentation feels more in-line with what you’d expect from a contemporary sports game running on the PlayStation 4.

That’s not to say that this project comes anywhere close to FIFA 20 or NBA 2K20, but it’s moving in the right direction: pre-match intros mimic the style of hype videos played before matches in real-world arenas, while the array of animations added augments matches with a more realistic flow. The physics are pretty good, with the ball moving differently on clay to, say, grass, while players feel unique depending on their strengths and weaknesses.

It’s not perfect: you’re still somewhat rooted to the ground while aiming your shot, which means the game temporarily assists your movement. This can lead to issues where you’ll inexplicably step away from an easy smash, and while you can alter the intensity of this mechanic, we struggled to find the sweet spot. However, the array of shots you have in your arsenal – from diving hits to reverse forehand returns – makes for a relatively realistic looking on-court experience, and the best so far on the PS4.

The gameplay is anchored by a new Career system, which attempts to inject a splash of personality by giving you a coach and marking your achievements with story-driven cut-scenes. These have been produced on a tennis shoestring budget, and lack the pizzazz of, say, recent Madden NFL games – but they add meaning to your progress, and are inoffensive enough. They also contextualise the new morality system, which allows you to goad opponents when they double fault – or play the saint.

Tennis professionals have always been far too respectful for our liking, so playing as a kind of pantomime villain is genuinely entertaining. Your decisions, while generally black-and-white, will influence how the crowd reacts to you; follow up your best John McEnroe impersonation with an underarm serve and the famous Rod Laver arena will rattle with the sound of boos. It’s a neat system that gives the game a bit of identity, even if it is somewhat shallow overall.

In terms of licensed content, the likes of Rafa Nadal, Kevin Anderson, Angelique Kerber, and Johanna Konta are all present. The character models are good, but facial animations (or a lack thereof) give them a robotic appearance. Big Ant’s worked its way around missing stars like Roger Federer and Andy Murray by providing a fairly complex character creator, with fans able to share their interpretations online. All the content from the first game carries across, so you can build out a pretty decent roster.

This concept of user generated concept extends across the entire package actually: a venue builder means you can design your own dream court set-up, while you can also make logos, compile player lists, and even design your own scenarios. This means that, with the help of other players, you can effectively recreate Federer and Nadal’s infamous 2007 Wimbledon grudge match, pulling in various assets from the community to make it as authentic as possible. A smart solution.

It’s perhaps worth mentioning at this point that, unlike its predecessor, the game feels feature complete this time. There’s a vast array of game modes, with the aforementioned Career taking centre stage. This is a particular highlight because its loop is undeniably addictive, enabling you to plan out your year by scheduling events and training. The minigames are pretty fun, while you’ll need to think about travel costs and staff as you plot your path to global glory.

Matches can be saved at any point, so if you’re playing all three sets to completion in a Grand Slam, then you don’t have to commit to the full two hours in one sitting. Meanwhile, the online play adopts a more quick-paced arcade focus in Quick Match – although its overall lack of options means it’s a basic experience, even if the netcode is generally quite good. Comprehensive stat-tracking and quality replay options give the package a premium feel and provide you with plenty of data to pore over.

Conclusion

AO Tennis 2 is a winner, raising the baseline for all tennis titles on PS4. There are still minor quirks to its gameplay, but it’s well-presented and fun, making its enriched Career mode dangerously addictive. Flourishes such as a basic morality system add identity to the package, while a strong focus on user generated content lessens the impact on missing licenses. While the game doesn’t have the budget to go toe-to-toe with the top sports titles like FIFA 20 and NBA 2K20, this is an overall polished package that comes recommended to tennis fans – and we’ve been waiting a while to write that sentence.