Tennis games tend to be a lot of fun, but even the best ones struggle to capture the intricacy of the sport. In franchises like Virtua Tennis, the emphasis is on baseline rallies rather than pin-point ball placement, and so matches devolve into a battle of attrition as players slug it out from left-to-right until the angles no longer make sense. Tennis World Tour 2, a much-improved sequel from the developer of this year’s AO Tennis 2, captures the flow of the sport better than ever before – at the expense of accessibility for those who aren’t willing to master it.

As is the case with Top Spin 4, timing is paramount to your success on the court. You have two shot options: precision and power. With the former, you’ll simply need to tap the flat, top spin, or slice buttons prior to the beginning of your swing, and if you get it right, you’ll place the ball in a specified sector of the court. Power shots, meanwhile, need to be charged up and released at the precise moment of your follow-through; again, if you get it right, you’ll hit a devastating shot into the area of the court that you’re aiming for.

What makes this particular game more challenging than any of its predecessors is that a minor misjudgement to your timing can see the ball sailing long or drifting out of bounds. For example, you may have worked hard to push your opponent deep into the corner of the court with a couple of precisely placed shots, but if you mistime the winner then your shot will fall agonisingly on the wrong side of the line, and you’ll lose the point. These kinds of unforced errors plague even the best players at times, but can mean the difference between Grand Slam champs and Grand Slam chumps.

The system adds serious depth to a sport that has much more nuance than batting a ball back-and-forth. If a player is moving you all over the court, then you’re going to be forced to play defensively, using precision placement purely to keep the ball in play. Meanwhile, if you’re orchestrating the point from the baseline, then you can start to add some real venom to your shots, making it almost impossible for your adversary to reach the ball. It flows like real-world tennis, where your command over the ball is paramount to your success on the court.

It looks like real-world tennis, too – at times. A vast roster of new animations means that you can read your opponents much better, but the system still isn’t perfect. There are occasions where the ball will come off your racquet at a strange angle, as the game attempts to blend the stance of your player with the direction you’re trying to return the ball. It’s rare, to be fair, and it’d be unreasonable to expect perfection when even juggernauts like NBA 2K and FIFA have occasionally inaccurate physics, but it’s something that will need further refinement should there be any future instalments.

It doesn’t look particularly pretty either. The arenas are largely adequate, but there’s a strange cartoon-like appearance to the licensed character models, which is at odds with the realistic art style that the title’s clearly aiming for. Playing on a 4K television with the PS4 Pro, the resolution is worryingly low, with the graphics adopting a soft, hazy appearance as a result. There are some nice broadcast-inspired flourishes, such as the inclusion of hawkeye, but the game never seems to make a bad call so the feature is there for novelty above all.

Considering how badly fans got burned by the original Tennis World Tour, the business model this iteration is adopting deserves some scrutiny, too. The game’s available at a “budget” price point, but if you pod out extra for the Ace Edition, you’ll also get access to licensed venues, such as Roland-Garros and its associated stadia. Depending on your stance, this could be considered both a good and bad thing: if you’re not interested in the French Open, then you could argue the title’s available at a reduced fee – but others may dispute that you’re being charged extra for essential features. Pick your position.

One area where the title’s not nickel-and-diming fans is with the inclusion of its deck building gameplay wrinkle. This effectively sees you using in-game currency to purchase Ultimate Team-esque packs which enable you to boost your play in specific scenarios. These have finite uses, such as improving the precision of your serve for a single point, but can be used to turn the tides if you know when to leverage them. It’s a neat system that mimics the superhuman feats of the world’s best players, and while it can be a bit cumbersome, we reckon it adds an extra layer to the action.

The career mode is similarly dense, as you attempt to evolve a pretender to superstar status. You’ll need to plan effectively, taking into account travel, injury, training, and much more. Some of the features of the campaign are a little undercooked – like how signing agents and coaches merely give you buffs – but it’s generally an addictive setup, where you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure you’re in optimal shape to make a play for the events you want to win.

Despite all this, there are some oversights. The gear unlocks, for example, aren’t all that exciting, so it’s hard to build a personal connection with your player when you can’t kit them out with the kind of clothing and accessories that you like. Difficulty is also handled strangely, with no universal option in the settings meaning you have to adjust it on a match-by-match basis. Hopefully that gets patched. Fortunately, the online netcode is generally more stable than its predecessor, and the inclusion of doubles is a necessary addition to a tennis game.

Conclusion

Tennis World Tour 2 captures the flow of real-world tennis well, but that comes with a steep timing-based learning curve. Overcome it, and you’ll be rewarded with a deep skill-based gameplay experience, that’s elevated by a strategic deck building accompaniment. There’s inconsistency to the presentation, with some awkward animations, physics, and art direction decisions – but the campaign is entertaining and online play will add longevity. As it stands, it’s the best tennis game currently available on the PS4, but there’s still room for further improvement here.