Tennis games used to be two-a-penny, but it’s been years since anyone tried to put out a game in the genre. Will BigBen be able to capitalise on an empty market with their new title “Tennis World Tour” ?
You start the game by creating your character, although unfortunately the actual creator is very basic indeed, with just a few presets faces and bodies to choose from, and a few animations. The only really good part is choosing how frequently your player will grunt… The career mode, whilst not having any fake social media, press conference or cut-scenes like some of the EA and 2K efforts, still tries hard and has a lot of charm.
You get plenty of choice about what to enter each month, plenty of training opportunities, and the option to change up your coaches and agents, as well as levelling them up to improve their bonuses. You’ll also level up, apply characteristic bonuses to your players, earn sponsorship deals, new pieces of kit, and unlock new skills and abilities, all of which have an effect on the gameplay. There’s a lot to do and see here, and it’s where most players will spend the majority of their time.
Unfortunately, the actual playing of the tennis is less impressive. The controls are relatively tight, and you’ve got plenty of different shot types, which can be combined with your stamina meter for varying levels of power. Levelling has a definite impact on your generic superstar, and there’s also a number of real-world tennis stars for you to eventually play against.
However, the game has two big problems. The first is the AI. There’s no multiplayer yet (although it is still promised via the main menu, despite the game being out for several weeks and us holding back the review in hope…), so the computer is your only option. The AI varies wildly from dopey to superb, even within matches, and seems to not care for the opponent’s level, world ranking or active skills. They just flip-flop from complete donkeys to world-class seemingly at random, and even within games. I’ve played several matches where I could break my opponent with ease, but then couldn’t hold my own serve for the life of me.
The second is even more fundamental, and is basically either a glitch or just shocking quality control. The ball seemingly has no relation to your racquet or body position as to whether it can be hit back. Sometimes your opponent will hit a shot right next to you, but no matter what button you hold or press, nothing happens other than your avatar looking on disconsolately as the point slips away. This seems particularly prevalent with cross-court backhand returns, but can happen at just about any point. Other times, the ball looks like it’s waaaay to far away, until the black hole that is your racquet sucks it into the centre (literally) and you blast it back over the net, wondering at what sorcerous powers are at work, or whether you accidentally ticked a box in character creation that sold your soul to Roger Federer. All of this is a real shame, because the career mode has so much promise, but feels like a real let down when you play yet another stodgy match or lose through no fault of your own.
Tennis World Tour has some really mixed presentation. The game is Xbox One X enhanced, and looks really crisp in 4K. Generally, the game runs well, although there can be some slight stuttering, particularly when you lose a point or the ball runs past you. Animations are also pretty dodgy, especially the incredibly annoying and unskippable animation before EVERY SINGLE SERVE. It’s a real pain in the backside. There’s also very few win/ lose animations, so you’ll quickly see your player react the same way over and over.
The commentary is also absolutely awful. I think it’s John McEnroe doing the honours, but whoever it is phoned in their lines whilst they were asleep. And then didn’t show up to any subsequent sessions, because there’s seriously only about 12 lines of dialogue, that repeat over, and over, and over. In fact, I think in every single one of the 30+ matches I played, I got the same line about ‘going places’ every… single… time. It’s soul destroying stuff. Even the grunts aren’t up to much, and there’s no dialogue from the players or umpires other than a robotic announcement of the score.
Tennis World Tour’s neat career mode and levelling system are frankly great. But unfortunately the gameplay and presentation just don’t stack up enough. Playing the game is way too frustrating, and most people will be put off by the painful animations and commentary and the frankly bizarre swings in how the AI plays. With no multiplayer yet either to provide a saving grace, even Tennis fans will grumble about elements of the game here. It’s a real shame, because if the whole game lived up to some of the early promise, then Tennis World Tour could have been a real ace. Instead, it ends up largely being a double fault.