We had the chance to head down to Big Ant Studios in Melbourne to try out AO Tennis in the flesh.

AO Tennis is the latest from Big Ant Studios, who you’ll recognise from sporting titles like Rugby League Live and Ashes Cricket. Now, they’ve made a Tennis game. AO Tennis is fully licensed by Tennis Australia and is your most comprehensive look yet – in video game form – at the Australian Open.

Your cover stars are Rafael Nadal and Angelique Kerber, and there’s plenty more talent where that came from in the game, although be warned you won’t find everyone. We’re told that licensing issues with ‘another tennis game’ are preventing (for now, anyway) a few players being added to the roster.

With AO Tennis, Big Ant have employed the same motion capture and photogrammetry technology they did with Ashes Cricket. Players have their faces and likenesses captured using an elaborate camera rig, and all of their motions are then recorded using a bauble-y suit. What we did find out, though, is that Tennis Australia have these tracking suits they use with the athletes to detect and analyse any injuries they may have. These suits double as data mappers that can track data similarly to how the regular motion capture suits do. Consequently, Big Ant were able to use the files from the injury analyses to form the body composition of the players, as well as a number of shots. Additionally, data compiled from footage over the last ten years of the ‘real life’ game has been put into the AI of the players. Quite comprehensively, too; Big Ant CEO Ross Symons says the AI will make decisions based not only on what kind of shots a player is likely to use when in a particular position on the court, but also when facing particular opponents. 10 years is a lot of data.

Symons clarified this in the announcement press release when he said,“With previous tennis games, the world #1 would be challenging to beat, because his or her in-game attributes would be set to merely make fewer errors. That worked well at the time, but we’ve taken things to the next level. In AO Tennis Rafael Nadal is the hardest player to beat because in game he plays like his real-life counterpart; he plays a game style befitting the number one player in the world.”

Big Ant also captured all the gear and sponsored equipment for the players, putting everything through their photogrammetry procedures.

If you’ve ever played a Top Spin game, you’ll be pretty familiar with the controls (and they’re a lot more straightforward than those in Ashes Cricket). Your left stick is to move, and the four buttons on the right (on an Xbox controller A/B/X/Y) are your different shot types; lob, top spin, flat, and slice. Using the triggers and RB will also give you different types of shots. Players are encouraged to try a number of different combinations until they find what works best.

As far as how it plays and how it looks, AO Tennis is a good-looking, standard tennis game. The players look (mostly) photoreal – we did only get to see a couple, after all, and there’s no weird foot lag or jittery movements when running across the court like some past games. The review option (activated by pressing both triggers simultaneously) also comes in handy if you think the linesman has made a dodgy call on an ‘out’. Be mindful, though, that you do only have a limited number.

Despite not getting a chance to look at any of them in our session, we’re told there are a heap of customisation options – similar to those in Ashes Cricket – which will allow you to create your own logos, uniforms and stadiums. The progression system, too, will allow you to start off ranked 1,500th in the world and work your way up to the top. Or, you know, start at the top if you’re lazy. There’s couch co-op, which is so important for sports games like this one, and also an online ranked system. You can play singles (which we did), doubles, and mixed doubles.

AO Tennis will no doubt be a breath of fresh air to tennis fans that have been missing a current-gen tennis game. The inclusion of most players in the series and the realistic Aussie locale will no doubt appeal to many gamers. We’re looking forward to seeing more of the game in the lead up to its release next month.

AO Tennis launches January 16 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.


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