It has been a few years since we’ve been graced with a proper professional tennis video game. Not an arcade-esque, cartoonish styling but an accurate representation of the sport. Bigben Interactive and Breakpoint Studio changed that with the release of Tennis World Tour. With a development team comprised of people who worked on the well-received Top Spin series, surely we’d get a game worth your time. Unfortunately, Breakpoint sets us up with an attempt that fails in every facet.
Right at the start, as I loaded into Tennis World Tour’s menu, I ran into what I would consider one of the more problematic issues with the game. It doesn’t have online multiplayer at launch. The spot the mode occupies states that it is “coming soon.” As of this writing, it has been a few weeks since launch, and it has yet to be implemented.
In general, sports games rely heavily on their online modes to keep players invested until the next title releases the following year. This may be a special case considering it is the first entry but the lack of multiplayer still is disheartening. If the game’s single player options were varied and entertaining, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem; that is not the case.
Local multiplayer is available in the Exhibition mode but only includes singles competition. I understand that Tennis World Tour is attempting to take a more realistic approach; I’m not expecting a bunch of mini-games or goofy takes on the sport. An option to play doubles would have sufficed, giving the game some variety. Instead, the monotony of singles competition takes over Tennis World Tour, not only in its Exhibition mode but also in Career mode.
Career mode is where Tennis World Tour shines, even if it is for just a short moment. You begin by creating a character, man or woman, and customize them to your liking. However, the choices are incredibly limited, letting you only choose between select preset faces, serving styles, and other limited options.
Hilariously, the most customizable feature is how your character groans. Out of all the customizable features, the groan not only has the most options available but allows you to choose how frequently they groan. By the end of the character creation process, no matter how much you try to create something unique, your character will look generic.
After you create your non-descript tennis star, the game takes you to the Career mode hub where you’ll choose to train, rest, play an exhibition match, or partake in a tournament to become the number one tennis player in the world. Doing one of these activities will decrease how rested you are which is indicated by a meter at the top of the screen; to replenish the meter, you’ll need to rest. On paper, this is a great concept but was executed poorly as there doesn’t seem to be any consequences for resting.
As you train and play some matches, your character will level up, in turn giving you attribute points to add to one of three categories: defense, attack, and serve & volley. This will increase your stats and your overall rating. Additionally, you’ll also earn skill cards – which are split into four categories including stamina, power, control, and agility – that will augment certain facets of your game. For example, the power skill “rocket serve” will grant you a 5% power bonus for serving. You can also appoint an agent and coach that give you cash and leveling bonuses respectively.
You will also earn some cash that you can spend on gear. Like Destiny or World of Warcraft, Tennis World Tour has tiered gear indicated by color. As such, you would assume that high tier gear – in this case, purple colored gear – would be better than low or mid-tier gear. However, when I compared the two pieces of equipment, the differences between them seem minuscule. In some ways, the tiers are more based on look rather than statistical benefits.
Similarly to the general concept of Career mode, this is an excellent idea on paper but fails to feel imperative to the game’s loop. There were matches where I saw myself against AI players two or three levels above me and still had no problem defeating them. The skill cards effects never felt like they turned the tide of the game in any significant way. The leveling system seemed more like a façade for its lack of depth by just putting a bunch of arbitrary numbers in front of your face and making them look important.
The lack of features and depth Tennis World Tour has would have been fine if the gameplay was solid. I can get over the simplicity of the game if the actual act of playing was enjoyable. Unfortunately, it is the opposite.
The gameplay isn’t unlike any other tennis game. There are four shot types — normal, topspin, slice, and lob — each represented by one of the face buttons. The longer you hold the button, the more powerful the hit is; the harder you hit the ball, the more your stamina will decrease. Stamina affects how fast you run and your accuracy, so theoretically, you don’t want to hit each ball as hard as you can. However, like everything else in this game, stamina doesn’t seem to be an issue. Every match I played, I drained my stamina by the first game and still managed to win with ease.
If anything, you will be held back by the game’s bad animations. Since Tennis World Tour is striving for an authentic tennis experience, the character animations attempt to capture a true-to-life tennis match. As such, your button inputs aren’t immediate; instead of them triggering the shot you want to take, it triggers the animation which is then followed by the shot.
It reminds me of the problem old NBA 2K games had; it favors looks rather than tight mechanics which leads to a frustrating experience. There were multiple occasions where I would move to the area where the ball was going to land, perfectly set up for a shot only for my character to stand there motionless. There were also plenty of times where I hit a ball that I had no chance of hitting. In fact, the ball wouldn’t even hit the racket and make its way to the other side of the court. For a game that is trying to emulate a sport that requires so much precision, it lacks so much of it in its gameplay.
Tennis World Tour’s presentation is just as monotonous and uninteresting as the rest of the game. The announcers don’t have a lot of dialogue, repeating themselves every single match you play. The various courts you’ll visit are bland, lacking any variety save for its looks; I would assume playing on a clay court would be different than grass, but it all feels the same here. If the plan here was to capture tennis as the most repetitive and boring sport in the world, I’d say this is a very accurate representation.
Tennis World Tour is a disappointment, plain and simple. It’s one thing to not have key features at launch, but the absence of solid gameplay puts the final nail in the coffin. It’s not only dull with its weak and monotonous presentation but frustrating as you watch your generic created character not swing at a ball they could easily hit across the court. There is something to some of the RPG elements within the career mode, but my progression or “gear” doesn’t feel like it affects my character’s ability to perform well. Tennis World Tour had the opportunity to become the video game series players go on to play a professional tennis simulation. Instead, we are given a joyless and empty experience.