Tiebreak Early Access Review: Not Quite Ready for Center Court

It’s early days for Tiebreak, and while the official stamp of approval from the ATP and WTA is nice for licensing purposes, gameplay is where this tennis game will need to make strides as it moves through early access.

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In recent years, there’s been no shortage of tennis video games to help satisfy the appetite of fans of the sport. From Tennis Manager 2023 to Tennis Elbow 4, there are plenty of niche options available to anyone with a PC looking to pick up a virtual racket. Those with a console though have probably become quite familiar with the developer Big Ant Studios and the publisher Nacon, as the two companies were responsible for releasing AO Tennis 2 in 2020 and also collaborated on another tennis title with Tennis World Tour 2 in the very same year.

Now the duo has made a wise decision by essentially consolidating the two titles with Tiebreak, which is currently in early access and comes billed as the official game of the ATP and WTA. But with the recent announcement of a new TopSpin game, the question is whether Tiebreak will be able to establish itself enough to fend off the competition.

Unfortunately, Tiebreak doesn’t make a great first impression and will need to have some substantial updates if it’s ever going to compete on the same court with the best tennis games. To its credit, the game at least boasts some fairly impressive player models that look a decent amount like their real-life counterparts. The game also makes serving rewarding and intuitive with a variety of options to use depending on the situation.

It’s pretty much all downhill from there though, starting with an absence of modes to keep you interested for much longer than a handful of matches. The gameplay isn’t anything to write home about either, hampered by awkward movements and animations that too frequently culminate in repetitive ends to points. A pervasive feeling of the game still being a work-in-progress is evident in the fact that even the game’s tutorials have their advanced components locked, making it impossible to know the full extent of how to play properly and pull off certain maneuvers on the court.

Tiebreak Early Access Review

Let’s trigger an official review and have a closer look at where Tiebreak is unleashing aces and where it could use some work if it ever hopes to eliminate its glaring faults and unforced errors.

What I Like

Player Models

There aren’t that many real professional players included in Tiebreak, but thankfully what the game’s lacking in quantity it mostly makes up for in quality. It certainly helps build immersion when you’re controlling a player like Taylor Fritz, who many people are likely more familiar with now thanks to the popularity of the Netflix series Break Point, and he actually looks a lot like the real Fritz. There’s a nice balance between male and female players as well, with bigger names like Daniil Medvedev and Nick Kyrgios on the men’s side alongside women like Naomi Osaka and Maria Sakkari. While they don’t necessarily have specific movements or animations that have been motion captured to further boost the realism, they all at least have specific attributes that reflect the players’ actual skills.

There are obviously some of the bigger names in the sport missing in the game at the moment though, which will hopefully be remedied as the game progresses from its early access status. After all, it’s tough to claim that it’s the official game of the ATP and WTA when you don’t have some of the top-ranked players in the world right now like Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Iga Swiatek, and Coco Gauff. The lack of players can’t help but lead to disappointing variety in matches, especially when you compete in tournaments and will inevitably see the same faces in the later rounds.


After releasing enough games by now to hone how you serve the ball at the outset of every point, Big Ant Studios has finally simplified the process to make it both accessible and satisfying. Rather than having to memorize the controls for different types of serve options like flat and slice, you can now cycle through those serves prior to tossing the ball in the air with just the touch of a button.

You then are required to hold down a button and direction for a set amount of time if you want to be able to deliver a serve with the desired power and accuracy. This might seem a tad too easy for some people and can’t help but lead to telegraphing what type of serve someone is about to unleash, but the patch notes included with the game’s latest update help to clarify the design behind the revamped mechanic.

Aside from keeping things simple, it also is a tad more realistic than you might expect because selecting a serve type ahead of your toss is meant to mimic the way that players can often tell what kind of serve an opponent is planning by the way that they hold their racket beforehand.

What I Don’t Like

Game Modes

For a game that touts being the official game of the ATP and WTA, there are surprisingly few game modes to keep you interested and coming back for more. If you want to play a match, you can really only choose between Play Now, tournaments, and online. While play now works well as a casual mode and tournaments allow you to compete for a trophy providing you can win in the finals (some of the bigger tournaments in tennis are missing however), the absence of any sort of career mode is especially glaring.

This missing component also means that there’s no ability to create and customize your own player, which seems especially egregious considering this has been a staple of other tennis games from the very same developers. Without the opportunity to continuously progress your player by participating in various tourneys, there can’t help but be less of an investment in your achievements. Online play is serviceable, despite the small pool of players causing it to be slightly difficult to find matches, but it’s hardly a robust matchmaking system that offers worthwhile rewards for your efforts.

Player Movement And Shot Animations

One of the biggest drawbacks that keeps you from enjoying the thrill of a long rally is how unrealistically your player glides across the court and the clunky animations that ensue when you wind up for a shot. As you try to get yourself in an ideal position to return the ball to your opponent, it doesn’t always feel as if your feet are making real contact with the court. but Instead it often appears as if you are skating on a sheet of ice. Because the controls require you to hold the left or right trigger to prepare for a shot as you run — depending on which side the ball is positioned — some strange animations ensue. It’s not uncommon to see players appear to almost teleport to balls that look as if they should be out of reach and instead effortlessly get back over the net and in play.

When you push the wrong trigger and are facing the wrong direction of the ball as you try to make a shot, you’ll often see a rapid animation awkwardly unfold that magically allows you to get your racket on the ball. Even when you are in the ideal position, balls off your racket will too often hit the top of the net with no indication of what you did wrong to cause that to happen. These kind of unforced errors occur far more frequently than you’ll see balls sailing out, as it seems far too easy to paint the edges of the court with shots on the sidelines and baseline. When you try to charge the net as a strategy, that aspect of the game is hampered by the apparent absence of volley animations (unless there’s an explanation in the locked portion of the tutorials?), instead leading to players hitting the ball with full windups when a delicate touch would obviously look better and be more effective.

Bottom Line

Because Tiebreak is still in early access, it’s somewhat tricky to evaluate if it will eventually become a better tennis simulation in time. However, it’s certainly true that you only get one chance to make a first impression and the one here is not all that encouraging.

On the positive side, the graphics for the player models and stadium environments do an admirable job of creating a realistic atmosphere, and the way that you serve the ball to begin a point makes some sense from a strategy and realism perspective. On the other side of things, there’s a paltry selection of game modes that grow stale before long, including no career mode or player creation suite that facilitates progression. On the court, players move unnaturally towards the ball and the ensuing animations of shots are lacking in fluidity or missing entirely when it comes to net play.

That all being said, recent updates via patches at least are an encouraging sign that developers are aware that the game is still not a finished product and requires more work if it wants to ever stand alongside the premier tennis games of the past and future.

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Kevin Scott
Kevin Scott is a writer and video producer who's been contributing to Operation Sports since 2016. He's primarily been focused during this time on any and all video games related to football, baseball, basketball, hockey and golf. He lives in Toronto and still believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that someday the Leafs will finally win the Stanley Cup again.