Australian Rules Football, for much of the population here in Australia it is more than a game. It’s part of our life, with many people living and breathing the game during the season. As our only, truly unique national sport I have always hoped that one day there would be a video game that could do it justice. Since 1991, when Aussie Rules footy released on the SNES, we have seen another eighteen games releases that were based on our beloved sport. Being totally honest, none have done the game justice. Now with the latest generation of consoles being so far advanced, perhaps the 20th game based on AFL will finally deliver those dreams to reality.
AFL Evolution features the usual modes for a sports game, with Single Match, Competition (Season), Career, Online and Free Roam modes available. There is also a Fan Hub present on the main menu, here you can create your own unique players. You will most likely spend all of your time shared between Competition, Career and online though, as these are the modes with substance.
The Career mode spans across a 23-year period giving you the option to play as a current player, create a rookie or play as a coach (which is as boring as you would think). I created my 17-year-old want to be star as a ruck rover, playing in the TAC cup with the Bendigo pioneers. Yes, AFL Evolution contains the TAC Cup, along with the VFL and AFL women’s league, which is great, providing you’re Victorian. I found the career mode to be quite solid, there are a huge number of attributes to spec up as you collect points via levelling up with experience points (XP). Each match has specific challenges to complete for bonus XP, such as tackle counts, bounces and contested marking, which is a great feature. You can also get reported and suspended, which I found out whilst shirt fronting an opponent way off the ball, rough conduct charge and a 1 week penalty with early plea. Before long I was tearing up the fields, collecting a massive amount of possessions and gaining experience points at a rapid rate whilst pulling in best on grounds.
The ‘be a pro’ camera stays at the right distance in career mode but you do have issues with it swinging at really bad times on approach to the ball which can frustrate. However, this is the only camera mode that works in the whole game. This view tracks your player which obviously can’t work in non-player locked modes. In the team modes, it seems that no matter which camera you tend to use it always seems to be pointing on the wrong angle unless kicking out from full back or having a set shot at goal.
The game plays okay most of the time, but the problems of past entries remain. When there is congestion the ball tends to be tapped around like a pinball, and it seems that free kick decisions must be on a timer, with head high tackles awarded every fourth tackle. It is frustrating stuff. Also, just as frustrating is that when you run to the ball drop from any position other than a straight on lead, your player seems to get there and instantly turn and take five steps away from the ball drop. It becomes quite frustrating and coupled with a very slow auto player change that can be manipulated but generally unsuccessfully, you can feel like tearing your hair out.
Another frustration is the fact that the players seem to play positional; there is no real strategy of flooding or spreading to one side of the game. This is really disappointing as the game improves drastically when players have space and breathing room. Quick balls out would be more vital if the players played off opponents and out of their positional zones as they do in real life. The best way to find space is to run and carry with a handball.
Once you become accustomed to the marking aspect, the controls are quite good. Everything feels right apart from tackling being the triangle button, the skill manipulation and other controls all feel natural and wok well. It is just a shame the AI is poor, missing easy goals and players running the wrong way is quite common.
Graphics & Sound
Remembering that AFL Evolution is never going to match up to the massive budgets and gigantic teams of 2K or EA, the game looks pretty good. Most player models are recognisable and their animations are fluent and realistic. The grounds are all really well recreated, apart from a few blocky, jagged lines. Having been to most grounds I was astounded with the faithful representation of them.
The crowd is a long way from the action which benefits the graphical short comings. Overall it is best described as a decent looking last generation game, remember those budget and team constraints, which is admirable enough.
The sound is horrible. Umpire calls are flat ad mundane, the crowd noise is the same whether there are 1000 people watching a TAC game or 90,000 at the MCG. The commentary features Dennis Cometti and Matthew Richardson, and it is so disjointed and robotic that it feels like a missed opportunity at best. They also seem to call the wrong players names, the wrong game scores and comment on a game that is not relevant, sadly it’s well below average.
You are able to play online in either against an opponent or co-operatively. It works well enough but the shortcomings of the game are amplified if the opposition is good. You can quite often become involved in a game of aerial ping pong. There was a little bit of lag present but I do have poor internet speeds at home. Also, finding an opponent can take a while but it isn’t insufferable.
To say I am disappointed is an understatement. AFL Evolution makes inroads towards the ultimate goal of being a good representation of the sport. Poor AI, frustrating camera angles and horrible commentary just makes this a very average experience and in a way, takes the series back a step. The career mode is a great addition and living out childhood dreams feels fun, at first. Hardly and Evolution, maybe AFL Live 3 would have been a more appropriate title.