After many long years of waiting (and a few in development), Aussie Rules football lovers finally have a Xbox 360 console game portraying what many would argue is the country’s national winter sport.
Local developer Big Ant, the firm behind the less than stellar Rugby League game released in 2010, have worked for a number of years on a shoestring budget in order to turn AFL Live into a reality.
(And when we say shoestring budget, we mean it. Big Ant’s budget for the game is believed to be less than that spent by EA on the Madden NFL intro screens).
It is with high hopes that many many Australians have brought this game. How does it stack up? Well, in all honesty, not too badly.
Lets get a couple of things clear from the outset.
A faithful console based representation of Australian Rules Football (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_rules_football
for the uninitiated) is perhaps the Holy Grail for local fans and software developers. The game’s uniqueness, 360-degree action, numerous actions, number of people on the field (36) and somewhat chaotic nature have all proven to be hindrances to accurately presenting Aussie Rules’ gameplay in the past.
Secondly – we’re dealing with a niche market here. Only one group of people – Australians – are going to be interested in purchasing this game. Compared to global sports like basketball and soccer(football) this means the amount of money set aside to develop an AFL game is always going to be limited.
So, how did Big Ant do? Did they overcome the challenges? Well, not entirely. But that said Big Ant should be hugely proud of its effort in producing perhaps the best Aussie Rules game committed to console.Playability/Controls:
At the centre of a successful Aussie Rules game is a level of playability that produces a realistic simulation of the sport. Big Ant has, for the most part, excelled in this respect with AFL Live.
The core gameplay is very good. The game’s nuances has been successfully transferred to console play, with ruck contests, marking, kicking, bumping, tackling and handballing all well done. Ruck contests in particular are a challenge - but a delight to get right - while goal kicking is a good mix allowing for the natural swing of the ball as well as the effects of the wind.
The only issue with the gameplay is a slight problem with ball-ups and stoppages. It is almost impossible to gain clean possession of the ball, with many contests turning into tackle fests. While not entirely unrealistic - and able to be overcome by the smart use of handball or a quick kick - the inability to break away from contests is a little annoying. Big Ant are looking to amplify the affect of the sprint button in an upcoming patch.
Considering the number of actions in a game of Aussie Rules, the controls are very well thought out. No player can button mash and hope for success – it takes practice and a number of games to really get the hang of the controls.
Once you do though, it becomes satisfying to lay a great tackle, execute a perfectly timed spoil or string a chain of handballs together to put a player in the clear.Gamplay Options/Tactics:
Big Ant warned gamers that it would not be able to provide the whole “box and dice” when it came to gameplay options. That said, it has done an admirable job in presenting a number of different ways people can play.
Quick matches provide a one-off footy fix with quarter length, teams, conditions, venue and even guernseys customisable. Players can also attempt to guide their favourite team (Go Tigers!) to either the pre-season trophy or endure the full 24 home and away regular season rounds in a bid to make the finals and win the Premiership.
There are some glitches currently (as of Easter 2011) in the home and away/premiership mode which have seen some games freeze up. Again, Big Ant are looking to fix the issues through a patch to be released soon.
There are 5 difficulty levels, with the default (rookie) the second lowest. Many players have dropped back a further level (to amateur) in order to learn the game before progressing up through the difficulty levels.
Big Ant deserve congratulations for their work in trying to bring some of Aussie Rules’ in-game tactics to the fore.
Players can customise their line-ups, as well as the style of game (attacking, balanced, defensive) they play at the start of the game and at any stage during a match.
Interchange setup can be left on auto or fully manual, and for the most part it does its job (though there are some times where one of your players will end up glaringly out of position ... another small glitch that Big Ant will look to fix in its promised patch).
Damaging opposition players can also be tagged as well – a device that works relatively well, while kick-in tactics can be altered too.
Custom players and teams can be created, and custom leagues set up. These areas are a little lacking, and would require further work in future incarnations of the game.Presentation:
Presentation, for the most part, is slick but not showy (most likely a result of the budget at Big Ant’s disposal).
Players can view and play the game from a number of angles, and while some of the player animations aren’t quite on the money, most are solid enough to get a pass mark. A number of players’ individual quirks – heights, hairstyles, tattoos – are transferred faithfully to the game. Its great to see Nic Natanui’s dreadlocks or Dane Swan’s tattoo work show up in-game (unless of course the two players mentioned are helping belt the crud out of your team!)
Another highlight is the reproduction of individual stadiums. Bigger stadiums like the MCG, Docklands, SCG, Gabba, Subiaco and AAMI Park are all reproduced wonderfully. Other smaller stadiums also look the part. One stadium that really stood out for me was Kardinia Park – home of Geelong ... very very realistic.
One glaring problem is the commentary in game. Big Ant outsourced the commentary I understand, and it is woeful. Best to turn the commentary volume down really. Crowd presentation is just passable as well – but really, you’re playing AFL Live to play the game, not watch the crowd.Multiplayer:
Multiplayer isn’t bad. Co-op games can be played where you and a friend can be teammates and control players on the same team against the console, or a full 2-on-2 game can be played with four players. Great fun when the game is close and you’re playing against bitter rivals!
From a Live/online perspective, you can take on opponents remotely in a number of forms of the game. The online experience is fair to middling, with some connectivity issues – but overall it is passable.Achievements:
Achievements range from the very easy to the rather difficult. Of the 38 achievements, 30 are pretty easy to pick up. But there are about half a dozen where the difficulty cranks up, or where you are going to have to play for a while (score 5000 goals) to unlock them.
There is only one online achievement, and that isn’t wins based (play 5 online games).Summing up:
Big Ant should be proud of the effort it has put in to produce AFL Live. Some small glitches mar what is otherwise an admirable attempt at bringing Aussie Rules to the 360.
The game is never going to match the flash, flair and glitz of some of EA’s multi-million dollar efforts, but in its own unique way is a wonderfully playable and enjoyable game in its own right.
Big Ant have vowed to build on and improve the game in coming years, released new installments each year.
This year’s version of AFL Live is a very good base to build on, and hopefully one that, with the injection of a bigger budget (maybe the cash-flush AFL could kick in some coin) has the potential to continue to improve.
Overall – 6.5 out of 10
As an Aussie Rules game – 8.5 out of 10.