by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Footy is back
Australian Rules Football is a complex game with rules that even many umpires are not able to adjudicate in a consistent manner. Producing a quality video game based on the sport is even more complex. On PC, it has been some time since any form of AFL game has appeared, and so when I heard that AFL Evolution was coming to PC (a few months after being on console), I was rather excited. After all, my footy team - the Western Bulldogs - won last year's premiership and I'm still coming down from the high of being at the ground on Grand Final day to witness the long awaited event. And although the performance of my team this year hasn't replicated their form of last year, the team could certainly attempt to go back-to-back – at least in video game form.
AFL Evolution allows players to play as their favourite team from a range of leagues including the AFL, VFL, Under 18 competition, and even in the newly formed AFLW league. But generally, players will want to play as their favourite team or footy star and win the ultimate prize - as the Western Bulldogs did last year - the AFL Premiership cup.
As well as playing through the various seasons controlling the entire team, AFL Evolution has a number of Career modes that enable you to be the focus of the game. Coaching mode allows would-be Alastair Clarksons to mould their favourite team into a premiership hopeful, improving the skills of their players and tactically finding a way to outplay the opposition. But you can also create your own avatar and work your way through the ranks as an AFL footballer in a similar way that the FIFA series ‘Be-A-Pro’ and NBA2K series ‘MyCareer’ allow you to play as yourself and become the ultimate soccer or basketball star.
In both the standard mode and the career modes, AFL Evolution grants experience points for winning and completing certain match objectives. Personally, I can’t see a use for it in the standard modes, so it seems somewhat obsolete. It does work well in the Career modes though, as completing the Match (and Season) objectives gains players valuable XP. Upon gaining enough XP and levelling up, players can then allocate points towards the various attributes to make their avatar a better player with improved skills. Building up these skills clearly gives the player an edge, and over a number of seasons, your avatar will no doubt become one of the major stars of the competition.
Player models are reasonably good, especially for the major stars of the AFL and AFLW competitions. When up close, you can generally work out who the player is supposed to be. Dustin Martin’s tattoos, Max Gawn’s beard, Caleb Daniel’s helmet and the flowing locks of Dyson Heppell are all featured. The only thing that is missing is the customary bandage that frequents Joel Selwood’s head. But when it comes to the lesser-likes of the competitions, you’ll need to use your imagination just that bit more, as the players with less discernible features morph into similar shapes. Player animations are reasonably smooth though, as they sprint across the turf in search of possessions. Kicking and handballing look natural too, and allow the game to flow as it does in the real life version of the game.
The Stadiums look reasonably authentic especially during the aerial shots in the lead up to the game, although the huge crowd numbers at the GWS and Gold Coast games dilute the realism somewhat. The home of football - the MCG - looks wonderful, as do some of the smaller local grounds in which you can choose to play. Unfortunately, the crowds could use some work, as there seems to be an unrealistic number of twins turning up to games. It is also strange to be at an Adelaide game and have the crowd cheering just as loudly for the opposition. Being an outdoor game (except at Docklands), the weather can play a part in matches. Wind is a huge influence in games, especially when kicking for a goal, although I’m not sure why there is any wind under the closed roof at Etihad Stadium. Kicking into the wind will mean that the ball will hold up, whilst kicking with the wind will enable some booming goals from outside the fifty. Rain is also prevalent during a season, but seems as though it maybe only visual, as it doesn’t seem to alter the gameplay at all.
Controls and Gameplay
Visuals aren't all that important if the gameplay is well designed. And AFL Evolution does reasonably well in this area. When it comes to the intricacies of the indigenous game, previous AFL video games have struggled with a control scheme that allows the game to flow naturally. AFL Evolution has no such issues. The main controls for kicking and handballing are easy. But kicking in real life isn't that simple, with a range of different kicking styles that players adopt. AFL Evolution handles these variations in kicks by requiring the player to press an additional button in addition to the kick button. This makes the game flow nicely whilst keeping the controls reasonably simple. With the use of handballs and kicks, players can get their team in a position to score. That is, of course, if you can mark the ball. Marking is a bit hit or miss, requiring pinpoint timing.
Once you get on the end of a string of handballs or the end of a long ranged pass, you will get the opportunity to take a set shot for goal. Depending on distance and angle from goal, a range of kicks can be used to score the six-pointer. Set shots change the perspective to a behind the player view, with an animation showing the direction and strength of any wind. From here, it is simply a matter of pulling back the right thumbstick and then pushing forward at the desired strength of kick, making sure not to overkick the ball, as it will slew off the side of the boot and a likely date with someone in the third row on the wing. A flick left or right on the thumbstick will activate the banana kick, curving the ball through the big sticks, whilst holding the left button will enable a torpedo for added distance. I’ll admit that torpedo kicks are much easier to pull off than in real life.
The difficulty ramps up quite significantly between Easy and Medium modes, and the balance seems to go too far either way. In Easy, I seemed to be basically kicking goals at will, whilst in Medium it was a struggle to get a handball away without being tackled. And, of course, whenever you’re tackled in AFL Evolution, it seems to be regarded as holding the ball, whereas when you tackle the opposition, the call from the umpire is generally no prior opportunity resulting in a ball up.
‘Very insightful, Richo’
Commentary at times sounds a little disjointed, especially when comparing the two teams or mentioning the scores. And as always with any sports game, if you play enough matches, the commentary does begin to repeat. But let’s be honest, how many ways can you comment on a goal? The occasional Dennis Cometti left-field quote appears, and does liven up the commentary, even if sometimes they don’t make much sense. Whilst Dennis has an upbeat approach to the commentary, Matthew Richardson with his special comments does, by comparison, sound a little flat.
Best AFL game on the PC
If you’re a fan of AFL, then AFL Evolution will certainly be on your radar. And there is no reason that it shouldn’t be. There are certainly a number of things that could be improved, but most do not alter the fun that can be had in the game. The jump between the difficulty levels is probably the main issue I have with the game, although, with practice, winning does happen. Visually, the game doesn’t look overly spectacular, but for me, gameplay has always trumped looks. And the control scheme implemented by the developers, is clearly an improvement on past AFL games, allowing the game to flow smoother and more intuitively. With AFL Evolution, the complexities of the game are evident, but - like the real spectacle - is still heaps of fun to play.
Control scheme generally works well
Marking the ball is hit or miss. Matthew Richardson's commentary is a little bland