Electronic Arts(EA), the company that has brought us the Madden series has taken a stab at the Arena Football League. Before I get into details, I have to say that for a first try they didn't do badly. I give this game 3 1/2 out of 5 only because there could be some improvements.
First off, the positive. The graphics are good. Not great but good. They have all of the current AFL teams represented with the exception of the expansion Kansas City Brigade. They are listed as just KC. Probably because the franchise took so long in coming up with a name but they did have their color scheme and roster which is made up with a lot of the New Orleans Voodoo players due to the Voodoo taking a year hiatus due to Katrina. They have about 99% of the current players and the rosters were pretty much up to date along with the 2006 schedule which was also late in coming out. So EA worked really hard for this game and it looked like they worked well with the AFL right down to player and cheerleader intros when you fire up the game.
The learning curve is about 30 minutes and it's very easy to get used to. Your playlist is ripe with pass plays because in this league you pass better than 90% of the time. The post play taunting is OK even though you really don't see that type of taunting in the AFL but EA did a good job with little details like coaches on the field and what happens when you get hit close to the boards. In the AFL, one wide receiver is allowed to be in motion toward the line of scrimmage and EA has this as well. In fact, they take the timing of snapping the ball away from the gameplayer by automatically snapping the ball when the receiver reaches the line of scrimmage. The play is fast and furious and for the most part within the rules. In the AFL only one linebacker(Mack) is allowed to blitz while the other(Jack) must remain inside the confines of an imaginary box. If you are playing using the Jack linebacker and you leave the box, you will be flagged.
You can also be the receiver. You can run your own route and press whichever button is you and the QB will throw it to you. They also have pass plays off the net which is a live ball in the AFL. Same with kicks. Speaking of which, they have a kicking engine that is pretty good and pretty accurate to the difficulties of the kicking game. They did, however, leave out drop-kicking but since only one has ever been made in the 20 year history of the league that's OK. The games are very high scoring so it's not unusual to score in the 70's and 80's.
In franchise mode, you are both the players and front office and are free to sign players, position them as you see fit, and as in other EA sports games, you can create players and teams but be careful. You can't create a team full of Uber players because you also have a very small salary cap to play with. After all this isn't the NFL. And one of the coolest features in this game is the ability to unlock some of the AFL teams from the past through scoring, gameplay, and a few challenges. You can unlock charter teams like the Pittsburgh Gladiators, Denver Dynamite, Detroit Drive, or teams like the Texas Terror, Toronto Phantoms, NJ Red Dogs and Gladiators, Iowa Barnstormers, and many many more. In fact I only noticed a few teams absent like the Indiana Firebirds and Carolina Cobras. Also, when you unlock a team you can not only play as that team but you can read a little history on that particular franchise. It's a very cool feature.
Now for the negative. First and foremost the biggest complaint so far has been freezing. It seems if you allow the game to end with the post game celebration, the game will freeze on you and crash. Also, after some touchdowns there will be a cut screen and the player who scored will be showboating and then get blasted by an opposing player...with no penalty. This does not happen in the real AFL and leads me to believe that someone in creative for this game has never watched an AFL game before. The kicking engine, although good as a whole, is very erratic on kickoffs. Way too many kickoffs go into the stands which draws a penalty. And there are far too many injuries for my taste although you could fix the sliders for that. As for the actual plays, you really don't have too many choices. All teams have the same playbook. I chalk this one up to inexperience with the league. Another complaint I have is that if you create a team you have only 1 arena to play in but that's a minor complaint.
All in all it was worth my $29.95 and hope that this game and the AFL's relationship with EA continues to give this league a push and kudos to Crush QB John Dutton for being the first player to grace the cover.
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