IT IS difficult to be critical of AFL video games.
On one hand, there is the technical aspect of a game: its mechanics and whether or not they work.
And in comparison with EA Sports titles, it’s fair to say that AFL Live 2 does not compare well.
On the other hand, Aussie Rules is a sport whose fan base is predominantly Australian. It is simply not a sport whose video games will sell high volumes in a global market.
So for a developer to make an AFL game, we Aussie Rules fans have always had a tolerance for low-budget titles that, to a recognisable degree, emulate the sport in virtual form.
These conflicting factors are sadly still an issue for Tru Blu’s AFL Live 2. It is a game with great potential, arguably neutered by its ambition in contrast to its actual outcome.
That’s why Gamer Thumb is launching ‘Duelling Thumbs’, a two-person review format designed to offer constructive criticism for games which show potential but ultimately fail to deliver a high-quality experience.
Gamer Thumb devotees El Shauno and TheDragmah will share their criticisms and suggested improvements, and give you their verdict on the game.
There is no score. It’s not that the game doesn’t deserve one, but rather we feel the need to constructively criticise some simple but key failings in order to see them rectified by way of a patch. A score might quantify our feelings, but it certainly doesn’t qualify them.
Duelling Thumbs is also about you, the reader. We’d love to hear your thoughts or reviews on the game either in the comments below, or via out Get Noticed tab in the site’s menu.
A stale main menu matched my expectations of a lower-budget game’s visuals and presentation, with the user-interface being a very basic menu system that you’d expect to have seen on antiquated platforms.
The menu is usually the first screen seen when you fire up a game, and to be honest I really do expect more from a menu system: I want to be engaged from the word go.
Getting a game going is quite easy, but once again, the menu system is so dry that Tru Blu’s efforts in getting a solid selection of teams from AFL, VFL and TAC competitions seems almost wasted when proceeding through the team selection.
It would be nice to see a player standing next to my team – similar to the FIFA or NBA series – or have something, anything, to engage me in the experience.
The other major presentation issue is that the gameplay camera panning needs fixing.
I am very good with direction but in two instances when playing head to head I experienced disorientation when the screen rotated in two complete circles of play and as such my exit was in the wrong direction and a quick tackle resulted in a frustrating ‘holding the ball’ call despite my valiant effort of mashing the handball button.
Instead, set the screen to pan on one side of the ground, still zoom in for close contests and move up and down the ground but ultimately right side of the screen is always towards one set of goal posts and left is to the other.
I would also consider having the vision automatically panning to where the ball is going to land instead of following the ball. This will allow for the player to prepare for the incoming ball, be it jostling with another player for the better position or simply running after the ball.
Indeed, compared to the finesse of the big-budget EA Sports and 2K games titles, AFL Live 2 is lacking.
But the frustrating thing is that it’s almost there in terms of being a solid AFL option.
A FIFA approach where your player is loaded onto a virtual field would be the ultimate footy menu. Practising goal kicking from a variety of angles – had there been a more elegant goal kicking system – would be a great way to engage players from the word go and help them become familiar with the game’s controls.
I concur that it would be great to see the team’s captain as you scroll through the available teams, and I also find the team selection somewhat disorganised, especially when flipping between leagues and their included teams.
Oh, and the commentary is unforgivable. It’s not fluid at all, it’s incredibly repetitive, and at times it is grossly incorrect.
I, too, found that the camera swoops about frantically during gameplay.
I was never disoriented or nauseas. It is a subjective opinion, though, as I find side-to-side worked well in AFL Live 1, but not in 2, where the swooping end-to-end camera better suits the gameplay.
I’d certainly suggest fixing the controls so that the analog stick isn’t always relevant to the moving camera’s position mid-kick – a fairly big glitch overlooked during testing.
No notable upgrades from AFL Live, however it appears to be more colourful, and the crowd has somehow depreciated into PSOne era visuals.
Kicking animations are sloppy: there’s no focus on little details like players guiding the ball to their foot. Looks like a junior at Auskick, throwing it in the air and punting it wildly.
Some might argue that there’s more detail in key players, but I struggled to notice during gameplay.
Given that it’s an AFL game on a low budget, I had little hope for the graphics.
Being an avid FIFA player I knew that Tru Blu’s budget would not be as extensive as EA’s, so I was mainly looking for fluid play and an overall enjoyable experience.
Unfortunately I was let down, from an overly basic menu system – which severely lacked any form of engagement – to gameplay that simply did not flow like the real thing.
It is difficult to capture a sport like AFL in electronic format, because although it is fast it is also quite staggered. In AFL Live 1 the gameplay was often interrupted by tackles, and often referred to as a tackle-fest, but in AFL Live 2 the opposite can be seen with the gameplay resulting in an unrealistically fast play of the ball.
This issue perplexed me for quite some time as I was unable to pinpoint the cause, until i sat and watched a game from start to finish.
In both iterations of AFL Live to date, when a tackle was made it instantly resulted in a call from the umpire, which does not in real life where the player has time to either dispose of the ball or shrug the tackle off.
Therefore the game’s tackling system means players are often unable to shrug off a tackle once it is made, or simply slip the tackle entirely – there is no tussle or effort to dispose of the ball while contained as in real footy.
In comparing this to other electronic versions of real life, FIFA has a great physics engine in which players are able to evade incoming tackles by using their bodies or even jumping over the incoming player. Implementing a system like this would completely change the feel of the game and bring the game in line with other games of the current age.
CONTROLS AND GAMEPLAY
I really struggled to enjoy the gameplay.
I felt that the controls were unnatural, the speed of play was too fast (I would love to see my beloved Lions run that fast in real life but it just won’t happen), the tackling system was confusing, and playing multiplayer co-op and head-to-head made for some very interesting results – like one player running at the mark and somehow being able to evade the tackler nearly every time, sending them to the ground whilst he runs forward to kick an easy goal.
Then there’s the flipside: if a player made a leaping tackle (spear tackle) in real life this would send the victim to the change-rooms and result in a tribunal appearance, yet it happens all too often in AFL 2 but you never seem to make contact with the opponent.
As a defender it can be quite annoying when your player takes a jump completely missing the man and allowing them to run by untainted
I propose a proximity tackling system whereby anyone in possession of the ball is auto-tackled if they enter the defender’s personal space.
These tackles would primarily be minor ones and would need the player to actually press a button in order to land the tackle effectively.
Combine this with a revamped evasion mechanism in which the attacker can shrug off minor tackles, but not have any chance of evading a true full enclosed tackle, and I feel that’s a much fairer system for multiplayer games.
The next point I’d make is that the kicking system needs improvement.
It is not a fluid system and on the occasions when you max out your power bar the kick takes a completely random path to a different player.
It was common for me to see a player manage to kick the ball directly behind them, costing the attacker dearly even though he had an open player in the opposite direction.
I would like to see the ball stray from its intended mark instead of change target all together. In real life it is quite common to see a poor kick, but these kicks usually end up in vacant land being chased up by the intended target instead of magically changing its target in the complete opposite direction.
I would propose changing the kick bar from being a power bar to an accuracy or margin-of-error function in which the player has to get the marker in the green zone or face the appropriate inaccuracy of their kick.
This would also provide a better differentiation in the players skills and abilities as a better kicker would have a greater green/accuracy than a poor kicker. This would also factor in distance of the kick, i.e. the greater the distance of the kick the smaller the green area.
I’ll begin with what works: the free-flowing game of football, the marking contests, and to a certain extent, the set-shots.
In my opinion, having spent a lot of time with AFL Live 1, the greatest innovation in AFL Live 2 is the ability for players to evade tackles.
While I see a lot of merit in your system, Dragmah, bear in mind that the original AFL Live portrayed footy as a brutal wrestle-fest without much room for players to take the ball for a run. So it can easily turn the other way.
I do agree about the evasion button, though. It’s a one-stop-shop guarantee to bypass an opponent. It needs a quick fix so people don’t lose interest in the game’s multiplayer.
Marking has been refined so that players have a greater awareness of how to win a contest.
Due to clipping issues, it’s not perfect, but you soon learn to judge between a winnable contest and one you must attempt to spoil.
Speccies, pack marks, and position jostling are all there. The camera also neatly pans to the contest to allow for players to position, just as they would a boundary throw-in.
Set shots are handled by the right analog-stick, which is bound to annoy players who enjoyed Blue Ant’s system in the original game.
It literally feels like playing a stroke in a Tiger Woods title. And because of the physical precision require to flick a stick, there’s always hope that especially on long shots your human opponent will miss.
Now for the major gripes: Tru Blu has changed the control layout, altered the in-play kicking system, and totally forgotten about the artificial intelligence of yours and the opponent’s players in the process.
Kick-ins from goal are painfully unrealistic, with opponents standing right on the goal line, ready to mow you down the instant you play-on.
The camera can swing around uncontrollably, leading to disorientation, when the ball in contested in the middle.
Player selection – especially in multiplayer – needs refining. It’s not as logical as FIFA, for example.
In-play kicking now relies heavily on targeting a player to kick to. The result is that a simple directive kick using the left analog stick and kick button won’t always go to where you’ve intuitively chosen.
The kick power meter punishes players too heavily if maxed out. Instead of spraying a kick directly to an opponent, the system should be fixed to reward a good kick, rather than punish a bad kick. The system as-is reduces the enjoyment of what should be a fun game.
The system you mentioned reminds me of Aussie Rule Footy on the NES. It was a gamble as to whether you’d kick it straight.
Blue Ant had it right, I felt, with the original game. If you create the space fairly then you should be rewarded with the goal, taking into account wind and the natural swing you’d put on the ball by trying to kick it harder.
Without a doubt, AFL Live 1 is the superior game. Its interpretation of footy is a far more complete package.
Sure, it was tackle-heavy and marking was difficult, but criticism of the game was limited to what was missing, rather than what was included. In short: a Blue Ant-developed sequel would have been a superb follow-up.
But alas, the AFL Live 2 we now have is actually an unfinished title. It is broken, incomplete, and in need of major repair. It is ambitious, but I’m convinced that it can be fixed.
I would implore Tru Blu to fix the game before releasing another. It would be contemptuous to expect AFL fans to have the confidence to rush out and purchase an AFL Live 3 if the game was left in its current state.
As it stands, it’s nigh on enjoyable, and even in multiplayer – the first game’s saving grace – it’s still not fun.
For $60-$70 we expect better.
After all is said and done, I did not enjoy the game but still found myself wanting to play it merely because it is the only option we have to live the AFL experience.
This leaves me with a great sense of disheartenment, and I am sincerely hopeful that we do not have to wait long for Tru Blu, or any other gaming company, to either fix this or create a new AFL game that both rewards my interest but also wow’s me with its game play, user interface and all round awesomeness that can be seen in the sports games of the present day.
If you’re an AFL fan – and you can live with the aforementioned gripes – then by all means lend your support, purchase the game, and hope that all of our suggested improvements are heard and we receive a better game next time around.
It might not be the best title available, but it is all we have.
Leave your comments and suggested improvements in the section below.