AFL Live 2011 Preview
It’s been a few years since the last console AFL game, not that many of us actually want to remember it. Footy fans have been starved of a good football gaming experience, instead subjected to rushed projects that lacked the polish and depth that the biggest sporting league in the country most definitely deserves. Enter Melbourne-based developer Big Ant, a team of football fanatics that is undoubtedly committed to making an accessible, deep and challenging AFL game. While it might be a little light on modes (there is no franchise mode), AFL Live 2011 seems like a massive leap in the right direction for the sport’s future in games, driven by great control mechanics and a slick presentation.
Initially, AFL Live 2011’s controls may seem a little daunting. Big Ant have put considerable effort into ensuring the mechanics are deep and meaningful within the context of the sport, and thankfully the game seems to control really well. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s most certainly the best gameplay of any Aussie Rules Football game to date. Furthermore, the way in which a match progresses is fluid and smooth, fueled by AI that positions itself in accordance with how the match is being played.
The basic controls are not all that unlike FIFA games; kick pass, handball, mark, tackle and goal kicks are all mapped to the face buttons, while the left shoulder button allows you to modify certain skills. Ruck contests, for example, can be contested with a simple tap of a button, but you can also use the right thumb stick in conjunction with the left modifier to punch the ball in any direction, the perfect tactic for a quick goal before the final siren. The right shoulder button is used as a kick modifier, ideal for those tough angles and long-distance shots on goal.
Your success in front of goal will be reliant on a player’s footedness, the direction and strength of the wind, as well as distance from goal. A kick’s accuracy is dependent on its relevance in that instance, meaning a torpedo kick on the run whilst twenty meters out from goal will almost certainly equate to a sprayed kick. If you had any concern regarding the ease of kicking goals, rest assured that the goal kicking mechanics are rather solid, relying not only on your skill and timing, but also your ability to acknowledge a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
Disposing of the ball in contested situations is simple and effective. As your teammates move into space, it’s easy to kick into an open area into the lead. An effective pass can be achieved by selecting players down the field using the right thumb stick before kicking or handballing in their direction. Whether the ball actually reaches them is dependent on the power put into the kick, so timing is obviously very important. This allows you to draw opposing players in to free up a teammate. It’s a tactic that has been implemented nicely and works well, adding a sense of realism to how the game is played.
The team at Big Ant wanted to create a free-flowing footy experience, and for the most part they seem to have achieved this. The umpires definitely like to use their whistles, but the frequent ball-ups that occur after a hard tackle don’t slow the game down at all; the action quickly switches to the ruck contest, before the contest is underway again. Holding-the-ball is typically awarded when a sprinting player with the ball is tackled, pending the tackler doesn’t drive the player into the ground from behind. Cuts in play are frequent because of these elements, but they don’t dilute the free-flowing, fast-paced nature of a match, which is great.
The most impressive element of AFL Live 2011’s gameplay is the level of depth in the core mechanics. The game is most definitely accessible for casual gamers, as the default controls offer a simple way to enjoy the title. It’s the more complex mechanics, such as the ability to fend off an opposing player, punch the ball towards the half-forward flanker breaking into the center square after a bounce, or going in for the big punch spoil in the backline, that help define the experience. Australian Rules Football is not an easy sport to grasp, as the rules are rather ambiguous and dependent on individual interpretation, and this is ultimately why games in the past have failed to offer an enjoyable and long-lasting experience, whereas AFL Live 2011 incorporates the many facets of the sport, mapped rather intuitively on the controller for an accessible yet deep experience.
Game modes in AFL Live 2011 are just as you’d expect. Quick match mode has the typical options such as weather, time, stadium, difficulty and match length, allowing you to alter the match settings to your liking. The Victorian state team is also playable, along with the Australian All-Stars and Indigenous All-Stars teams. The competition mode features all of the major AFL competitions, including the pre-season cup, while also allowing you to create your own competition and Finals. In training mode you can play a competitive hitout with your favourite team, check out the gameplay tutorials or get involved in some basic drills. Unfortunately there is no franchise mode, but one can only assume such a mode will be included in future iterations.
The creative suite allows you to create your own player and team from scratch. Any created team will have a $7 million salary cap (actual expansion teams have a $10 million salary cap) to offer better balancing for online play (created teams can be used online). The online component offers ranked matches and a detailed XP system that rewards you for good performance in-game, much like how you’re awarded extra XP in your typical FPS for headshots and assists.
Visually, AFL Live 2011 is hardly anything spectacular in a broader sense, but the game looks quite good in motion. Player models are mostly accurate, although first-year players lack the polish and detail of experienced players. The crowds still look like cardboard cutouts, but look arguably better than the crowds in FIFA games. The stadiums all look great, which is fantastic, as previous AFL games have failed to re-create the sacredness that is the MCG. Playing a match on the MCG is a great experience, as the game actually offers a visually realistic presentation in that regard. It looks and feels like the MCG, and the same can be said for the other stadiums showcased during this demonstration, including Gold Coast Stadium and Etihad Stadium.
It’s been a long wait, but footy fans might finally be getting a good and fun AFL game. Developer Big Ant seems intent on providing an accessible and enjoyable platform for future iterations, and AFL Live 2011 most definitely looks to be the perfect candidate for that. Not only has considerable effort been put into its presentation, but also the gameplay has been designed to re-create the ambiguous nature of the sport as accurately as possible. Simplicity just wouldn’t work with a game like this, and yet the development team has molded complex football skills into practical control mechanics. AFL Live 2011 has been a few years in the making now, but it most definitely seems to have been worth the wait.
By Gaetano Prestia
What are you most looking forward to in AFL Live 2011?
AFL Live 2011 is scheduled for release in the coming months. Stay tuned for more details. In the mean time, head on over to the Official AFL Live 2011 Discussion Thread. You can also follow the developer on Twitter @BigAntStudios and on Facebook.