Genre: Sport Developer: Publisher: Classification: G Release Date: 21st Apr 2011 Platforms:
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AFL Live is not as bad as I thought it was going to be. It is a functional yet deeply flawed game. That's probably as much praise as I'm going to give AFL Live, so if you came here looking to see me justify your full-priced purchase of a barebones football game, save yourself some heartache.
Let's knock the good parts out of the way first. As a game and as a representation of a sport Australians love, AFL Live is better than Rugby League Live. The graphics are still subpar, the modes on offer are still embarrassingly thrifty (single season mode only) and the AI is awful, but at least it functions as a game - mostly.
Let's take it from the top.
I started the game with the most logical choice - I checked out the tutorial options. There's no video tutorial - there's not even a step-by-step demonstration of how to play. All you get is the video game equivalent of a powerpoint presentation presenting the button combinations.
You are honestly better off simply going into the options screen and looking at the controller set up.
My next step was trying out practice mode. In practice mode you play a game, except about a third of the normal players are on the field at once. All this does is spread the players across the field too wide to do anything but kick pass the ball each time. This is a poor habit to learn from the beginning of the game, as you will come to rely on this - neglecting hand-passing.
Eventually I had to stop learning bad habits and start actually playing the game. I started the game on the default difficulty setting, chose my team (the mighty Lions), lined up some opponents (Gold Coast) and started playing. By the end of the first quarter I was losing 25 - 0. My kick heavy strategy had me giving away marks the way a games reviewer uses awkward analogies. With gusto.
The second and third quarter saw me get my first behind and my first goal respectively, and by the fourth quarter I actually managed to start shutting down my opponents in defence - though my own offence still left a lot to be desired.
The majority of my problems weren't even directly related to my bad habits, to be fair. One of the biggest problems with Rugby League Live was the way the game was animated - everything is so scripted that often you'd hit the 'tackle' button and find your character sliding across the ground like Akuma mid-Raging Demon until you finally tackled them.
In AFL Live they avoided this by erring on the side of caution - the game still relies on fixed animations, but the window of opportunity to engage these animations has been drastically reduced. In some cases it has taken the concept too far - so what would happen is I would tell my player to soccer kick the ball along the ground or mark the ball and they simply wouldn't because I'd pressed it too early. I still have this issue, but early on in the game I found myself punished for it heavily.
In my second game - again against the Suns (they're the worst team in the game, and I really needed a win) - the end result was 23 - 24. I won by a single point, though my offence still wasn't worth a damn. At this point I was still relying heavily on the A button to kick - A is what you use to direct the kick on your own, while X will automatically kick the ball in the direction of the other teams goal. The third game I stopped using the A button altogether - I used X at every opportunity. I won 62 - 18.
The X button is crazy overpowered, and it really does relegate the A button to an afterthought. It still relies on a little timing on your part (if you fill the kick bar your shot will go wild, usually out on the full) but it primarily acts as the win button. Even after the centre bounce my typical strategy was to quickly press X - immediately kicking it down my end of the field, regardless of the direction I was facing.
After creating such a gulf in the scoreline, I realised I couldn't remain on default difficulty - and so I then started to increase the difficulty, using random teams each game. As Hawthorn vs Sydney I won by 50 points on Professional. With Carlton against Essendon I broke triple digits - and if it wasn't for a lucky goal in the fourth quarter, I'd have kept them to singles. This was on Veteran, the second highest difficulty.
Finally, playing as the Lions against Collingwood, I bumped the difficulty up to Legend. I'd finally found an opponent which could challenge me. That being the best club team on the hardest difficulty. Part of the challenge was tied to the other issues in the game. Like FIFA, AFL Live has an auto-switch system which will change to the player closest to the ball for you. Sadly, this works terribly (like FIFA) - and you're better off just using manual switching.
Sadly manual player switching just changes you to the person auto-switching would have changed you to anyway - who is not always the player you think is closest to the ball. I also still run right past the ball sometimes, for seemingly no reason at all. This is a tough one to work out, as it seems like I'm doing the right thing at the time - but there it is. Oh, and I still wasn't hand-passing the ball.
Once I started combining quick hand-passes with my already exemplary defence, I started winning on Legendary by 10 - 20 points as well. Simply put, the game's AI isn't up to scratch. Thanks to the steep (though not insurmountable) learning curve, playing with others isn't exactly fun either. Both my mates scored in the single digits in their first game against me, and I was actively telling them how to beat me/what to do.
Eventually I started having some good matchups in the third and fourth games against them, but the frustrations inherent in the game were still plainly obvious - and another issue rose once we started using the right thumbstick to shove each other.
Shepherding is part of AFL, and it makes sense that it's in AFL Live - but in the game it's too powerful because your team's AI is as poor as opponent AI. If you drag one player out to meet the ball while one of your AI teammates and your opponent runs out to get it (say you kicked it wide to clear it from your 50) you can just start bumping your opponent while the AI is free to pick the ball up.
Their AI won't drag a second player out to help, and you can keep bumping the other player - leaving them helpless - for as long as you need (we counted seven shoves until we got penalised for roughness, give or take a few).
What this lead to was my housemate and I repeatedly allowing the AI to chase down the ball while we brought in a player controlled second - and all we needed was a few metres difference to make the ball ours.
The reality is this - AFL Live isn't a good game. It's a bad game, but there's promise here. You shouldn't buy AFL Live, because the idea that you should buy a game now if you want a better game in the future is wrong. By buying AFL Live the only message you're sending them is that near enough is good enough.
That said, with AFL Live as a starting point we might see something passable next year - and I'm genuinely looking forward to that.