Letting no football license escape their grasp, EA Sports gives us only the second Arena Football video game, leaving little memory of the Kurt Warner fiasco on the PS One from Midway. This is an oddball game of football, one that doesn’t seem to know what it’s trying to be, while missing numerous standard features we’re accustomed too. It’s rushed, sloppy, and limiting, but as an alternative, it’s fun.
It’s critical that an AFL video game ditches most of what makes EA’s Madden franchise popular. It wouldn’t work otherwise. This is a faster, rougher, and slightly more uncontrollable brand of football after all, so with a speed tweak, tightening, and a little extra brutality, we have the first near-sim AFL experience. Fans can breathe a slight sigh of relief.
Arena Football does plenty right to keep the game moving. The biggest adjustment is defense, mainly because there’s so little of it. Linebackers can rarely move out of a designated box, blitzing is rare, and DBs must stay back from the line of scrimmage. This leaves the offense wide open to do as they please, hence the scores usually over 50 from both squads. Running backs probably shouldn’t apply though; rarely will that hole open up to make for a big gain.
Part of problem with the running game (and the passing game for that matter, just to a lesser extent), is the playbook. To say there’s nothing here isn’t far from the truth. Offenses have around 30 plays to choose from total, and even that is being generous. Play selection quickly grows thin, and after multiple games, you’ve seen it all. There needs to be a play creator inserted here.
Even with that, the largest disappointment comes from the graphics. With only 16 players on the field, the stadiums, players, and fans should be superbly detailed. They’re not. The crowd is hidden in a deep blue light or total blackness, as if you’re not supposed to know they’re cheaply sprite based. Player models are a little stockier and beefed up, but certainly not to a point where they eclipse Madden by any real margin. The entire experience (because of the lighting issue) feels too dark and uninviting, certainly not what the AFL promises.
Off-field options are on the slim side. Creating your own team is fun, but don’t expect to take them through a franchise mode. There isn’t one. Only single season play makes an appearance. Online play via Xbox Live ran smoothly without a hint of lag, but with the limited set of play modes, you won’t do much besides quick matches.
Tossed in here are other ideas that weren’t removed from a time when the game was early in its development. End zone celebrations are interrupted by a cheap hit from the opposing team, a massive penalty if you personally do it during the game. When viewing the non-user controlled cinema, it’s apparently ok. Hits over-the-boards are far too frequent, and there’s no effect to the bench even when a player takes out an entire row of players waiting for their chance to get into the game. It feels like the remnants of an arcade-style football game in the making from EA Sports Big that was canned and put into the hands of someone who was actually serious about it.
The same can be said for the Telemetry system. This is a unique feature (which is viewed when selecting a play) that maps out where throws have gone, the results, and more. It logs every individual play and how its worked for the player in the current game. Given the shorter play clock and the regular pace of the game, you’ll never stop to study, mostly because breaking down a “defense” doesn’t pose much a challenge. It seems like Arena Football is where early Madden NFL features are going to be tested.
The final complaints come from the advertisements. When paused, you’ll be (this message brought to you by Champ Sports) treated to highlights of the league’s best (this message brought to you by Champ Sports) moments on a scoreboard. It’s all narrated (this message brought to you by Champ Sports) by an announcer who does his best to get his message across to (this message brought to you by Champ Sports) the player. It can be muted, but what could have been a nice feature to (this message brought to you by Champ Sports) make up for the total lack of commentary, but is ruined by a simple message that says something about Champ Sports.
It captures the speed and offensive mindset of the game. Does it need more? There’s a lot of room here for progress, and with an extra year of time to program with, Arena Football could be something special. Fans shouldn’t wait, but the curious should.
Arena Football is a rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Language, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on: PS2.