12 Apr Jonathan Cartu Implies: AFL Evolution 2 review: new AFL video game, video, screensh…
AFL Evolution 2 finds itself coming out at the perfect time, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
The sequel to 2017’s questionable AFL Evolution, this game won’t quite satiate every footy fan, but it’s a definite improvement and a step in the right direction for the series.
We have to put this game into context, because it’s not possible for an AFL video game to reach the heights of the NBA 2K or FIFA series. The budget and size of production team just aren’t there; plus those titles are built upon year after year.
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Developers Wicked Witch Software made the surprising call to change game engines midway through the release schedule, pushing the game from an initially-planned 2019 release to April 2020.
This can be dangerous; the engine is the very core of the game, and in many cases in previous games by other developers this can lead to a product that feels rushed. But it seems as if the change to Unreal Engine 4 was the right call.
AFL Evolution 2 feels much faster than the original – too fast at times, particularly in contested ball situations and at centre bounces – but it gives more of an arcade vibe to the game. This is a positive. No-one has ever created an accurate simulation of our national game; it’s just too damn difficult.
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But AFL Evolution 2 does enough to simulate the tactical side of footy, offering a wide range of strategic options, while not getting bogged down in minutia. The controls can be intimidating at first but unlike the original game, the ball doesn’t feel magnetically drawn to players in marking contests. It’s somewhat more free-flowing.
We played the game on the suggested difficulty level straight away – you can tweak certain elements of the AI through sliders, like in other sports titles – and while the CPU’s goalkicking accuracy was rather questionable, it felt alright.
The standard camera angle is another matter though. It needs to be wide so that you can see which players you might want to switch to, or your options going forward, yet it’s so wide that it’s hard to distinguish between your own teammates and the opponent at times. This can be manually adjusted, and we recommend it.
A lot of the gameplay is timing-based – hitting buttons at the right time to take marks, perform hit-outs in the ruck and kick goals. The former two feel OK, but the goalkicking meter is horribly laggy. It takes a while to get used to, but when you need to hit a specific window to ensure a straight set shot and you can’t rely on the game accurately recording your input, it’s frustrating.
Playing on a base-level PlayStation 4 (as opposed to the Pro), load times were a huge issue. It took close to 45 seconds to load into any match, and in the career mode, the game became completely unusable when trying to look at the player stats for every team at once. (It’s also odd that the player stats are listed as totals, rather than by-game averages, as is standard in the AFL world).
I spent most of my time in the Be A Pro career mode, building up Joe Misiti Jr (in honour of the infamously large AFL Live 2004 original) from the under-18s NAB League through the VFL and then into the AFL.
While gaining XP and adding to specific stats to build your player is still fun, the mode is very limited otherwise. You have an emails section, where you get welcomed to your club, and you can check stats and schedules… and that’s about it. There’s no training sessions, no other ways to build your character, and no other ways to inhabit the role of an AFL aspirant.
The create-a-player mode is fun, and of course we made our guy as ugly as possible by dragging all the sliders to one extreme – though we have a real issue with the slider named ‘Ethnicity strength’ that changes chin size.
Anthony Hudson and Garry Lyon are a vast improvement on commentary from the original’s Dennis Cometti and Matthew Richardson. For a start, Huddo doesn’t pronounce player names wrong. His commentary can be very clipped – he’ll be suddenly extremely excited to say ABLETT and then be subdued for “kicks it forward” – but that’s par for the course when you have as much commentary as this game has.
Huddo was also willing to record a bunch of different player nicknames, so if you ever wanted to play a game hearing him repeatedly yell “Footy McFootface” or bizarrely, “Big Chungus”, you’re in luck.
The game still feels janky in a number of ways. I don’t know why Garry Lyon kept telling me my team was conceding too many marks inside 50 when we hadn’t allowed one, for example.
The AI for computer-controlled teams in the career mode is also questionable. After getting drafted by St Kilda, we were sent to the VFL – fair enough – where in my first game, Jamie Elliott was playing ruck for the Magpies’ seconds.
Once I made it to the AFL, I faced Brisbane, who had a short draftee in the ruck and Stefan Martin on a wing. I was best on ground in that game but immediately dropped to the VFL, then brought back up (best on ground again), then dropped again.
At the end of the season, I was offered contracts by five clubs, but all of them as a back pocket – even though my player was a midfielder.
Also, Joe Daniher won the Brownlow Medal. That just seems a bit optimistic, and goes to the problem of the game’s bizarre player and team ratings. When you’re making mistakes on that front, the simulation can’t be correct.
Graphically, the game is better but not perfect. Player models certainly look reminiscent of their actual AFL counterparts, and we can’t expect best-in-class graphics, but the faces don’t emote enough and it makes everyone look a bit dead behind the eyes.
A lot of this is nitpicking and doesn’t break the game in any way. We’d love a perfect simulation experience, but the most important part is the gameplay; and it’s definitely better. AFL Evolution 2 is fun to play, and does a passable enough job of being a modern sports title around the core mechanics.
It’s not going to replace the real thing any time soon, but at least for a few days, we weren’t so sad about missing footy.
RATING: 6.75 out of 10