Rightly or wrongly, Australian Sports Video Games have received endless criticism before and after they’re released. AFL, like any Sport has it’s passionate fans who have high expectations of how a Video Game should be developed based on their knowledge and dedication to the Sport. AFL Evolution 2 is no exception with fans keen to suggest how they think the game should be made comparing it to past games in the franchise and other sports games. Those critics, are likely to remain with AFL Evolution 2 still being a budget sports release despite some improvements on previous iterations.
While the game has been in development for three years as the developers at Wicked Witch moved over to the Unreal engine, many of the graphically improvements are only minor with players still looking clunky and player builds barely looking different. The muscle size of Connor Rozee and Ollie Wines certainly shouldn’t look the same. However, a new engine doesn’t just mean improved graphics, performance has made improvements with less glitches and freezing like those seen in AFL Evolution one. Glitches still do remain such as one where the main ruckman is replaced by a random player through out the match. I faced this on many occasions one where Jarrod Harbrow rucked instead of Jarrod Witts and another where Taylor Adams rucked instead of All Australian Brodie Grundy. While this can easily be fixed in a patch, it does take earlier buys out of the realism.
In the 2017 edition, gameplay’s biggest flaws were the marking and speed of play with matches often feeling like a button mash. This has been improved with retaining the ball through short kicks becoming easier however, handballing chains and creating space sometimes feels harder with it can often feeling luck still plays a part in transition from defence to forward. Like almost every game before it, camera angles are still difficult to perfect. Players have to choose between getting a better vision of the ground but facing confusing camera swapping or having less switching of angle but a worse vision of what’s ahead and to the side of them leading to a switch of play and holding of possession becoming almost impossible. While camera distance can be adjusted in menus, i’m still yet to find a camera angle that let’s me see all opinions ahead. The only time i get this is when kicking out where i can my move my stationary player’s head to see what side to kick to. In the ‘be a pro mode’ the camera is even worse with limited vision ahead and it being almost impossible to find where your direct opponent is located unless they are right next to you.
One major improvement to removing congestion in gameplay is the clearance kick. This allows players to quickly kick the ball but with a random chance of where it will go beside clearing the immediate area. This provides a great risk vs reward and helps spread play more. The game also has improved player movement with increased 1v2s and zone play allowing for goals out the back and defenders on the last line of defence depending on your style.
AI still remain inconsistent. Sometimes they are leaping forward to pin you for holding the ball other other times they are kicking out of bounds on the full from kick out with no player near the boundary. Some things can adjusted with sliders but this really shouldn’t be left to the player to make a fully fair game.
Menus and modes have remained fairly similar with a play now mode, competition mode, player creation area, single online matches and of course career mode. Career mode still let’s you play as a listed player, create your own or take control as coach. The coach mode still remains the most enjoyable. The fun is there where you get take your team through the season, navigating injuries, appealing suspensions and agonising if you should change the lineup before a big match. However, additions to this from AFL Evolution 2 still remain similar with a disappointing lack of new features. It would’ve been excellent to be able to have more in-depth training programs, tactics that make a difference at half time and press conferences that help shape your security as coach.
The ‘be a pro’ player career mode also remains similar with some changes. There is a better flow to the presentation of fixtures and addition of ‘selection status’ section that gives you a better indication of how you are progressing throughout your career. Controlling one player doesn’t quite make you feel quite like an integral part of the result like on NBA2k for example but playing as a midfielder and getting a big clearance to your forward 50 is still satisfying. This mode features an improved scope of the season with stats across leagues however, these are still not user friendly with unintuitive design sorting what you want to view and there is significant lag when viewing overall stats.
Commentary has been redone with Anthony Hudson and Garry Lyon now taking the mic. This notoriously bad element still has stilted lines but is much more varied in what is said. Hudson does seem to get excited too often though so when it does become time to get excited the impact isn’t there. Somehow it seems crowd noises have gotten worse with teams barely cheering when a goal has been kicked. Team chants have been added which is a great idea to add immersion to a close scoring contest with different club’s cheer squad’s chant’s being recorded. However, the quality on this recording is pretty poor making it less immersion than if it wasn’t there at all.
Online play is again back however, it’s disappointing to find a lack of content here. To expect an in depth Ultimate team might be a bit far, expecting more than just ranked and unranked matches isn’t. I found myself tired of this after just a couple of games and don’t see any reason to go back. Even a season mode or the be a pro mode concept taken online with friends would have been a significantly improved over the statues quo. It’s understandable that the game doesn’t have the player base to cater for massive online content where players are stretched across modes but what is offered barely incentives players to play online at all.
Wicked Witch’s new mode called ‘AFL gameday’ is a great concept but with one major problem. The mode allows players to play the upcoming or previous week’s matches in the real AFL season changing the result or playing it out before it happens. It even let’s players play from a certain point or play against the team of the week. The problem is the AFL season has been suspended indefinitely due to COVID-19. While this is unfortunate, the mode is still a great step forward in provided players with some variety and could certainly be adapted in patches to include historical teams for example.
As the title suggests, this is mean’t to be an ‘Evolution’ on AFL video games and while Wicked Witch have fallen short of that again, the game is still a good improvement on the first game. This might mean the $80-$100 price tag is a bit steep for some but those that invest will find a fun game that rewards the player albeit with some still barebones modes and features.
Sporting HQ rating: 7/10
AFL Evolution 2 was reviewed on PS4