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May 24, 2011
AFL Live - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
21/4/2011HESTru Blu GamesBig Ant Studios1-72-8
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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AFL Live (2011) is out now.
According to Wikipedia this latest version of AFL Live will be the thirteenth AFL game released across all platforms, dating all the way back to the NES in 1991. It's also the fourth game in the AFL Live series, the first since 2007, and the first to be developed by Big Ant Studios. Has the change in developer finally resulted in a game AFL fans can embrace? Read on...

Although it omits ‘2011' from its title, this year's AFL Live is, unsurprisingly, based on the 2011 AFL Premiership season. All of the current seventeen teams are in the game, and while the Greater West Sydney side isn't in there, there is the option to create your own team so you can add them if you want to. There are three additional sides that can be used in exhibition matches; Victoria, All-Stars and Indigenous All-Stars.

From the main menu there are a number of game options available to you. You can play a single match, a competition, go online, take a look at the training modes, enter the footy factory where you can create or edit a player, take a look at your trophy room or adjust various options. Some of those are self-explanatory, but for those that aren't, let me go into more detail.

Under the ‘Competition' menu you can choose to play in the AFL Premiership, the NAB Cup pre-season competition or create your own custom season, cup or finals series. The NAB Cup features all of the unique rules it has in real life, including the controversial free-kick against whomever the ball last touches before going out of bounds as well as super goals worth nine points when kicked from outside 50m.

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Going for the big leap!
When you create a custom season you can select between eight and eighteen teams to take part, as well as selecting how many will qualify for the finals and how many times you play against each team. Disappointingly there is no option to play the 2011 Premiership season with teams of your own choosing. Custom cups are straight knock-out competitions with 2, 4, 8 or 16 sides taking part. Custom finals always have eight teams, and play out identically to real life finals series, though you can choose which eight sides take part.

Like most sports games AFL Live is at its best when played with or against friends and it has multi-player support for up to seven players locally and between two and eight online. Online play is restricted to single matches, but providing you have a steady internet connection the game runs just as well online as it does off. As with most games the AI, even on the toughest settings, won't provide as tough a challenge as you'll face online, but if you pay attention you may just learn something from your opponents (I learned how useful the bump can be).

Either before you step onto the field, or perhaps after a beating or two you might want to stop by the training room. In here you can take part in competitive 5 on 5 practice games (though no scores are recorded), skills practice where you have no opponent so can pass the ball around freely, or look over the tutorials. ‘Tutorials' is a slightly misleading term as you basically look over a series of pictures that have text explaining how to perform a certain skill.

Inside the Footy Factory you can create a player, check the ratings of every player in the game via the player database create and edit teams as well as swap, delist and add players to or from team lists. When you create a player you get to choose all the normal things like height and weight, as well as the player's preferred position, their preferred foot and the name the commentators will call when he touched the ball. Unsurprisingly there was no ‘Allison' to choose, but ‘Addison' was a decent compromise. You can give your player as much or as little skill as you like, but each point you give them increases their salary. All teams have a salary cap, and while you can go over the cap if you like, the down-side to doing that is that you can't take that side online.

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Camera angles are one issue in AFL Live.
The trophy room displays all of the player awards and trophies you've won, and has honour boards that list all of them along with the difficulty level and date they were achieved. Player awards aren't displayed on their own, rather they sit around the neck of the player who won them, so in my trophy room I have two Shaun Burgoyne's and Jarrod Roughead proudly displaying their Brownlow, Norm Smith and Coleman medals respectively. It's a neat touch and I look forward to expanding my collection in the coming seasons.

Ok, enough about the game modes, how does the game actually play? The good news is, that at its best this year's AFL Live is a lot of fun. The bad news is that control and camera issues are still ever-present. There isn't a lot of flow in this year's game either; stoppages are as plentiful as open space is rare. It takes a while to adjust to this style of play, and while it may not be exactly what I (we?) would have liked, it still provides plenty of fun. More importantly there are plenty of cool features here, and a core structure that looks like it could eventually be something very good, if not great.

The basic controls are straightforward; you kick with the ‘x' button, holding it down for a more powerful kick, the circle button handballs, in close triangle either tackles or attempts to break a tackle depending on who has the ball, L1 changes player and R1 sprints. The square button is used to have a shot on goal, either from general play or after a mark. If you have a shot for goal from a mark or free-kick the camera swaps around to a view from behind the player. When shooting for goal every player in the game hooks their kick, so you need to allow for that natural hook as well as the wind before taking your kick. Triangle is also used to mark the ball, while L2 and triangle will spoil a marking attempt by your opponent.

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The pack forms ready to take a mark.
Big Ant has done a great job incorporating many of the little things that make AFL what it is. For example if you're pinned in on the boundary you can pull out the banana, or if you're kicking for goal from long range you can load up with a torpedo punt. Around the ground you can use a stab kick to pinpoint a pass to a teammate, you can kick the ball off the ground and you can still lay the good old bump without fear of the judiciary's wrath. In ruck constests you have the option to tap the ball to one of your players by moving the right-analog in their direction as the ball reaches its peak, or you can punch the ball by holding down L2. When tasked with kicking in you can gain a few meters by playing on with the tap of the R1 button.

There are nine different camera angles to choose from, all of which are variations on side, broadcast and end-to-end views. The camera angle has always been a problem in AFL games and it's no different here. The side views are great for close up action, but it's impossible to spot targets for upcoming kicks. The broadcast view is too far away for my liking, making it hard to see the ball and what's going on in close. I thought the end-to-end view might solve some of these problems, but the camera pans around behind whichever team has the football, so any time there is a turnover the camera starts spinning, which I found unplayable after a few minutes.

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Any AFL fan can name this player in AFL Live!
While no camera angle can show you everything you need, one way around that is to set up your tactics before entering a game. Just before a game starts you can go into team management and set your lineup as well as your tactics. The tactics options are surprisingly deep, allowing you to choose between defensive, balanced and attacking tactics for your backs, midfielders, forwards and ruckmen. If you go attacking with your forwards then your full-forward will have the 50m arc to himself, with the forward pockets pushing further up the ground Pagan's Paddock-style. Going defensive with your ruckman will have him play as a loose man in defence, staying a kick behind the play, while going attacking will have him dropping in the forward fifty in search of an easy goal.

You can also choose where your backs will lineup against their opponent; either in front, behind or side-by-side. You have the option to tag any opposition player with the click of a button, as well as choose both your kick-in tactics (huddle or man-on-man) and your kick-in defence tactics (man-on-man or zone). For all of these options there is text explaining what each option does and how your players will act on those tactics. Knowing these things will give you a better understanding of where players will be, so even if you can't see them you can kick with confidence to the position you expect your players to be. It doesn't always work, but it does compensate for the camera to some degree, and makes for a deeper game to boot.

Aside from the camera there are a few other issues. In general play it's hard to hit the target with handballs, even if it only travels a few feet. The game frequently chooses the wrong player to target, bypassing close options in favour of those a long way from the play. It makes for a scrappy contest, adding more stoppages to an already stoppage-filled game. Also, unless directly controlled your players are quite daft. They will choose to stick close to their opponents rather than compete for the loose ball, and do not offer any help in the form of shepherds or bumps.

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Replaying the goal...
Marking contests where two players battle for position come down to luck more than anything, with players like Jonathan Brown being outmuscled by much smaller players as often as not. There are also times where no matter how hard you push analog stick your player just will not move to the spot where they can spoil the ball. It's almost like the game has decided the AI will take a mark so you're simply not able to block it. In terms of minor bugs there was the time I was penalized for deliberate out of bounds when rushing a behind, players sometimes run backwards because they cannot turn around, the AI will pick up any bouncing ball on the first try but your own players will often run past it and players regularly use their opposite foot when kicking for goal in general play. That last is forgivable, but it's still strange to see Buddy Franklin use his right foot to kick at goal from 50m out.

Graphically AFL Live is decent, but not great. Apparently the player movements have been motion-captured, but they don't seem to move smoothly all the time, so perhaps some animations are missing. All twelve AFL stadiums are here and they look close to perfect, right down to the mountains visible in the background of Aurora Stadium down in Tasmania. With that said the crowd is a blur, broken only by spots of team colour and the odd team flag being waved. Many of the players are recognizable like Judd, Goodes and Franklin, but plenty of others are far from perfect. In a very nice touch you can select home, away, clash and heritage guernseys for each side before hitting the field – I like it.

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The new Gold Coast team is included - would this be their first win in real life against Port?
The sound is, quite frankly, below par. I have to say it didn't bother me too much because I assume the budget for the game is quite low, and I'd rather have a great game than great music. That said there are just two songs in the game, and they are repetitious and annoying after about three minutes. There is literally no other music in the game (ok, there is the national anthem during certain matches), no tunes, nothing. Just two songs that will be turned off in short order. The commentary is average, going back to the days when sentences didn't run together well. Brain Taylor or Dennis Cometti will say something like "Hawthorn! has the ball", or "Essendon... hits the lead" (They're always in the lead - Dave). There is no flow to what they are saying, and their comments at during the breaks are generic and rarely fit the game you're playing. The sound effects are ok, but I wouldn't have minded if the crowd was a bit more animated.

AFL Live is a step forwards for AFL games, but it is not the leap many of us were hoping for. Camera angle and control issues are still prevalent, but the core of the game shows a lot of promise. The stoppage-heavy gameplay won't appeal to everyone but the fact that you can finally play AFL on your PS3 is enough to over-ride that for me. If you enjoy AFL football then you're sure to derive some fun here and the other thing to consider is that buying the game will increase the budget for future titles, so we might finally get the game we're all after. I can't whole-heartedly endorse the game, but it's an improvement over previous titles and should satisfy your AFL cravings.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSThe players look pretty good overall, but they don't always move well. Stadiums are great but there is no crowd to speak of.
SOUNDTwo songs. Really. The commentary doesn't flow smoothly, and the comments made during breaks are too generic. The crowd isn't very interesting either.
GAMEPLAYAt its best, when handpasses hit the target it's a lot of fun. Unfortunately some camera and control issues along with a genuine lack of free space to play in diminish this somewhat.
VALUEThe lack of a career or fanchise mode hurts the longevity, but the ability to create your own players, teams and custom season/cup/finals will off-set that somewhat.
OVERALLAs a first attempt from Big Ant Studios, AFL Live shows a lot of promise. It's not perfect but if you like AFL it's well worth checking out.

Talk about AFL Live in this forum topic now.