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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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