Whilst AFL Evolution 2 can be a fun experience, there are deep rooted flaws that extend beyond the small budget justification. The new features are limited and the career mode outcomes verge on non sensical but that is to be expected. What I struggle to comprehend is paying full price for what is essentially a roster update with the addition of a few minor features which have done little to improve the gameplay. Little to no adjustments have been made to the mediocre interface, animations and responsiveness but these are merely footnotes in a game plagued by gameplay flaws. The fact that this game looks, and for the most part feels like it’s predecessor is disheartening, but the lack of attention paid to improving the core mechanics is what I find most disappointing.
The most frustrating part about these issues is how easily they can be solved by the development team despite the fact that these issues were, for the most part, present in the previous edition of the game almost 3 years ago. It really makes me question how the development team spent their time making the sequel. The lack of effort put into this game is immediately highlighted by the fact that the home menu and selection screens are virtually identical to it’s predecessor. If no changes are being made to the look of the game, there should at least be an expectation that the feel of the game improves. I understand that their are budgetary restrictions that prohibit certain features but gameplay fixes could be implemented in order to improve the overall experience in a way that is beneficial. An enhanced career mode, pro clubs like feature or a deeper library of soundtrack songs would certainly enhance the playing experience. However, the gameplay is so broken that these additional features which would otherwise be important, are non-issues.
Sliders were a great way to allow the player to customise their playing experience. I have adjusted these in an attempt to mitigate several flaws in the game such as goal kicking accuracy. Whilst the sliders offer to eliminate certain issues, it serves to detail how prominent these issues are. Unfortunately, the sliders can only do so much.
Playing on anything lower than all Australian difficulty is a cake walk which makes it fun and enjoyable but far too easy. All Australian or higher offers a challenge but this comes at the risk of exacerbating all of the games fundamental gameplay issues to the point where the game loses all functional enjoyment. The major issue stems primarily from the “hot potato” nature of the game. It becomes impossible to take possession of the ball without being instantly tackled, resulting in both a disproportionate number of tackles and kicks. To put this into perspective, teams averaged around 67 tackles per game in the AFL season 2019. In AFL Evolution however, I played a 7.5 minute quarter game where the tackle count was 104 - 108. If you were to standardise these statistics, it would equate to over 4 times more tackles in AFL Evolution than you see in your average AFL game. This causes for a disproportionate kick to handball ratio as the clearance kick in this game is the only reasonable way to dispose of a ball without getting tackled. The tackles are in fact so prompt, that often the clearance kick doesn’t even have time to execute an animation and the ball is seemingly launched 50 metres magically with no source of projection. Ball ups and centre bounces consist of a triangle button mash fiasco in hopes that a clearance kick occurs or a tackle is laid. The league average last year was 1.3:1 kick to handballs ratio. The last game I played in AFL Evolution had a 5.44:1 kick to handball ratio. This is perpetuated by the poor handball mechanics. The handball doesn’t serve the purpose that it does in the AFL as it isn’t an effective way to manoeuvre out of trouble or progress play. Remarkably, it is just as inaccurate and much slower than clearance kicking. Unlike the actual AFL, you are unable to handball to a teammate as you are tackled. Once you’re tackled in this game, you’re done. Further, the ball acts as if it is made out of lead and once the player receives the handball, they are immediately and intensely slowed down, becoming prey for the opposition.
The aforementioned problems are perpetuated by the awkward positioning of players. The players on the ground are so closely matched to their opponent that it appears as if every single player is acting as a tagger. Ironically, the only area of the ground where you are regularly capable of finding space is the forward 50 where a forward is somehow regularly found by himself running into open goal. Player positioning also extends to the position they assume whilst on the field. Despite not being primary, secondary, or even tall enough to be a third or fourth ruck option, Brody Mihocek often finds himself at the ruck contests. Normally, I would consider this more of an annoyance rather than a drastic flaw. However, I do begin to question this positioning when Mihocek ends up tapping the ball to down to Grundy who would normally assume the role.
A refined assisted “lock on” system similar to fifa would greatly decrease the kick to kick style this game promotes. The standard camera angle doesnt allow for the player to see who they’re kicking to, so often, the best option is to kick long and hope for the best. A lock on system would allow players to accurately kick towards a teammate to better emulate the real game. The accuracy of the kick itself would be determined primarily on the kicking rating of the player as well as the pressure they are under in the kicking process (similar to fifas “pass” function). If for whatever reason you only want to kick for distance and do not want to hit a target, use the “goal kick” function rather than the “kick” function. In this way the “x” button acts as pass while the “o” button differentiates itself.
Handballs would work in a similar way where players are easily able to target team mates and execute effective handballs as determined by their handball rating. Again, the accuracy relies on the pressure being placed upon the player, with a tackled player being the least accurate as he would be considered to be under the most pressure. This lock on system would also extend to a player and a loose ball. Far too often, I find myself over running or completely missing a loose ball as it is extremely difficult to navigate your player in the direction which coincides with the microscopic ball on your screen. Locking on to the ball would be particularly useful when the ball is close to the boundary as I would not be forced to rush it over the boundary line in pursuit of the ball.
In addition the marking mechanic is fundamentally flawed and frustrating. Whilst the concept of bumping your opponent out of the contest is solid in theory, it is a broken mechanic and abused by the AI. Particularly in packs, I occasionally feel three or four vibrations as a result of my players being bumped completely out of the marking contest. If you attempt to do the same and miss, your player somehow flings himself with an inconceivable amount of force which sends him metres outside of the marking zone. It is tainted by unrealism and imbalance. The hip and shoulder system also extends to loose ball scenarios. Often as I am chasing for a loose ball, the opposition lays me on my ass during my pursuit, a function of the game that is not supported by statistical ability, or by the realisms of actual afl football.
Whilst the marking mechanics are slightly more complex, the hip and shoulder element needs to go, or at least be greatly modified. The brace function should also be adjusted and modified. If it is too exist, it should coincide with a players strength rating and should act as one of the primary determinants of the marking outcome alongside the position of the player in contested situations. A combination of these elements along with the players general marking rating should determine the outcome of a marking contest. It is also my interpretation that “marking” and “contested marking” should represent two different elements on a players stat distribution to make a players marking capabilities more dynamic. A player with “good hands” like Will Hoskin-Elliot would be favoured by a high “marking” rating. These players would be able to extend their reach to take marks and are less likely to drop marks, but these skills don’t necessarily translate to contested marking. A player like Tom Lynch however would benefit from a high “contested marking” rating.
Further, players should play with more freedom and work to make space as they would in the typical AFL game. The way that players set up around the contest should also more accurately emulate the real game, with tactical options being available if you want players to push forward/back etc. The fluidity of player movement is integral to improving the playability of the game. This extends to the intricacies of the movement itself. Players shouldn’t be immediately and drastically slowed upon retrieving the ball and should be able to move more frequently without immediately being tackled. The fluidity of the game can also be improved by allowing players to play on with greater effectiveness. The man on the mark is far too responsive and closes in on the player far too quickly which often results in a tackle or rushed kick.
The tackling mechanics are also majorly flawed. The game subscribes to an all of nothing approach to tacking where, for the most part, it results in a ball up, a free kick or a player is dispossessed. As it currently stands, players are unable to handball and kick whilst being tackled and often, if a player kicks as he’s tackled, he is somehow called for throwing the ball despite the fact that the ball has travelled 40 metres off the players foot. I believe that “tackle break” and “fend” should operate as independent elements of a players rating to offer a dynamic experiences that somewhat resembles football in contested situations. Those with high “tackle break” ratings such as Patrick Cripps are able to dispose of the ball with greater consistency whilst being tackled amongst congestion. Perhaps this stat can also be known as “contested work” which offers to allow players to operate more effectively in congestion. Having multiple tacklers might be a stretch, but the addition of this would add another element whereby the amount of players tackling the possessor will further inhibit their ability to use the ball. Those with a high “fend” rating such as Dustin Martin however, will remove tacklers from their area with greater effectiveness as it currently operates.
The evasion mechanic should also be altered to allow players to be able to create space within congestion. Evasion should not necessarily be limited to slow and unnecessary blind turns a la Marlion Pickett, but rather, operate to allow players to create space for themselves. Scott Pendlebury would benefit from this mechanic as a high rating in “evasion” would allow the player to create space and avoid tacklers. The introduction of these mechanics greatly reduce the immense tackling pressure of the game whilst allowing players to accurately represent their AFL counterpart. In this way, each player feels dynamic in their own unique way, creating a more realist playing experience.
For the most part AFL Evolution is an enjoyable experience and is by no means a bad game. However, it is undeniable that this experience can be drastically improved. Im not asking for a detailed career mode, consistent graphics, realistic animations or even accurate player ratings. I just want the fundamentals of the game to operate in a way that is playable, authentic and enjoyable. Andrew Phillips winning the Brownlow in career mode is something I can handle, the poor mechanics not so much. AFL is such a dynamic and intricate sport that it would be impossible to emulate accurately. But there are little things that can be implemented to drastically improve the gameplay experience. I truly applaud and thank you for your efforts to make an AFL game particularly during this time and will continue to enjoy playing it. Whilst my criticisms appear harsh, I do feel it is unfair to make comparisons to FIFA and 2K. AFL Evolution in its own rights offers a fun experience for gamers to indulge in their AFL gaming fantasies. However, this experience is regularly plagued by flaws in the gameplay. Maybe my criticisms are too harsh but as a fan of both the AFL and video games, I just want to have the best gameplay experience possible.