There’s one thing that Madden lacks every year – competition. It’s been that way for fifteen years. Axis Football 2019 – the fifth entry in the Axis franchise – isn’t going to change that. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Axis Games, the studio behind it, says that their series stands up on its own merits based on three things: simulation gameplay, a deep Franchise Mode and lots of customisation.
But after playing this latest entry, it becomes clear that Axis Games hasn’t really delivered. Starting with the gameplay, and frankly it’s rubbish. Simulation it’s not. Instead, it’s an arcadey mess, reminiscent of something you’d find on the PS2 in 2002.
Animations are missing, passes are dropped for no reason at all and the AI is plain garbage. In my first game, despite not fully knowing the controls, I managed to pull off a 45-0 win. And let me tell you, the opponent’s left tackle is the most generous football player I’ve ever seen. He will stand there and let you run past him over-and-over in order to hit the QB he’s supposed to be protecting. It’s rather unsurprising then, that I managed to smash the sack record too. My defensive end ended up with 13 sacks when all was said and done.
I’d also like to draw attention to the tackle boxes. They’re huge. I lost count of the amount of times I seemingly burned a defender, only to have my player ragdoll because he was supposedly touched. It’s especially bad on kick-off and punt returns and is very, very frustrating to deal with.
And that’s just the action on the field. I haven’t even mentioned that the stadiums look blocky and horrible, the commentary gets stale quickly and the crowd noise sounds like it is being piped in. Speaking of those crowds, they are sort of just ‘there’. They don’t move at all, and there aren’t even enough of them to fill up some stadiums. That doesn’t change based on which teams are playing either, so you might end up with championship games played out in front of half-empty, lifeless crowds.
The worst part is that there hasn’t been any meaningful upgrades to the gameplay. We picked up on all of these problems in our review of the game that came before Axis Football 2019 – the imaginatively titled Axis Football 2018. I understand that the team behind this game is tiny and resources are tight, but more should have done to try and fix at least some of these issues.
The customisation is a little better, but is still missing some pretty fundamental things. Why can I not change a team’s logo, for example? Or what colour they play in? That last one seems strange considering I can change everything else from the colours and font of the lettering on the jersey to what colour tint the helmet visors should have. The result is the ability to mix and match to an extent, but you can’t truly make those mad colour combinations that make these editors so much fun.
Having suffered through some truly terrible gameplay and seeing the customisation options, I wasn’t holding out much hope for the Franchise Mode. But I was pleasantly surprised. Franchise is far and away the best part of Axis Football 2019. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s better than anything Madden has served up these past few years. It’s a deeply immersive experience, and it’s clear a lot of effort has been put into it.
The mode features a system of promotion and relegation. You start at the bottom of Division Three and have to take any of the 36 pre-made franchises all the way to the top of Division One. It’s something that’s practically unheard of in American sports, but it works well here. It means that, for the first few seasons at least, you are always working towards something.
Franchise mode also has some of those features Madden players have been moaning about for years.
There’s a full 15-man coaching staff, and you can hire, fire and promote as you please. There’s greater control over practices and what each player should be focusing on each week. There’s even a coach mode, where you can call the plays and watch your team run them in real time.
The mode’s scouting system is great too. It’s robust, with an emphasis on regional scouting. Each region of the United States has strengths and weaknesses at certain positions in Axis Football 19, and it changes every season just like in real life. It means you really need to focus in order to get the most out of your scouting staff year-on-year. The draft process is just as good too. You’re given a draft guide to work with, which highlights team needs and the best prospects still on the board, as well as tons of team stats in order to help you make the best pick you can. It makes drafting, which is already a highlight of any Franchise Mode, that much more enjoyable.
Naturally, when you review a football game you’re going to compare it to Madden. But I don’t think that’s particularly fair here, considering how small the team that made this game is. Instead, it should be judged on its own merits. And the fact is, Axis Football 2019 fundamentally fails at delivering simulation gameplay, and the customisation options are pretty meh.
I’ll admit that’s not great and is reason enough to steer clear of this game. But after playing a few seasons of the Franchise mode, and then playing a few more, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Axis Games have got something here. This series has potential. After all, managing to make a Franchise mode that not only rivals but surpasses Madden with such a small team is nothing short of remarkable and deserves a ton of praise.
But to fully realise that potential, this series needs a lot of work. If Axis Games can use their Franchise mode as a foundation and build on it moving forward, then we might have something on our hands that could be classed as a valid alternative (but not a competitor) to Madden. Right now though, you have a game that really only Franchise junkies can enjoy. If that sounds like you, then I’d recommend giving Axis Football 2019 on Xbox One a try. If not, I’d say skip this one. But watch this space.