Ever since ESPN NFL 2K5 put a serious dent in EA’s Madden sales due to its far superior gameplay, Madden has remained the only officially licensed NFL game on the market. Axis Football 2018 arrives on Xbox One – without a licence – but featuring a robust franchise mode where you can take any of the 36 teams on offer for a spin at winning the championship.
But after dragging the Philadelphia Express through two seasons of the third tier of Axis Football, I can safely say that while Madden may still have its problems, it will be in no fear of losing the license to Axis Football any time soon.
Axis Football 2018 features two modes: Exhibition where you can play a single game against the CPU or local multiplayer – there is no online component – or you can call the plays as the Coach and watch the action that way. The other mode is Franchise and in fairness, it can be a meaty mode to get your teeth into, featuring three divisions with promotion and relegation along with more typical aspects like playoffs, trading, contracts and salary caps, and even a post-season draft much like the NFL. It can be very rewarding if you are willing to put time and effort into it, but ultimately this is a game that is severely let down by the action on the field.
Take my first game as an example; a game in which I managed a whopping 17 sacks with the same player. Whilst that may not mean much to the layman, when you consider a sack is a tackle against the quarterback behind the line of play/scrimmage, and the current NFL record stands at 7 by the same player for one game – a record that has stood for over 20 years – then there is something a bit amiss. It doesn’t help that the animation of any player on the field getting tackled is horrific too; they only require the simplest of touches from an opposing player before they hit the deck in a crumpled heap on the floor, much in a way that a contortionist would be proud of. It’s a wonder there aren’t more injuries in Axis Football with the way the players simply drop to the floor.
Another thing that drops to the floor is the ball. Any dropped passes – a worryingly frequent occurrence in its own right in this league – and you will find the ball just drops to the floor. It doesn’t rebound off anyone ever, just drops pathetically. In fact, I’m not totally convinced there is an animation for the ball actually falling to the ground as it just seems to appear there, accompanied by a sound effect akin to a flat fart.
Compounded by the dodgy animations are the ugly graphics. Player headshots look like they were created from no more than two facial options and half a dozen hairstyles, resulting in all the players looking very similar. But it is the design of the stadia that gives biggest concern, with the crowd looking like a stadium crowd circa 2001 – but unlike those flat looking crowds at least ‘jumping’ up and down, the ones in Axis Football 2018 are completely static.
The sound of the crowd also feels like it has been pumped in through the tannoy system, along with the commentary and other sound effects. Commentary is provided by the generically named Dave Stevens and Mike Steele and, apologies if those are their real names, but they seem far too stereotypical for American Football commentators. The sound in general is crackly and disappointing too, with certain lines sounding like they have been recorded through a phonecall. Along with disjointed sentences that change pitch when a score or down number is inserted, and it has to be said that Axis Football 2018 all feels very archaic when compared to modern sports games.
If all that wasn’t enough, then you’ll also find that the game sometimes decides to rewrite the rules of American Football! Several times I have had to make a snap when already in the endzone, resulting in an immediate touchdown, and there also appears to be no rules on a Neutral Zone Infraction – which may have helped me with my 17 sacks.
It has always been argued that American Football is a slow, tactical and methodical game despite it also being a contact sport, but many would counter argue that is one of its best assets. But Axis Football 2018 on Xbox One takes this to the extreme: lengthy load times, frame rate drops, freezing, and even repeated button presses required on some menus. It all adds up to deliver a cumbersome experience.
Axis Football 18 has ten achievements in total and, aside for three for winning each Tier of the competition in franchise mode, the rest are for on-field accomplishments. Long field goals, passes and runs and then more for cumulative yards in attack and defence. If you can stomach at least three seasons of Franchise mode, then it is a fairly easy completion.
Overall though and it doesn’t look like Madden has anything to worry about short-term. There are several other American Football games already on the market, but they will likely focus on a more arcade-style gameplay, or another aspect. Axis Football 2018 tries to be a complete sports simulation title but aside from the multitude of animation, sound and graphical issues, there are also too many bugs and glitches that contradict the fundamental rules of the sport itself.
John Madden can sleep soundly for another night knowing his royalty cheques are safe for the time being.