Throughout the harsh months of winter, twenty-two per side march out to do war on the hallowed turf. The white line fever takes hold as bodies crash into the fray with reckless abandon and lack of care. It’s a unique game, unlike no other across the globe. It’s, if nothing else, ours. It’s a spectacle sport—big grabs, near impossible goals and bravery that’s unseen in most other team sports today.
It might not be the world’s ‘beautiful game’, but it’s pretty special to me.
AFL has long been lost in translation when it comes to gaming. I concede that the difficulty of emulating a game as nuanced as footy would be through the roof. An oval ball that’s punted end over end? Tricky to code, you’d have to think. Not to mention the wildly creative Indigenous players, forever crafting new and bold ways to make the football move, no game of our great game is ever going to hold a candle to the real thing.
In AFL Live 2, the first title developed by Wicked Witch, my matches were always sure to blow out. I’d win by hundreds of points simply because tricking the A.I. was so easy to do. Moving from the mark to trick them into playing on, only to turn back to tackle them and win an easy free kick was my go-to cheese—now fixed in Evolution, as it’s impossible to move from the mark. Most of the core mechanics are intact from Wicked Witch’s 2013 outing, however, some small changes have been made in an attempt to achieve a greater balance in games.
It still isn’t a 1:1 representation of footy. On the odd occasion, you’ll pull off a passage of play that makes you feel as though you’ve been blessed by the messiah Chris Judd himself. This joy will probably be short-lived, however, as once you master the game, most matches will be a one-sided poleaxing. That being said, Evolution is as faithful a representation of our game as we’ve had. It’s by no means a leap forward, more like a tip-toe in the right direction.
At the risk of sounding like a complete dunce, I’ll make one suggestion for anyone struggling with marking in Evolution—make sure you know which control preset you’re using. In blind frustration, I, for reasons unknown, checked the Legacy controls, despite the fact I was playing with the Evolution preset. This led to a handful of games where I simply couldn’t mark the pill, resorting to spoiling instead. But it turns out, I’m just a fully fledged silly person.
Another new feature I love is the inclusion of match objectives. It’s a small thing but it gives each game a bit more purpose. Be it gathering so many possessions or kicking a torpedo from a set shot, any reason to spice up the way I play Evolution is okay by me.
Evolution offers a tad more than the bare bones offerings the first two AFL Live games have been. The long sought after Be A Pro mode arrives and, surprisingly, it’s not too bad at all. I began my career as a ruck rover and, aside from one towelling I received from Dan Hannebery, the start of my tenure has been promising, to say the least. If I’m honest, I think Be A Pro is my preferred way of playing Evolution. The over-the-shoulder, in the trenches viewpoint really lends itself to the almost combative nature of AFL, you really get a sense of throwing the team upon your shoulders when you start to get leather poisoning.
I did find the Free Roam mode to be a tad pointless. It drops you onto a ground alone. It’s not bad if you’re looking to practice something like set shot kicking, but if you’re trying to practice your marking or literally anything that requires another body, you’re out of luck. Odd inclusion, if I’m honest.
If you grow tired of dominating the A.I, online play is where you’ll find yourself more often than not. While real footy might be a game of strategy, there’s little to be found here. It’s very rare that you’ll find a game that isn’t just a shootout that just goes at a million miles an hour. It’s a fun distraction from the game’s core modes and should provide a lot of entertainment with your mates.
AFL Evolution is, on one front, a surprisingly good looking game. Its tier one athletes have all had superb scans done and appear in the game as lifelike doppelgangers of their actual selves. Some are a tad off kilter, but all clubs have a handful of players that look just excellent. As a Collingwood fan, it was great to thumb through the Fanhub in-game and look at the boys who’d made it into the game. Adam Treloar, in particular, is one of my personal favourite scans—he looks top notch. There’s a flipside, though. Any other player whose likeness didn’t make it into the final product looks like a low-polygon extra from PlayStation 2’s The Getaway.
The grounds look fine enough, though some of the shadows cast across the turf are so jagged they only serve as a distraction. There were a couple of times where I lost the ball in flight as it travelled through the mess of pixels. It’s a minor thing to pick on, but the crowds are also so poor. There was one point I actually looked after Jamie Elliott bombed through another roaring Pies goal. There were, at best, three different character models spaced out strategically between a dozen ticket holders, all moving in tandem with their twins as they all gyrated awkwardly, fist-pumping all the while.
From an audio perspective, the game is a laughing stock. The only thing it manages to get right is that it licensed all of the clubs’ official songs. That’s a check, well done. Everything else is a train wreck, sadly. The commentary by Dennis Cometti and Matthew Richardson is so stilted, cut up and poor that it somehow might be the series’ worst yet. There was even a point where I was actually getting pumped by the Gold Coast and I managed to bag a goal in the dying minutes, reducing by deficit to three goals. What do I hear Richo declare? “The Pies—are in front.” Robotic and clearly wrong, what else can I say? The jury is still out on Richo’s colour commentary, but Dennis doesn’t deserve to have his name blackened by this.
I would have forgiven it all if “The Last Post” had played during the ANZAC Day pre-game in the in-game fixture, but alas it did not. That’s definitely a wishlist item for the next title, I think.
FIFA it ain’t, but it wasn’t ever going to be. AFL Evolution is a game that, given its niche market, we’re pretty fortunate to have. Wicked Witch have yet to craft the perfect footy game, but there’s certainly fun to be had here.
The PS4 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. You can read our review policy HERE.