The latest attempt at an AFL video game is an enjoyable entry with a deep career mode that should keep gamers interested deep into September.
Welcome to... 7Sport... for today's review of... AFL Evolution... on the PlayStation 4.
Robotic Dennis Cometti is back but don't let the familiar funky commentary shape your opinion of Wicked Witch's second attempt at an AFL video game on the major consoles.
When you get rolling, you can produce some good footy with overlapping runs, handballs, marks on the lead and snaps around the body.
Much of the early focus from keen players will be on the superficial aspects of the game, such as the graphics and commentary. For this there is one thing to remember: in the grand scheme of the games industry, Wicked Witch is just a small player based out of Australia.
It's better to have a game than no game at all, and in reality once you've played for a few hours you're hardly thinking about the quality of the rendering. That said, it's all far from terrible. Not every player's head looks exactly like their real-life self, but the body types are there. Key position players and ruckmen look like they should, and smaller players have the extra agility that they should.
Stadiums are faithfully reproduced – and accurate, too, with Hawthorn struggling to fill the MCG – and some look spectacular in night fixtures. There's a sheen to them. Wicked Witch's decision to replicate Channel 7's score graphics feels like the right one, especially with Cometti's commentary attached. (We miss you, Dennis.)
Perhaps the most difficult early decision you'll make is which camera angle to choose. If that seems an odd statement to make, consider football as a TV sport. The most common view is wide from centre wing, and from there we don't see forwards making leads or the targets a player might have in front of him.
Unsurprisingly, the same problem exists on the game. The default view is familiar but perhaps not the best for clean football. Depending on whether you're playing alone or with mates, the end-to-end camera – which has two options: locked and dynamic, where it turns around depending on possession – might be the No.1 option. The mini-map at the bottom, which has indicators for targets, probably isn't distinctive enough to be considered useful.
The best advice we can offer before you jump in is to read the controls thoroughly. You don't want to get frustrated by your player missing a spoil in defence just because you forgot to click the right button.
Speaking of frustration, don't be scared to move up the difficulties quickly. It will be tempting to stay on easy for a little bit to get your skills up, but the game really speeds up as you move up in the world and it makes for a more challenging experience. You'll be mashing the buttons to handball out of space like you're Clayton Oliver in no time.
Gameplay in different weather conditions isn't quite as fleshed out as you might expect. While the wind certainly affects set shots, little else changes. Running, field kicking, marking, bouncing, handballing – it all plays much the same even if the 'heavy rain' is teeming down on your TV screen. (By the way, set shots are improved by implementation of the pull-push control with the right stick, but they're not overly difficult. Distance is the biggest issue – just ask Jack Macrae.)
Whether it's dry or wet, it's worth diving into the tactics. If you want your half-back line to focus on attacking while the full-backs stay home, you can make it happen. There aren't any sophisticated strategies that will let you lock the ball inside 50 with a serious press, but given you only control one player at a time we doubt anyone besides Alastair Clarkson will worry about that.
While we haven't had time to play our way through the career mode yet, improving your player will be a game within the game on their own. There are 32 attributes to upgrade, and though you will earn points as you complete objectives you'll still be up for a balancing act to become a well-rounded player. Kicking alone has multiple related attributes: goal-kicking, set shot, kicking, kick power and more.
It is enjoyable to play as one player in the career mode, but since the size of the ground is unlike anything in FIFA, NBA or NFL games there will be an adjustment period for those who haven't played an AFL title for a few years now. There is one way to improve that, however: bringing in your mates. Up to four players can play at any one time, making for a competitive night in front of the TV.
All in all, AFL Evolution is a solid foray into the PS4 and Xbox One era of gaming. The team lists are complete, offering a realistic venture, and the deep career mode – not to mention the AFL, AFLW, VFL and under-18 comps as standalone leagues – will keep gamers playing through to the first Saturday in October and probably beyond.
Disclaimer: Tru Blu Entertainment provided 7Sport with a review copy of AFL Evolution on PS4. AFL Evolution is out now on PS4 and Xbox One.