Developer: Big Ant Studios
Reviewed on: PS5
Also available on: PS4, Xbox Series X&S, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 13th April 2023
Price: Too Much!
“Balllllll” the crowd screams as a vicious tackle is laid in front of a roaring crowd at the MCG… Or rather, no tackle is laid. Because pressing the “tackle” button simply doesn’t work.
3 years on from our last AFL videogame, we are now presented with our next iteration - AFL23. This time around, it has been developed by Big Ant Studios, a Melbourne based company that has brought us the likes of the recent Cricket videogames, and, for those who remember all the way back to 2011, AFL Live.
And to be honest, I do fondly look back on AFL Live. Whilst not for the graphics, and certainly not the commentary..
Dennis Cometti: “I think the.. Crows.. will win this game..”
Brian Taylor: “Thanks Dennis, but I disagree. I think Adelaide… Will win.”
..But for the simple fact that it.. well.. Worked. The gameplay, albeit very jagged and at times comical, was enough to work the ball from end to end, kick, mark and score goals.
Unfortunately for AFL23, this doesn’t appear to be the case.
Simple things like laying tackles, handballing and 1-on-1 contests either don’t seem to function, or when they do are incredibly clunky and laboursome.
As any good AFL fan knows, these are vital ingredients to making a good AFL game, and Big Ant have missed the mark (no pun intended) on this one.
It’s not all negative though. Graphics wise, the game looks great. Considering the budget that I imagine Big Ant had to work with, comparative to a EA or 2k sports game, they have done a fantastic job on this front. It does have a next-gen feel to it, comparative to all previous AFL games, that were usually lagging well behind their sporting counterparts. Players models are mostly well done for men and women, and they have put effort into making the “game day” presentation feel legit - Players run out through the banner to their team song, the coin toss is done well, and the pre and post-game rituals look good. The stadiums are faithful to their real-life counterparts, and the crowd noises are realistic. Teams huddle between quarters and hit the rooms at half time. You can really see the potential, and that makes it even more frustrating when you get into the nitty gritty on the field.
The commentary team is as bland as ever. Probably as expected, as this seems to be a constant for AFL games over the years. It is jarring and repetitive, and within a couple games I had numerous phrases repeated over and over.
AFL23 has several different game modes to choose from. The usual “Quick Match” to jump straight into a game, “Season” where you can choose a team, or play as the league and simulate the entire season and “Manager mode” in which you can do a franchise style management career, like trading players and building your team. There are the usual team/player list editing options, but I didn’t delve too much into this. Online multiplayer mode (including couch co-op) is there on the home screen, but strangely it doesn’t appear to let you play online against friends, only matchmaking random games – this is a real let down, and I assume it will be attended to in a patch. The Menu has a nice minimalist look overall and is easy to navigate.
During my playthrough, I played several “Quick Match” games between multiple teams at varying venues. The gameplay was, at best, unpleasant. Players clipping with each other, goal umpires randomly spawning onto the field, players freezing mid game. Handballing and tackling are both riddled with issues and neither to have no rhyme or reason to when they do or don’t work properly. At times, players just kick the ball backwards or sidewards, despite me manually marking a player to kick to. Players on the mark would just stand there, and it was much too easy to just run the entire length of the ground with no repercussions and kick a goal from 5 metres out unmanned, even on harder difficulties. Rules are poorly enforced by umpires, or not at all, and players just run through the mark frequently with no penalty.
The gameplay truthfully is just not easy to get the hang of. It has a steep learning curve, and when coupled with inputs seemingly not working makes for some infuriating moments. When you did manage to chain some disposals together and move the ball down the field, it generally felt like you had some sort of control. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a common occurrence. There is a controls menu to look at, though the game just mostly throws you in the deep end with little explanation. I can imagine for an interested, but non-die-hard AFL fan, this barrier makes it almost impossible to jump into.
On numerous occasions during my playthrough, it would completely crash and send me back to the PS5 home screen. It genuinely feels like a broken game this sense, and its simply not good enough.
The game is in desperate need of patching. Basically, it doesn’t feel like a finished product. There are too many glaring issues and Big Ant needs to address these sooner rather than later, or the player count will drop off a cliff.
Alas, here we are. Another AFL videogame, another disappointment. Maybe I expect too much, but this is a sport I have grown up with, and love with fiery passion. I just want a game that.. works.