AFL Evolution 2 comes at the perfect moment. With the 2020 premiership season suspended at the time of writing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no shortage of footy fans absolutely starved for our national game. Lucky for them, AFL Evolution 2 is an adequate substitute for the real thing.
While you won’t exactly capture the feeling of sitting at the MCG watching your favourite team decimate their opposition, AFL Evolution 2 still manages to capture the tense, exciting atmosphere of our all-Australian game.
AFL Evolution 2 Review
Look, I’m certainly not the biggest AFL fan. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t be caught dead playing a footy video game, let alone writing a review for one. But then I married into an AFL family and because my wife made me promise in our wedding vows, I’m now a semi-dedicated Melbourne Demons supporter (and yes, I own many cheese boards and go to the snow each year).
So I’ve never played the first title, AFL Evolution, back in 2017, nor any of the previous AFL titles. In many ways this makes me the ideal target market for the game, especially in 2020: footy fans who, dismayed by the suspension of the current season, are turning to video games to get their AFL fix.
And you know what? It’s fun.
While AFL Evolution 2 isn’t the best-made sports video game I’ve ever played it does a solid job of capturing the atmosphere and magic of footy.
Play It On
AFL Evolution 2 enjoys a bevy of game modes for fans to sink their teeth into. There’s the fantasy-infused middle exhibition match mode; online multiplayer mode; career mode; competition and training modes; and Game Day, a new addition to this iteration. Each mode can be tweaked with respect to its difficulty level and time length of quarters.
Fans can pick from any number of Australian leagues and teams to play as and compete against. This includes the AFL premiership league, women’s AFL Cup, VFL SANFL, WAFL, NEAFL and the TAC Cup competition. In Exhibition Match mode, you can select any combination of teams from any league to compete against one another.
The fan hub mode allows you to create your own rookie player, as well as your own custom jersey design. Rookie players and custom teams can be imported into career mode, where you can use them in the Rookie and Coach modes. Alternatively, you can play as a Pro listed team from any of the featured league teams.
I decided to make my own rookie player, named after my son, for AFL Evolution 2’s Career mode. After creating him in the Fan Hub I imported him over and chose to make him play for the Melbourne Football Club (the poor lad).
Career mode is where you’ll find the most meat. In addition to being able to play through the season as a rookie player, you can also opt to be a Pro Listed player or try your hand at Coach mode.
My rookie player’s career didn’t get off to a great start. This is due to, despite having watched the in-game training videos, having a difficult time wrapping my head around AFL Evolution 2’s control scheme. While perhaps not overly different to most other sports games of its ilk, I found the controls clunky and unintuitive.
Fumble the Ball
I’m speaking strictly about marking, pulling off a speccy and generally making contact with the ball. These actions alluded me for a fair amount of time. It was only through trial and error did it all begin to click and I could move fluidly around the field with confidence.
You’re probably thinking, “well look at the controls guide!”. Well, AFL Evolution 2 hides its controls guide deep within its cumbersome menu.
This is par for the course with sports games, I suppose. But I’m of the belief games with mass appeal like this (in Australia anyway) should be pretty much pick-up-and-play with minimal fuss.
You Got Spirit, Kid
When playing as a lone player AFL Evolution 2 takes a behind-the-player camera view. This gets you close to the action, making you feel like you’re actually there on the field with the lads.
As I struggled to learn the game’s controls both through trial and error and by navigating the clunky in-game menus to review the controls, my rookie’s game continued to suffer.
When I learnt to tackle the opposition I accidentally tackled someone who wasn’t even holding the ball, resulting in a 2-match suspension for rough conduct.
Then, as I grappled with calling for the ball, kicking and handballing, my dismal performance caused my rookie to be dropped down to the reserves (at least Casey Demons can actually win games, hey). Once I’d wrapped my head around it all, only then did I start kicking goals (literally).
He Has to Give His Best Kick
But just as my fortunes were beginning to change and my rookie player was quickly becoming Melbourne’s star goal kicker, I found myself bumped back down to the reserves again: although this time I was captain.
Now back in the VFL, I started to simulate matches in order to get back onto the premiership team so I could help work towards the finals.
Simulating matches is exactly that: the game will play the match for you and automatically present you with a results screen showing goals kicked, points, and key player stats. You’ll also automatically earn experience points depending on the match objectives the AI decides you “completed”
Match objectives range anything ‘X number of kicks’ to ‘run X amount of metres’ per game. There’s also season objectives that you can work towards completing over the course of the season. Completed these, as alluded to above, net you experience points that let you level up and earn attribute points.
You can spend attribute points on any number of different stats, from kicking power to speed and weak foot. With a plethora of options, AFL Evolution 2 helps you by marking the attributes deemed important to your player’s position.
AFL Evolution 2 also lets you take control of an entire team on the field. Here, the camera is fixed to a top-down perspective of the whole field with the AI automatically switching control to whichever player is closest to the ball. And if you prefer to assume direct control yourself, you can cycle through players manually using the controller.
Learning how to, and subsequently mastering, the ability to manually change players amidst the frenzied footy action is absolutely recommended should you want to control an entire team. AFL Evolution 2 is great fun but polished it ain’t.
As such, the game is slow to respond in shifting control to a player closer to a ball, especially after a long kick down the field. More annoyingly, the game might automatically shift control to a player further away from the ball, meaning your eyes are watching one player on-screen but you’re in fact controlling another a couple of metres away.
It’s a mild problem to be sure, considering you can just manually take control of any player on the field. But a frustrating one nonetheless for a licensed product: and especially annoying for novice players who might not be ‘good’ at video games.
Coach mode eschews the ability to play as a lone player as you take the reins of an entire football team both on and off the field.
In this mode, you not only manage team line-ups, but you can bump or bring up players from the reserves, hire and fire training, medical and marketing staff, manage sponsorships, set membership pricing, and more.
Compared to other sports management simulators, this mode feels a little shallow and baked-in, especially since there isn’t enough to differentiate it from the other two Career modes: it’s basically more of the same, albeit with a few more features in the menus.
It’s Game Day
Game Day mode is a new addition to AFL Evolution 2 and is designed to follow alongside the 2020 AFL premiership season. After each round, fans log onto the game to download the results of the previous rounds, after which they can play the matches to either turn the tide and rewrite history or relive their team’s victory.
Unfortunately for the devs, they couldn’t have anticipated the 2020 season would be suspended and so at the time of writing only Round 1 is available for play. It’s unknown how this mode will be handled moving forward.
Game Day also features Team of the Week, which lets fans play against a super-star team to test their mettle and skill.
Finally, Competition mode lets you control any number of teams from any league as you play your way through a season fixture of your choice. It’s a fun little mode that, while it lets you play as more than one team at a time, feels too much like Career mode, but without the progression.
AFL Evolution 2 looks like a PlayStation 4/Xbox One game from 5 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it lacks charm.
Fans will recognise their favourite (or most hated) footy players with their likeness having been included in the game: and all of Australia’s footy ovals have been recreated to enhance the level of realism for fans.
This attention to detail, not to mention the inclusion of footy legends Anthony Hudson and Garry Lyon, makes AFL Evolution 2 as close to the real thing as possible. This said, Hudson and Lyon’s commentary can, after about your 5th match, start to feel repetitive and wooden: largely due to the fact it’s cobbled together from pre-recorded lines.
Sent That One Out into Space
The game’s AI is also fairly hit and miss, resulting in an inconsistent game experience across the board.
This is at its worst during Career mode where, despite my best efforts, my rookie player kept getting bumped to the reserves time and time again. Browsing internet reactions from other players indicates that I’m not alone here.
Moreover, teammate AI is often shooty, with called-for kicks being sent out into wide-open spaces: or a handball intended for me being sent directly to an opposing player 10 metres away.
All of this isn’t really game-breaking stuff: it’s more annoying than anything else. But it takes some of the shine off of AFL Evolution 2 which makes it seem like a less than a polished product.
AFL Evolution 2 Review
AFL Evolution 2 isn’t perfect but it’s the best next thing for footy fans desperate for a 2020 season. But a video game should stand on its own merits and not the time in which it’s released.
As a burgeoning footy fan, I had a great amount of fun playing AFL Evolution 2. So I imagine hardcore fans will lap this up. I appreciate the attention to detail in recreating not only the players but the grounds themselves. And look, I won’t lie, I enjoyed taking Melbourne to a Grand Final.
The game certainly has its issues, namely its slightly buggy AI and difficult-to-learn control scheme, which might be problematic for a lot of people looking to jump into the world of virtual AFL for the first time. But, that doesn’t mire an otherwise fun sports game.
AFL Evolution 2 was reviewed on Xbox One using a digital copy provided by the publisher.
Game Title: AFL Evolution 2