Madden NFL 22 - title

I knew it was a bad sign when the "tutorial" demo game for Madden 22 did not explain or tutorialize any new gameplay features at all. The reason is probably because there aren't any new gameplay features in Madden 22 -- at least not for the current-gen systems. If you want the advertised "home-field advantage" and momentum features, you need a PS5 or XBox Series X|S. Apparently, EA said this would be the case, but since I didn't pay too much attention to pre-release news, I wasn't aware of this fact when I bought my used copy of Madden 22 off of eBay a couple weeks after the game released. I remember reading that the "momentum" feature would not be in last-gen versions, but I thought that was a different feature from the Home-Field Advantage. I guess not. I still don't have a new console, so I'm stuck playing the inferior last-gen game.

I honestly don't see any technical reason why home-field advantage and momentum couldn't be included in the last-gen versions. It doesn't seem like it would be a technically demanding thing to include. I would be willing to bet that, since people complained about last year's next-gen game being identical to the last-gen versions, EA decided to just withhold features from last-gen this year in order to make the next-gen look like a legit improvement.

The heavily-promoted Home-Field Advantage feature was withheld from the last-gen versions,
even though I see no technical reason for why it couldn't have been included.

What EA failed to realize is that the complaint wasn't really that the next-gen games wasn't different from last-gen; the complaint was that EA wasn't doing anything with the hardware that they couldn't do in last-gen. Simply withholding features from last-gen that are perfectly possible to include from a technical standpoint does nothing to address the fundamental complaint that the next-gen game does not feel "next-gen" in any substantive way.

Personally, I actually thought that last year's next-gen version did have noticeably better player movement and overall game pacing in the one match that I was able to play on a friend's PS5. The higher framerate and more precise movement gave me a much greater sense of control. The improvement was most noticeable on inside running plays, in which I found it much easier to squeeze into the gaps for positive yards, instead of just ramming into the asses of my blockers, or right into backside pursuit. The problem was that the animation system and A.I. looked identical to last-gen, even if some of the physics and locomotion were better.

Frustratingly, many users seemed to complain about last year's next-gen version feeling "too slow", so I wouldn't be surprised if all of those subtle improvements were stripped out from this year's next-gen version. I guess I'll find out if / when I get a chance to play this year's next-gen version. If I do get to play the next-gen version, and notice that it does feel substantively different in any way, I'll be sure to update this review, or post an additional review of the next-gen version. So be sure to check back for that...

#FixMaddenFranchise movement finally forced token upgrades

Thankfully, the new Franchise features at least made it into the last-gen version; otherwise, there would be absolutely nothing new in the game at all. EA finally did make additions to Franchise, but the effort feels limp, and it came at the cost of removing some of my favorite features from this past generation of Madden Franchise modes.

Axis Football has been offering full coaching staffs (including position coaches) for years now.

Adding offensive and defensive coordinators has long been considered to be the bare minimum that EA could (and should) do to improve Madden's Franchise mode. We only get a head coach, offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, and some abstract "personnel" manager. If you were expecting a full slate of position coaches, as has been offered in Axis Football for the past few years, then you'll be disappointed. There's not even a special teams coordinator. Let alone a team doctor / medical staff or talent scouts (at least not when the game released).

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Chicago Bears alt logo

Last weekend's game between the Bears and the Browns was ugly. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields started the game in place of an injured Andy Dalton. We all knew that Fields would start eventually, but this was not the game to throw him to the sharks.

Just like I said at the end of preseason, the Bears' offensive line was completely unable to hold off an aggressive pass rush from the Browns. But it was far uglier than I think any of us thought it would be, as the Browns totaled 9 sacks of poor Justin Fields. I think we all hoped that his mobility would allow him to escape the pocket and make plays on the ground, but it did not pan out that way. Fields often looked timid while moving around, as if he was trying to force the ball downfield rather than let himself take off and run. This resulted in him being dragged down from behind several times, and taking a lot more hits than he should have.

Justin Fields sack
Photo by Associated Press
Justin Fields was sacked 9 times by the Browns, and couldn't move the ball at all.

The Bears' offense was completely incompetent. It wasn't just pass blocking and Fields. The running game wasn't very effective, and receivers were dropping more than their fair share of passes. The whole offense looked like it was completely overwhelmed and shell-shock -- not just Fields.

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Axis Football 21 - title

Axis Football is still a tough game to review. It's a very playable game that I support and recommend, but without Maximum Football to make Axis look better by comparison, it's a lot harder to overlook Axis' flaws, limitations, and lack of large-scale improvement. There's forward progress and noticeable changes, but still so many long-standing issues. The slow rate of progress is much more forgiveable than Madden, however, because the developers at Axis Games do not have access to hundreds of programmers and animators, or billions of dollars in cash. Progress is slow and steady, and that's pretty much all we can ask for given the company's limited resources.

If you're looking for a remarkably different game, then you'll be disappointed. Axis 21 feels largely identical to Axis 20, which felt largely identical to Axis 19 If you like Axis Football and are OK spending $30 to play more of it, then you'll get your money's worth.

Axis Football 2021 still looks and feels very similar to previous years.

Customization is the focus in 2021

The primary focus of development for Axis 21 seems to have been in its customization options. Previous iterations offered only limited options for customizing teams and uniforms, but Axis 21 has a much more extensive customization suite. Team uniforms and logos can be edited, and whole new uniforms can be created. Team playbooks and play-calling tendencies can be edited. Even the field is customizable.

About the only things that are missing from this customization suite are the ability to create or modify stadiums, and a playbook editor. Maybe we'll see those next year.

The customization suite is much more extensive this year.

This more advanced customization suite should hopefully draw in some of the crowd that got left in the dust when Maximum Football was canceled. If you're a fan of customizing teams and uniforms, and you haven't played Axis Football before, then 2021 might be the year to hop on the Axis Football bandwagon.

Another nice inclusion in this year's customization suite is the ability to update team rosters, which means I could modify my roster to match my roster from several seasons into Axis 20's Franchise Mode, instead of having to start over with the same initial roster that I've been using since 2018. It's a lot of work though to modify every player on my team (let alone the entire league), and I opted instead to just randomize my roster and go from there. Randomizing the roster is, I think, also a new feature in this year's game. I wish Axis would include the ability to import last year's Franchise rosters so that I can have a sense of continuity and progress between releases, without all the tedious busy-work on my end. Being able to import team customizations from year-to-year would also help reduce the prep work required by the user, and allow us to get right into enjoying the game.

Using the roster editor, I can re-create my team from last year, but it's a lot of busy-work.
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UNLV logo

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented me from going to the UNLV home football games in their first year at the new Allegiant Stadium. But being vaccinated, I am planning on attending this year, and did go to the home opener this week. It was yet another embarassing disappointment. Worse yet, I suspected it would be, and I wanted to bet on Eastern Washington to win the game, but the stupid sportsbook wasn't taking any action on the game. I guess they don't trust UNLV's football team any more than I do.

The offense was completely unable to move the ball in the first half, due largely to completely incompetent play from starting quarterback, Justin Rogers (transfer from TCU). Right off the bat, coach Arroyo dialed up some vert routes and got the two-on-one matchup against the safety that he and Rogers wanted, Rogers saw it, but his pass was low and inside, instead of high and away from the defender. It wasn't intercepted, but it might was well have been because the team couldn't get a first down anyway.

This happened several more times throughout the first half. And when Rogers wasn't failing to throw the ball deep, he was throwing gutterballs to the feet of his open underneath receivers. I don't know if this was a case of the jitters or what, but Rogers clearly did not have his head in the game. The receivers were clearly frustrated. So were the fans. But apparently, coach Arroyo wasn't because Rogers started the second half as well, and didn't play any better.

I don't know why it took so long for coach Arroyo to recognize that his starting quarterback was incapable of running the offense, and why it took him so long to put in the backup. I probably would have switched to the backup in the second quarter. I was willing to give Arroyo a lot of slack last year because COVID threw a wrench in everything in 2020, but there's no more excuses this year. That inability to recognize the need to make a change is a real concerning red flag for Arroyo's future as head coach.

I was also concerned with Arroyo's insistence on continually calling screen passes to wide receivers, even though Eastern Washington was clearly prepared for them and jumped every one of them for a loss or short gain. Yet he still played soft coverage against Eastern Washington running those same screens for large chunks of yards all night. His play-calling also didn't help the struggling Rogers, as Arroyo repeatedly called deep shot plays without any underneath checkdowns for Rogers to fall back on if the play didn't break downfield. It may only be his second year, but Arroyo is already on thin ice as far as I'm concerned.

Eastern Washington at UNLV - Justin Rogers
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
Eastern Washington at UNLV - Doug Brumfield
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
Justin Rogers was inept at quarterback and had to be replaced with the dazzling Doug Brumfield.

When Rogers was finally pulled midway through the third quarter, backup Doug Brumfeild looked brilliant and almost single-handedly saved the game for the Rebels. He threw up one prayer ball to double coverage in the endzone on a third and, like, 30. There were two receivers uncovered underneath. They wouldn't have gotten a first down, but they at least would have made the field goal attempt easier. The kicker (who was probably UNLV's co-MVP) made the kick anyway, so I guess it's moot, but I felt like that prayer ball was Brumfield's only legit bad decision the entire game. Other than that, he was damn near perfect. Every pass he threw was right into the receivers' hands. It's just too bad that the receivers had trouble reeling in the laser beams he was throwing, and dropped several passes, including a couple third down ones. One pass even went off the hands of a receiver and right into the hands of a waiting safety.

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12 Minutes - title

It may have taken almost 20 years after Majora's Mask, but it looks like time loop games have suddenly become an emerging fad. Not that it's a bad thing, per se. Outer Wilds has, after all, become one of my favorite games ever. Twelve Minutes is much more scaled-down and far less ambitious than Outer Wilds; it takes place entirely within a small, one-bedroom apartment, and the individual loops average 5-10 minutes instead of the 22-minute loops of Outer Wilds.

12 Minutes has a high-degree of responsiveness to player actions.

12 Minutes is also a much more straight-forward point-and-click puzzle-adventure game in a vein much more reminiscent of classic Lucasarts games. There's only a handful of interactive objects in the apartment, and each one has a variety of different uses. In this way, 12 Minutes rather explicitly telegraphs the solutions to puzzles, since there's only a handful of things that the player can even try. The options available to the player lead the player down the path to progress, and if you ever get stumped, idle conversation will often provide clues as to what you could maybe try next.

Although the seams in the facade do become evident if the player gets stuck repeating a particular loop too many times, I did find myself impressed by just how naturally reactive 12 Minutes is to player interference. The wife and cop will react believably to many things that the player might do, including some off-the-wall things. The wife might comment on weird or rude behavior by me, or the entire time loop may go in a completely unexpected direction because I chose to do something slightly different. It's a surprisingly wide and robust possibility space.

The short duration of time loops, and the relatively small amount of intractable objects really encourages lots of player experimentation. Screwing up any given loop doesn't lose a whole lot of progress, so there's very little penalty for trying some seemingly-crazy solution on a whim, and sometimes, it will even reward the player with some new piece of information that you didn't have before, or a clue to how you might proceed.

12 Minutes provides lots of subtle clues for ways to proceed.

12 Minutes is also quite good about providing clues that are subtle enough to not be obvious spoilers of what to do next, but which might still make you facepalm in retrospect "of course that's what I should have done!" What makes these clues work without feeling like they solve the game for you is that there is often multiple ways to go about testing them. The wife making an off-hand comment about needing to clean the closet is, in retrospect, an obvious clue that the player should check the closet. There is a useful object in there, but its usefulness isn't necessarily immediately obvious. What might also not be immediately obvious is that there's another way that the closet is immediately useful, it just has nothing to do with the object you found there.

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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