I wrote previously about my trepidations regarding the free-to-play status of Modus Games' reboot of Maximum Football. I'm not going to retread that again here. Instead, I've poured over the announcement trailer, dev diaries, and other information about the game, and would like to discuss my impressions on how the game might play, based on the publicly-available information and video.

The announcement trailer shows a few clips of gameplay, but doesn't provide a whole lot more information.

There have so far been 2 development updates, in addition to the announcement trailer. All these videos show a little bit of gameplay, but not much. So I don't have a whole lot to go on. But I'm going to go through each video and try to identify gameplay issues that stand out to me.

Rebuilt gameplay

The first develop update, released last June, was focused on the gameplay goals of the development team. They say they want to focus on authentic, simulation gameplay. They threw away all the assets and animations from the original Maximum Football codebase (developed by Canuck Play) in order to rebuild everything from the ground up. This includes bringing in professional and college athletes for motion capture and shifting to the Unreal Engine (I think Canuck was using Unity?).

Dev Update 1 (June 2022) covers the main goals of gameplay.

The visuals certainly look a lot better than what Canuck Play was able to create. Player models and stadiums look a lot more detailed and realistic. The jury is still kind of our on whether the animation and control will be dramatically improved, because it's hard to get a feel for the animation and controls from a simple video.

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Yesterday, Modus Games released its first actual announcement trailer for its upcoming revival of the Maximum Football series. The trailer was mostly heavily-edited, short clips of action from replays, but there was some gameplay mixed in as well. This gives us an actual indication of how the new football sim might play. The other 2 important tidbits from the trailer are the game's release window, and its price. No specific release date was given, except for a "fall 2023" window. Hopefully it is early fall: August or early September. We don't want the game showing up in the middle of October, when the NFL season is already half over, and the excitement for the new season has already died down a bit.

Modus Games has released the announcement trailer for Maximum Football, due out this fall.

The most interesting piece of information, however, is the game's price. The trailer revealed that Maximum Football will be a "free-to-play" game. Maximum Football's director, Micah Brown, has stated that being free-to-play allows Modus "to build on the game over time, alongside the community." Presumably, this means that there will not be a new, annual release of Maximum Football either. It will likely be a single game that will be updated with new features over the years. Similar to how a game like Fortnite has its different "seasons". According to Micah Brown:

"We want to create a football platform where users can play with tons of different rule sets, field configurations, severe weather changes and more without having to relaunch the game every year. Users shouldn’t have to rebuild their franchises from scratch every year when they purchase a new sports title."

The free-to-play model also means that we won't necessarily have to restart out career campaigns from scratch every year when a new game launches. We can presumably keep playing the same Franchise or Dynasty and develop the same team for years. That sounds awesome! I've been asking Axis Football's devs to implement save file transfers from year to year as well, as it's a great idea for a non-licensed game.

Being able to carry a Franchise save from one game release to another is one item on my Axis Football wishlist.

On the one hand, this is all good news. Free is good. This ensures that anybody who wants to play the game will be able to. No concerns about "wasting money" on a potentially lackluster product.

But on the other hand, Modus has to include some monetization scheme. They have to make money. They have to pay their developers for ongoing maintenance and development. They have to maintain servers for online play. And so forth. This has me a bit concerned, considering the game is un-licensed and will emphasize customization. How much of that customization will the users have to pay for? Again, from Micah Brown:

"In addition to the robust customization options that exist for players, we will be offering a selection of premium goods and licensed equipment that can be purchased to further expand the customization options."
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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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Maximum Football 2018 - title

We finally have some competition in the football video game sector! Canadian developer Canuck Play recently released PS4 and XBox One versions of its Maximum Football 2018 game. Canuck Play is a small, independent studio with limited staff. In fact, I couldn't find a count of how many employees or developers they have, so as far as I can tell, the whole game was developed by one guy: David Winter. The fact that he could single-handedly put together a functioning football game is, itself, a pretty impressive feat. I wish I had the time and drive to do what he's accomplished.

Maximum Football 2018 is a $17 budget title, so I went into it with pretty low expectations -- as should you. I bought it because I want to support indie developers, and I would love for Canuck Play to eventually grow into a studio with the skill and manpower to challenge Madden. I'm not going to lie though, Maximum Football is not there yet. Not even close.

How do I even play Canadian football?

Being a United States resident and fan of NFL and NCAA college football, I admit that I have only a passing familiarity with some of the rules variations of Canadian football. There was a Canadian football team in my home town for a couple years (the Las Vegas Posse), and my dad and I did attend the games. I remember the basic differences like there being twelve players on each team instead of eleven, three downs instead of four (which encouraged more passing), more generous backfield motion rules, 50+ yard field goals being worth four points instead of three, and a longer field and deeper end zone. But there are a lot of other rules changes that I don't know, and even in the cases of the rules that I do know, I do not understand the strategic nuances of playing under those rules.

Canadian football has some significant rule variation that I don't know the strategy for.

As such, I was very disappointed to see that Maximum Football 2018, which is a Canadian football game, does not include any sort of tutorial or training mode (that I could find). There is an option in the settings menu that allows the game to automatically snap the ball for you after the pre-play motion(s) are complete, but there's nothing in the game that explains how these motions are supposed to work, or how the offense is supposed to utilize them. There's no in-game commentary to possibly provide the player with any insight into the intricacies of Canadian football. Not even so much as some splash screens with some diagrams and explanations. There is a practice mode in which you can test out the playbooks, but you'll have to learn everything through trial and error.

The waggle concept allows multiple offensive players to go in motion before the snap.

To compound this issue, the game lacks explanations for some of its own mechanics and conventions. Receiver routes are highlighted in up to five different colors: red, yellow, blue, white, and sometimes green. What do these colors mean? I assume that one of them is supposed to be the primary receiver and one is supposed to be the hot receiver. So what do the other two colors mean? Are they supposed to represent the QB's receiver progression? If so, then in which order am I supposed to read them? Do they represent the types of motion that they perform before the snap? If so, then it would be nice to have an explanation of how these motion concepts work.

What do all these colors mean?

It doesn't get any better on the defensive side of the ball. Heck, it gets worse. There's no pre-snap defensive play art at all, nor is there any defensive player assist. You're stuck having to decipher the small play art that is shown in the play-selection screen. You have to remember the assignment of whichever defender you happen to select, then fulfill that job completely manually without any in-game indicator of what the player's assignment actually is. The safest options, therefore, are to always select a defensive lineman (despite there not being any controls or mechanics for breaking blocks or steering blockers), or play a safety in zone coverage (if you can actually figure out which safety is in zone coverage).

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