Axis Football 19 - title

Well, the football video game price wars have apparently begun. Unfortunately, however, the prices are not shifting in the direction I'd like. Instead of EA being forced by competition to drop the price of Madden to something reasonable, like $30 (as they had to do in 2004 to compete with ESPN NFL 2k5's budget price of $20), both Maximum Football 19 and Axis Football 19 have upped their price from $20 (in 2018) to $30 (in 2019). I've already complained that Maximum has shifted its retail price out of the budget indie tier and into the middle-market (or "double-A" tier), and that Maximum isn't quite up to the level of quality that I might expect from a title at that price.

Axis Football doesn't feel quite as over-priced, as it was a much more feature-complete product to begin with (and remains a more feature-complete product this year, despite Maximum's new dynasty mode). That being said, I don't feel that Axis is improved enough to warrant a 50% jump in price.

Whereas Maximum focused on adding a much-needed dynasty mode in order to prop up its mediocre-at-best on-field gameplay (and moderately succeeds in that regard), Axis already had a working Franchise mode. What Axis needed was to improve its on-field gameplay. ...But they kinda didn't... Like, not at all...

Same as last year?

I was optimistic about Maximum Football and Axis Football because I expected them to make significant improvements to on-field gameplay from year-to-year -- something that EA has consistently failed to do with Madden over the last ten-to-fifteen years. So to see both of these indie games play virtually identical to last year's counterparts is very disappointing and has substantially deflated my initial optimism.

My excitement for the potential improvement of Maximum and Axis has been deflated
by both games releasing with virtually identical on-field gameplay compared to last year.

If you read the gameplay section of last year's review, then you pretty much know how this yea'rs game plays. Axis Football 19 still has much of the same rigid and robotic player animations. The locomotion system is terrible and allows runners to cut and turn on a dime. Defensive players still frequently stand in place. Deep zone coverage is still atrocious. The CPU still never defends 2-point conversion attempts. Receivers still lack varied or convincing catch animations, and defenders similarly lack pass defense animations. Blocking and tackle interactions can still be triggered with players who are not in physical contact with each other. I can still run my defensive end around offensive tackles, unblocked, for free sacks.

Some football rules are also still wrong or not implemented at all. Axis might as well just end games in ties if they can't implement a working overtime ruleset. I can still exploit kicking kickoffs out of bounds without penalty in order to pin opposing offenses deep. There's no fair catch. I can't motion receivers before the snap to see if the defense is in man or zone coverage.

The developers failed to address many of the problems that plagued last year's game --
such as poor deep zone coverage [LEFT] and the ability to easily run around offensive tackles [RIGHT].

Much moreso than last year, I'm noticing that outside runs seem to be far too effective. The reason for this seems to be the crazy success rates of receivers making (and holding) blocks on the edge and in the second level. Safeties are not only bad at deep coverage, but they're also terrible in run support. They stay back too deep (and sometimes just stand around), instead of trying to meet the runner in the lanes or trying to force an outside run back inside. If a receiver or tight end gets into the second level and blocks the safety, then the play is practically a guaranteed touchdown.

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Madden NFL - title

If you've already read my review of Madden 20 on my personal blog, then you know that I consider this year's release to be a massive disappointment. In fact, the last Madden entry that I actually liked was probably Madden 17. Despite my misgivings about this year's game, I do want to start off by talking about something in recent Madden entries that I actually like. Don't worry, there will be plenty of time for me to rant about the problems in Madden 20 later.

While there is certainly value in giving EA a laundry list of complaints about Madden 20 (so that they can maybe, hopefully address the complaints), there is equally as much value in telling EA where they've done right so that they can continue to expand those ideas. So let's start out the NFL / Madden season on a more positive note and talk about how recent iterations of Madden have actually made the preseason worth playing in Franchise mode.

I have a laundry list of complaints about Madden 20, but I'd rather talk about something I like instead.

This blog is a transcription of a video project that I uploaded to YouTube (which will be embedded below). I had hoped to get this out before the end of the NFL preseason (when it would be a bit more relevant and topical), but I was still neck deep in my Sekiro critique. I had to do a bit of research for this post by using some of my Patreon funds to purchase Madden 12 and NCAA Football 13. If you enjoy this blog post (and/or the accompanying video), and would like to see more like it, then I hope you'll consider supporting me on Patreon.

Now that the shameless self-promotion is out of the way, let's talk about the preseason in Madden NFL video games!

Feel free to follow along on YouTube!

Preseason is my favorite part of Madden franchise

Nobody likes the NFL preseason -- or at least, that's what I keep hearing.

Fans don't care for it because none of their favorite players get much playing time. Veteran players don't like it because it puts them at risk of injury. The NFL doesn't like it because the fans don't like it and don't buy tickets to the games. And the networks and advertisers don't like it because not many people watch it.

About the only people who actually like the preseason are the reserve players who get the chance to earn a roster spot, and maybe the coaches who have an opportunity to find out if their backups will be reliable replacements for any starters who get hurt in the regular season.

The NFL preseason isn't particularly popular.

In fact, the preseason is so unpopular that every year or two, there are rumblings about the possibility of the NFL reducing the length of the preseason, or outright eliminating it. The NFL would probably cite "player safety" as the reason for eliminating the preseason, but the real reason would be because it doesn't make them as much money. After all, they'd probably offset the reduced preseason by correspondingly increasing the length of the regular season, putting even more wear and tear on the players' bodies.

So every year, as we enter the NFL regular season, there is an outside chance that next year, there simply won't be a preseason. Or that if there is one, it will only be 2 or 3 games. There are plenty of valid reasons for reducing or eliminating the preseason, and I'm not going to get into that specific topic here. Instead, I'm going to talk about the preseason in Madden.

As someone who enjoys video game football (or at least would enjoy it if the quality of product were better), I would actually bemoan the loss of preseason because eliminating the NFL preseason would do a great disservice to the Franchise mode of the Madden NFL video games. I would not be surprised to hear that most Madden players don't bother with the preseason and just simulate past it -- after all, "nobody likes the preseason", right? But I happen to think that the preseason in Madden is the most interesting and engaging part of Franchise, and might in fact be my favorite part of the game.

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I thought I'd take a break from talking about the Bears, and talk about some of the other stories around the NFL, and who I think are going to have good or bad seasons in 2019.

Let's start with the biggest news of the recent draft: the selection of Kyler Murray first overall to the Arizona Cardinals. This pick gave me flashbacks to the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky in 2017. This move by the Cardinals wreaks of desperation! The Cardinals had just selected Josh Rosen 10th overall with their first-round pick in the previous year's draft. And now they're dumping him in favor of Kyler Murray?

2019 NFL Draft - Cardinals select Kyler Murray
The Cardinals appeared desperate when they selected Kyler Murray, despite having drafted Josh Rosen last year.

Rosen didn't have a particularly good year in 2018 -- in fact, you could probably say that he had a bad year. But he was also playing QB for a bad team. Very few quarterbacks can single-handedly turn a team around. When you draft a guy to be the QB of the future, you've got to at least give the kid a chance!

Yeah, sure, the Bears may have cut Mike Glennon's knee-caps out from under him after drafting Trubisky, but Glennon was only signed to a one-year contract anyway. It was apparent that (unless he proved to be a superstar) he would not be the QB of the future for the Bears. Rosen had every expectation that he'd be "the guy" in Pheonix for at least a few years. He had the expectation that he'd have time to develop and improve. Not so.

The lack of faith in Rosen isn't even the problem here. The problem is that the Cardinals didn't even bother to trade Rosen away until after they had drafted Murray! From what I understand, they hadn't even been shopping around for a possible trade. After selecting Murray, it was apparent that Rosen would not be on the team moving forward, and his trade value plumeted. The Cardinals were able to trade him to the Miami Dolphins, but probably for a fraction of the value that they could have gotten had they performed the trade even just one day before.

And it isn't like they had to pretend they didn't want to trade Rosen, in order to hide the fact that they were going to take Murray. They had the first overall pick. Nobody could sneak in ahead of them without the Cardinals willingly giving up that pick. This isn't like the Bears in 2017 feeling like they had to trade up one spot to prevent someone else from trading up to take Trubisky. There was no risk of Murray being poached by another team. I can only assume that even the Cardinals didn't know who they were going to draft until it came time to announce the pick.

Bears trade up to draft Mitch Trubisky
Unlike the Bears in 2017, the Cardinals were at no risk of losing Murray to another team trading up.

Stuff like this is why the Cardinals are the Cardinals, and why the Cardinals aren't very good.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, props to the Redskins for having the patience to not trade up to draft Dwayne Haskins. They got a great deal when Haskins fell to them 15th overall.

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Chicago Bears alt logo

I was really impressed with Matt Nagy's first year as the Bears' head coach. I wasn't the only one, as Nagy was named the Coach of the Year by the NFL itself. The accolades were warranted, as Nagy was routinely out-scheming the Bears' opponents in game after game last season.

The coaching prowess wasn't limited to Nagy either, as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was also named the NFL's Assistant Coach of the Year. Fangio was helped by the shocking trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears at the end of preseason, who provided immediate results to the team.

After tripping over their own two feet in the 2017 NFL draft, it was starting to look like the Bears' management (including General Manager Ryan Pace) were finally putting together winning personnel. This was the smash-mouth, ground-and-pound, suffocating defensive team that I want the Bears to be. I could finally stop hating the Bears and start to love them again.

Chicago Bears - Matt Nagy Chicago Bears - Vic Fangio
The Bears had two coaches of the year in 2018!

New defensive coordinator

I'm not sure if it's going to last though. I expect Nagy to have a long and [relatively] successful career with the Bears, but my immediate expectations have sunk due to a few key changes in the team during the 2019 offseason.

The first bit of bad news came in the form of losing former Assistant Coach of the Year Vic Fangio. Fangio accepted the head coaching job with the Denver Broncos. Congratulations to him, as he deserves it! I think his schemes will work very well for the Broncos' defensive personnel, so it's real good news for Broncos fans. But damn, that stings for us Bears fans.

They get Vic Fangio from us, and all we ever got from them was Jay Cutler and John Fox?! This is not a fair deal at all...

Chicago Bears - Chuck Pagano
Former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will replace Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.

The silver lining is that the Bears' new defensive coordinator is head-coach caliber. Chuck Pagano (formerly with the Indianapolis Colts) accepted the job as the Bears' defensive coordinator going into the 2019 season. I stopped paying as much attention to the Colts after Peyton Manning left, so I can't really speak to how successful I think Pagano might be. The most optimistic stat line for Pagano is that he helped coach Colts' safety Mike Adams to be tied for takeaways in the 2014 season. That bodes well for safety Eddie Jackson, who very well might have been the Bears' best defensive player if Khalil Mach hadn't been getting all the attention.

So maybe the loss of Fangio won't be as painful as it might have at first seemed.

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I recently wrote about the game at E3 2018 that most caught my interest. But there are other things coming out of E3 that I also paid peripheral attention to. One of the few reasons that I anticipate E3 each year is that it is also around the time that we start to get the first substantial looks at the upcoming Madden game.

Madden 19 E3 trailer.

The first thing that I noticed about Madden 19 previews is the focus on player movement and locomotion. Specifically, I noticed the fact that they seem to be re-selling us features that were supposed to already be in the game. Didn't Madden 25 already introduce this same mechanic? Yes, it was called "true step" back then. If it was so important to gameplay back in 2013, then why was it ever removed?

Player locomotion and runners getting through gaps in the line are focuses of Madden 19.

We're also seeing the return of a variation of the "get skinny" mechanic that dates all the way back to PS2 versions of the game, but which had been subsequently removed. Hitting the right gap in running plays has been a problem for a long time. It's good to see EA addressing it with the "hit the gap" and "push the pile" mechanics, but they've supposedly addressed this issue several times in the past, and it's never solved the problem.

They've also claimed that defensive coverages have been improved, and that defenders will now do a better job of playing the first down marker in coverage. That mechanic was also supposedly implemented back when Tiburon revised zone coverages for Madden 17, but apparently that didn't work either, so here they are, promising to fix it again. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of these promises play out in the small bits of gameplay that I've seen so far -- let alone improvements regarding block-shedding, defensive coverage, or general A.I.. So I'm tempering my expectations.

I did not see any of the promised new gameplay features pan out in the gameplay previews from E3.

EA's dev blog has also stated that tackles will now factor in momentum, speed, and player weight. Wasn't that what the Ignite, Infinity, and Frostbite engines were supposed to have been doing for the past five years or so? Admittedly, I did see a few improved-looking group tackles and broken tackles in another piece of gameplay footage, but not much regarding the advertised features. Don't get me wrong, if all these features work, then I'll be happy. It's just not very reassuring to hear the same promises year-in and year-out, and then not see them in the advertised product.

Also, what's the deal with Terrell Owens being featured so much (as the cover athlete and in the trailer)? Is he coming out of retirement or something? Does Owens actually have anything to do with the content of the game?!

A long overdue Franchise overhaul?

In any case, it looks like Franchise Mode is a large focus of this year's game, which is good news considering that the mode was almost untouched in Madden 18, which seemed to focus almost exclusively on MUT...

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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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I actually like playing the preseason in MaddenI actually like playing the preseason in Madden10/07/2019 If you've already read my review of Madden 20 on my personal blog, then you know that I consider this year's release to be a massive disappointment. In fact, the last Madden entry that I actually liked was probably Madden 17. Despite my misgivings about this year's game, I do want to start off by talking about something in recent...

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How to kick like a pro in Maximum Football 2019How to kick like a pro in Maximum Football 201910/04/2019 I've been hearing some complaints about the difficulty of kicking the football in Doug Flutie's Maximum Football 2019 (from Canadian developer Canuck Play). Many players seem to be having difficulties making field goals longer than an extra point. At the risk of sounding like an elitist, the kicking in this game really isn't...

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