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Maximum Football 2018 - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • On-field action is not dictated by prefab animations
  • Supports Canadian, NFL, and NCAA rulesets and field configurations
  • Changing direction costs a lot of forward momentum
  • Cycling defenders after snap
  • Having a step on the defender means a receiver is open
  • Budget price

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Controls are clumsy and archaic
  • No tutorials for Canadian football concepts
  • No defensive play assists or pre-snap play art
  • Defensive coverage is buggy
  • Can't cycle defenders with ball in air
  • Some plays seem bugged
  • Animations lack transitions and sometimes don't line up with action
  • Season mode is bare-bones
  • Many basic football concepts are missing or not implemented yet
  • PS2-level visuals
  • No support for downloading user-created teams or rosters?

Overall Impression : F+
Not competing with Madden anytime soon

Maximum Football 2018 - cover

Developer:
Canuck Play

Platforms:
PlayStation 4 < (via PSN digital download),
XBox One (via XBox Live digital download).
(< indicates platform I played for review)

MSRP: $17 USD

Original release date:
31 July, 2018

Genre:
sports, gridiron football

ESRB Rating: E (for Everyone)

Player(s):
1 or 2 player (local)

Official site:
canuckplay.com/games/

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).

Because I don't know all the rule subtleties of Canadian football, it's also hard to tell if seemingly-incorrect functionality or missing features are actually incorrect or missing, or if Canadian football simply doesn't have that rule or the rule works differently. For example, there's no onside kick (that I could find). I also had a situation in which the game clock for the first quarter ticked down to "0:00" while I was on the play-selection screen, but the game still allowed me to select a play and run it. Is this a bug in the game, or does Canadian football rules allow a final play to be run after the game clock ticks down to zero?

Defensive play art is hard to read, and there's no on-field play art to tell you what your defender's assignment is.

I also noticed that a lot of football concepts and play schemes are missing. The game does not include pulling linemen for setting up counter or trap plays, and it lacks play action passes, screen passes, fake punts and field goals, onside kicks, or any zone coverages besides basic hook zones (so no flat zones, deep zones, or QB spy concepts). There isn't a no-huddle offense, nor can you take a knee to run out the clock. I'm pretty confident that at least some of these concepts also exist in Canadian football, so they are probably just not implemented in Maximum Football yet.

Maximum Football 2018 does throw a little bit of a bone to players who aren't familiar with Canadian rules or concepts. The game also supports American Pro and American College rules! Eleven players, 100-yard field, four downs. Unfortunately, these rules don't solve the underlying problem of the game not properly conveying its concepts and strategies. The American ruleset playbooks are (as far as I can tell) identical to the Canadian playbooks, except that one arbitrary player has been removed from each play. This completely changes the scheme of the play, and a lot of the plays are, therefore, kind of nonsensical.

Supports Canadian and American rules and field configurations.

Broken playbooks?

There's at least one play in the playbook, called "Rouck" that seems to be completely bugged and broken. It looks like it's supposed to be a screen (or maybe an option play), but (as far as I can tell) there is no button for pitching the ball to the back. Worse yet, the QB seems stuck in a backwards passing stance facing his own end zone, and the controls become inverted. Pressing up on the stick makes the QB "step up" towards his own end zone and deeper into the offensive backfield. Pressing left on the stick makes him step to the right (relevant to the camera), and so on. What the heck is going on with this play?

Some plays like the Rouck and Taco Zone Read don't even seem to work.

There's also another play called "Taco Zone Read", which says that it's a "zone read", so I expected it to work like a zone read. I'm not sure if zone read works the same way in Canadian football as it does in U.S. football, but the option element of the zone read doesn't seem to work in any context. I couldn't figure out how to hand off the ball to the running back, or how to pitch it like an option. I'm not sure if either of these is supported by the game, in which case, why is this play in the playbook?

Yeah sure, Madden has some buggy and broken plays in its playbooks too, but Madden also has hundreds (if not thousands) of plays. This game has exactly 20 running plays and 40 passing plays in the offensive playbook, so any one play not working is much more noticeable.

Animations can mirror between multiple players.

Procedurally janky football

One of the core selling points of Maximum Football, compared to Madden anyway, is that the on-field action is not dictated by prefab animations. Play is, therefore, supposed to be more dynamic and organic. Backbreaker made similar promises, and like Backbreaker, Maximum Football only meets that ideal sometimes. When everything works, the game actually can create some organic football action. These are few and far between, however. Perhaps even fewer and farther between than with Backbreaker.

To the game's credit, the lack of pre-canned animations does mean that the user can have a greater sense of agency and control. Maximum Football won't lock you into an animation for five or ten yards of field space in order to make all its animations line up or to simulate difficulty. This would be nice if the controls felt more responsive. I do like that changing direction while running does slow down the player considerably. Inside runs do have this nice feeling of ducking and weaving to find a lane. Unfortunately, movement in general feels too jerky and floaty, and it's hard to make small adjustments without the runner making ninety-degree cuts and losing all his forward momentum. The game also strictly enforces stamina. If you burn up all your stamina sprinting early in a play, you will peter out and get caught from behind.

Runners seem to fall down whenever they slightly graze a defender -- or their own blockers.

Maximum Football also replicates another problem that plagued Backbreaker, which is that runners have a tendency to give up and fall down too easily. I've seen numerous instances in which a runner grazes a defender and just collapses to the ground. The game does model tripping, and every player has a physical presence most of the time, so I know that the runner falling like this is not intended to replicate the idea of the player tripping and falling.

Receivers are open if they have a step on the defenders, as long as the ball doesn't float too long.

When passing the ball, there's a weird delay when throwing the ball that makes it very hard to hit receivers in tight windows. It doesn't help that the ball seems to float in the air forever, even when not using the "touch pass" feature. If you do get the ball out on time, the game is generally pretty good at hitting receivers in stride. Without animations slowing down the receivers, or speeding up the defender, or shifting them into place, a receiver who has even a single step on a defender is open, and it feels good to hit a streaking receiver down the field for a big gain.

Players can still phase and motion shift through each other. The game also lacks a lot of transitional animations, which makes many animations look jerky and unnatural. I saw situations in which the QB would point his whole body to the left, then throw the ball behind his back to the right.

The QB sometimes faces in the opposite direction that he's throwing to.

Broken coverages

I will say that I am occasionally impressed by the game's A.I.. The CPU does seem to be pretty aware of what's happening in the game and reacts appropriately. The CPU QB is also pretty good at avoiding pressure and making accurate throws to the open receivers. They're much less competent at running the ball, but then again, that goes the same for Madden's A.I. year in and year out.

I think the CPU's success has less to do with good QB A.I., and more to do with bad defensive coverage A.I.. The one area where A.I. was a consistent problem for me was defensive coverage. Defenders seem to get lost in coverage, and I'm not sure if this is bad A.I. or if it's a reflection of the individual player's coverage abilities. I've seen defenders in zone let two receivers run right past them without bothering to follow either, leaving both receivers wide open. Zone defenders are just constantly being caught flat-footed, which, as far as I can tell, makes zone defenses completely unviable.

Defenders in zone will let multiple receivers run right by them without covering either.

I think this issue is caused by the fact that the receiver in question already has another defender covering him in man, so the zone defenders ignores him. However, if the receiver beats the defender in man-to-man and gets wide open in the zone defender's zone, the zone defender still does not react.

Man coverage works better, but not by much. Defenders pursuing receivers running in a straight line sometimes make small changes in direction that slows them down just enough to let the receiver get wide open. Man defenders also frequently make weird breaks away from the receiver while the ball is in the air, leaving the targeted receiver completely undefended for huge plays.

These coverage issues are compounded by what I consider to be the game's most fatal flaws. There is no defensive assist or strafe command, which makes controlling a defender in coverage exceedingly difficult. To make matters worse, the user apparently cannot change defenders while the ball is in the air -- not with the "change to closest defender" button, or with the "cycle defenders" buttons. So if the QB throws the ball, and you see that your coverage is out of position, you cannot take control of the defender to make a play on the ball!. The fact that my own defenders never seem to automatically attempt to play the ball only further compounds the issue, as my defenders never even seem to attempt to make a swat or an interception, no matter how superior their position is relative to the receiver and the ball.

The game won't seem to let me cycle through defenders while the ball is in the air.

Early-access console football?

Perhaps my favorite feature of the game is that the controls allow the user to cycle through defenders after the ball is snapped, instead of only being able to switch to the nearest defender. This is a mechanic that I would really like to see (in some form) in Madden and any other football games that come out. I'm not super happy with its implementation in this game, but it's certainly a nice idea. It would also be really nice if the feature would work when the ball is in the air...

Season settings default to 15-minute quarters.

I have a lot of other minor complaints with the game. For example:

  • The game doesn't spell out all of the player attributes or define what they mean or do.
  • I can't set the quarter length to any value that I want. I have to chose between 15, 12, 7, 5, and 3 minutes. A half-length game of 8 or 9 minutes would be nice. 12 minutes would also be a nice option. No luck.
  • Instant replay also has one speed: super slow. It makes reviewing plays very annoying.
  • There's also times when the game simply won't let me see the instant replay, and this seems to happen most often on scoring plays, which are plays that I want to see again.
  • The coin toss takes forever.
  • Kicking controls are awkward.
  • The team-selection menu is awkward.
  • Having to simulate season games one at a time.
  • Simulating playoff games is bugged and results in ridiculously low scores and the occasional 0-0 tie that prevents playoff from advancing and requires restarting the entire season.
  • There also seems to be a bug in which swapping out the controller mid-game (because the battery is low or whatever) gives you control of both teams, as if it still thinks two controllers are connected.
  • Trophies / achievements are bugged and aren't awarded when they should have been earned.

Little issues like this are going to pop up in indie and budget titles, so I'm not going to harp on these little unpolished details.

Season mode is just a round-robin schedule, followed by playoff, with no team-building.

The thing that really kills the game for me, however, is that it doesn't even include a career mode with robust team management. There's a season mode that lets you play through a single season with playoffs and a championship, but no roster management of any kind that I could find. Heck, you don't even pick a single team to play as! You just chose whichever games you want to play each week. This lack of a robust, team-building career mode was the problem that killed 2K's All Pro Football 2k8 for me: playing a single season and a championship just doesn't hold my attention for very long. At least APF had pretty good on-field gameplay that made it fun to play. Maximum Football doesn't have that, nor is it fun as a spreadsheet team-management game (akin to Football Manager or similar games).

I do, however, appreciate the fact that the Season mode defaults to 15-minute quarters. This tells me that the developers probably have full-length games in mind when they're trying to balance the game for season play.

Axis Football is also right over the horizon.

It's been a long time since there's been any competition on the console gridiron market. 2K hasn't made a game since All Pro 2k8 back in 2007, and Backbreaker is already nine years old! Heck, even EA's own NCAA Football series is going into its fifth year of hiatus / cancellation! The fact that we have any competition in the market place is something that should be celebrated. I just really wish that the competition were a bit better.

It's really hard for me to give any sort of recommendation for a game that is this rough around the edges, even at the budget price of $17 (a quarter of the price of Madden). If you're willing to look at this as an "early access" work-in-progress title, and want to treat it as such, then maybe it's worth it for you.

Backbreaker regretfully didn't get a chance at an actual sequel. I hope Maximum Football does. Even though I'm being harsh on this year's release, if I see significant improvement in next year's game (or in post-release patches in the coming months), then I will be all aboard the Maximum Football 2019 bandwagon!

I'm eager to see if Axis Football delivers something a little more viable when it releases in [hopefully] a few weeks. If you're discontent with the quality of Madden, then it's worth checking out either Maximum Football or Asix. I'm not saying you'll enjoy it though. It's more to support indie developers. As barely-playable as it is, I don't want Maximum Football to go the way of Backbreaker: releasing one dud and then disappearing off the face of the planet to grant Madden a continuation of its unopposed monopoly. If Canuck Play or Axis can afford to hire some more developers and continue to improve the product, they may at some point be able to challenge Madden's football monopoly. They sure as heck aren't challenging Madden this year. And they aren't going to be able to if nobody buys the games.

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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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