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Maximum Football 2019 - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • On-field action is not dictated by prefab animations
  • Supports Canadian, American, and NCAA fields and rulesets
  • New US college-inspired play concepts
  • In-season recruiting
  • Dynasty special teams depth charts
  • Certain motion and waggle concepts
  • Cycling defenders after snap
  • Having to actually aim kicks
  • UI has been cleaned up a bit
  • Team logos look really nice
  • Cover art!

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • No Canadian or Pro Franchise / Dynasty modes
  • Dynasty lacks recruiting pitches that benefit bottom-tier schools
  • Can't play practice mode within Dynasty
  • Colleges unavailable in Play Now?
  • Pre-play defensive play art doesn't show all assignments?
  • Inconsistent controls between offense and defense
  • Receiver colors based on XBox controller, even on PS4
  • Locomotion feels floaty
  • Forward progress ignored
  • Timing routes don't work
  • Poor deep pass coverage
  • Lacks many football concepts
  • No accelerated clock
  • No tutorials or explanation of Canadian football concepts
  • No instant replays after scores or sacks?
  • Can't edit existing logos
  • No online content-sharing
  • Higher price tag than last year

Overall Impression : D
An actual game this time! But still not a good one.

Maximum Football 2019 - cover

Developer:
Canuck Play

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

MSRP: $30 USD

Original release date:
27 September 2019

Genre:
sports simulation, gridiron football

ESRB Rating: E for Everyone for:
N/A

Player(s):
single player, or two-player local

Official site:
www.maxfootballgame.com/

I was harsh on Maximum Football 2018 last year. Perhaps overly so, considering the game's indie nature and budget price. I wasn't trying to hate on the game, nor am I a Madden fanboy (feel free to check out my reviews of the last few years' of Madden releases if you need proof of my being fed up with lackluster releases from EA).

I was harsh because I wanted to point out as many possible flaws as I could, so that as many of them as possible could be resolved, and Maximum Football would get better the following year. I bought Maximum Football 2018 in order to support the developer, Canuck Play, to that end. I also bought Maximum Football 2019 in order to continue to support Canuck, because I am still hopeful that this game can turn into to something special. I didn't wait a couple weeks and buy a used disc for cheap off of eBay, which is what I usually do with Madden because I don't want to give EA a cent until they actually earn it.

College and Canadian football legend Doug Flutie offered his name and likeness.

Not in the bargain bin anymore

Canuck isn't there yet. But I honestly didn't expect them to be (which is why I made a YouTube video about being excited for 2020, rather than 2019). I'm still approaching Maximum Football 2019 as an "early access" work-in-progress.

At last year's budget price point of about $15, it wasn't too hard for me to overlook Maximum Football's many flaws and limitations and still recommend it to people who want to see competition in the football video gaming marketplace. It wasn't much different than paying for "early access", after all. However, with the price of this year's game nearly doubled to $30, it's a lot harder to make a similar recommendation. The inclusion of a Dynasty mode does partially resolve my single, largest complaint with last year's game, as it means that there is an actual game here to play now, with an actual sense of progression and accomplishment. But Maximum made so few strides in its core gameplay, that I'm just not sure it's worth the hike in price.

$30 pulls Maximum Football out of the category of "budget indie title", and puts it firmly into the price point of "Double-A" or "mid-market game", alongside games like Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Lords of the Fallen, and Cities: Skylines. But Maximum is not "Double-A" quality!

College football is the focus, not Canadian football

NCAA Football 13 seems to be the primary inspiration for Maximum Football 2019's new Dynasty mode (almost to the point of plagiarism). The in-season recruiting is copied almost verbatim, which is simultaneously a strength and a weakness of Maximum. On the one hand, it's nice to have such a popular game mode back. On the other hand, Maximum doesn't bring much new, and NCAA Football 13 and 14 did it much better already.

This Dynasty mode does most of what NCAA Football 13 did (albeit with less polish and flair), and it all mostly works.

My Las Vegas school has a "low" rating in every recruiting pitch,
with no option to pitch "early playing time" or anything similar.

As an alumni of UNLV, I like to play my college Dynasty modes as a basement-dwelling school. As such, I was very disappointed and irritated with the lack of viable recruiting options and pitches for such schools. The "Las Vegas Grizzlies" (which I re-branded as the "Pioneers") has low ratings for every available recruiting pitch. Hypothetically, I could improve some of those pitches (such as "program prestige", "conference prestige", "pro potential", and so forth) by playing really well, beating some out-of-conference opponents, and winning some conference titles. But I would realistically need to first recruit the players necessary to do that.

Without any pitches for things like "guaranteed playing time" or "play-calling tendencies" (both of which were included in EA's NCAA Football games), the lowly Las Vegas Pioneers really have absolutely nothing to offer a prospect. I can't draw away a mid-tier prospect by pointing out that he'd be fourth string on Power 5 conference team's loaded depth chart, while he'd be an immediate (and productive) starter for me. I can't tell him that I run exactly the kind of aggressive play-calling scheme that might allow him to shine, given his talents and abilities. I can't promise him that he won't redshirt. I can't promise him a shot to earn play time on special teams. I can't tell him that he would be the one missing piece that could turn my program into a winner. I can't woo him over by repeatedly reminding him of that one upset victory I pulled over a far superior opponent. All I can do is hope that some good prospects live in Nevada or neighboring states, and I can win them over with the fact that their parents will only have to drive across one state line to see their son play (even though, this being the west, that drive will still take a whole day).

"Early play time" was a crucial pitch for low-tier schools in NCAA Football 13.

Or at least, I should have been able to rely on "proximity to home", if it had ever been made available to me. Recruits from California, Arizona, Utah, and Hawai'i (Hawai'ians often refer to Las Vegas as "the ninth island") were still listed as "low" for the "proximity to home" pitch. So those states were a scratch, even though a recruit from LA is a hell of a lot closer to Vegas than a recruit from Reno (and crap-tons of people drive from LA to Vegas every weekend). To make matters worse, the game didn't even generate any recruits in Nevada for my first year of the Dynasty at all, so the only ace in the hole that I might have had available to me was denied by RNJesus.

This is a serious omission that comes damn near close to killing Maximum Football's Dynasty recruiting on arrival, as far as I'm concerned.

Even with low ratings, you can grind the same couple pitches every week.

But then again, I'm not sure if it matters. Even with a "low" rating in every category, I could still execute both the soft and hard sells, and doing so would boost the prospect's interest level. So maybe it doesn't even matter, since I can still spam and grind each recruit with crappy pitches and empty promises until he eventually succumbs and signs. I'm assuming that with a limited supply of recruiting hours, the investment necessary to nickel-and-dime a high-caliber recruit would come at the cost of not being able to sign more lower-caliber recruits. It's doable, but the balancing factor is that the opportunity cost is very high, and you can easily lose such a prospect to a better school (and all your efforts would be for naught). I guess that's a fair trade off.

The little details

Even though I'm not terribly impressed with the Dynasty mode as a whole, I do want to give Canuck some credit for some of the little details that they've gotten right. One of my favorite features of the Dynasty is the fact that the game provides you with a full depth chart for offense, defense, and special teams formations. This means that you can sub in young players onto, say, kickoff coverage if you want to ensure that they get some play time. Or maybe you just don't want to risk your star safety or linebacker getting fatigued or hurt on a kickoff.

You can assign a lineup for kickoff and punt coverage, if you feel so inclined.

This is something that used to be doable using formation subs in Madden and NCAA Football games, but it would come and go each year. It's nice to see it here.

Apparently, players can be suspended for
academic or behavioral problems.

The Dynasty also includes a list of news stories that includes recruit commitments, player injuries, and even academic suspensions! I've yet to see an injury or suspension on my teams, so I'm not entirely sure if these things affect the user's team. It's a nice inclusion, but definitely needs further development for next year.

You also continue to have full access to the customization mode while playing Dynasty. If you decide you want to change your uniform (or, heck, even your stadium!) in the middle of your second year, you can do that! If you want to use your improved knowledge and practice with the logo editor to upgrade a lackluster logo that you made before you knew what you were doing, you can do that too! Oddly enough, the Dynasty settings are restricted such that you can only edit them during the offseason. This means that you're stuck with whatever difficulty level you selected for the rest of the current season.

Difficulty level can only be adjusted during the offseason.

Another of my favorite inclusions is actually a completely superficial one. Each high school recruit has a little, one-line factoid that gives them a tiny bit of characterization. A lot of them are silly, and they don't (as far as I know) have any affect on the game or the recruit's performance. It's just a nice, humanizing touch that goes one small step above and beyond what NCAA 13 did. I'm not searching my recruiting board for "that 3-star running back from Arizona"; instead, I might be searching for "that running back who likes to go camping" or "that offensive lineman who eats a pizza before every game". It's just too bad that these tidbits of personality disappear once the recruit commits and joins a roster.

I don't think Marquiss here is going to school for academics...

Is Dynasty worth playing if the football isn't worth playing?

Even though I'm excited to have college football and in-season recruiting back, I'm just not sure how long the Dynasty mode will hold my interest, considering the poor quality of the on-field product. This is especially true since I recently used some of my Patreon earnings to buy used copies of both NCAA Football 14 and NCAA Football 13 for research purposes. I can go back to playing either of those if I start jonesing for some college football video gaming. Maximum doesn't do enough to separate itself from those classic college football games, and it just doesn't stand out. As such, it's really dependent on the on-field action being just entertaining enough to keep me coming back.

The on-field action isn't good enough to keep me coming back to my Dynasty.

This is, in my opinion, where Maximum Football falls down the hardest. Core gameplay just doesn't feel all that much improved. In fact, in some areas, it actually feels like it may have regressed.

The general potential of the game still remains true. Its physics, tackling, locomotion, and A.I. are all based on procedural, emergent behaviors, rather than the motion-captured, pre-canned animations that dominate Madden. Unlike Madden, Maximum Football won't take your control away in order to execute some canned animation that you may or may not have triggered. This gives the player a greater sense of control and agency. Your successes are yours; and your mistakes are yours. In principle, anyway. Everything is very rough and un-polished.

The single best change since last year is that I can now view the defensive play art at the line of scrimmage, so that I at least have some clue of what assignment I'm expected to execute in any given defensive play. Or at least, I would, if the defensive play art were actually complete. Half of the players in the secondary do not have any assignment drawn for them. Are they supposed to be in some kind of zone? If so, then how is this zone different than the blue zones that are drawn for other players?

Defensive play art is an overdue addition, but it doesn't show all players' assignments.

The controls are also inconsistent between offense and defense. On offense, you view the play art by holding down the left stick. On defense, you do so by holding down on the right stick. I don't get why these both couldn't be done with the right stick. The right stick isn't used for anything else on offense.

At launch, defensive coverage was completely broken. streak, post, and corner routes were left completely undefended, and running those routes felt like an exploit. The Gopher and Whiz plays were basically free first downs (if not touchdowns) every time I ran them.

Defenders do not play deep coverage at all.

And this doesn't appear to be an issue with the difficulty level either. My defenders were similarly terrible at covering deep routes. They were so bad, that I felt obligated to user-control a safety on every defensive play in order to have a chance in hell of taking away the deep ball. But even then, I ran into the same complaint that I had with Madden 20's terrible coverage, which is that I can only user-control one player on the defense! If both of the wideouts are streaking down the field, I can only cover one, and I'm dependent on my other CPU-controlled teammates to do their damn jobs.

I can only user-control one defender at a time, and are dependent on the other defenders doing their jobs.

I don't want to feel like I'm cheating by running these plays, but at the same time, those exploitative deep routes felt like the only viable routes that I could run. Timing routes never work because the QB doesn't lead the receivers properly (assuming the receivers even run the right route to begin with). Outside routes like outs and curls especially don't work because the QBs underthrow the ball so badly that the receiver often has to run back behind the line in order to catch it. Even with a bullet pass, those outside throws hang in the air so long that defenders often have an easy interception, even if the receiver had better position when the ball was thrown. My suggestion to you is do not throw outside the numbers at all!

For example, if you're trying to run an out route, you can't throw the ball before the receiver makes the cut. If you do, the QB will lead the receiver up the field, as if he were running a streak, and usually throw him right into double or triple coverage. However, if you wait until after the receiver makes the cut, he's usually so close to the sideline, and the pass takes so long to travel through the air, that the pass is lead 10 yards out of bounds.

Outside timing routes like outs and curls are never accurate.

Having some short, timing routes that actually work also feels critical because the CPU likes to run its "short yardage" defense against me in passing situations (for some reason), and I have not been able to figure out how to counter this formation for the life of me. Every time I try to pass against this defense, my QB gets sacked within a second or two of snapping the ball (even if I'm in the shotgun). All the receivers get jammed at the line, so quick routes work even less effectively than normal. These defensive formations seem way too overpowered, and I'm uncertain how I'm supposed to deal with them.

In real football (and heck, even in Madden), I'd counter by using a hot route to keep running backs and tight ends in to block, then audible my receivers to run a quick slant or streak. No such audibles exist in Maximum. Alternatively, I'd check into an outside pitch (preferably with a pulling guard and a crack block from the receiver). Again, no such play concepts exist in Maximum. I understand that I can't expect an indie game to include every football concept ever, but with such an overwhelmingly-suffocating defensive formation in the game, there really needs to be some viable offensive counter to it -- simply for the sake of video game balance.

The CPU's "short yardage" defense sacks my QB within 2 seconds every time I try to pass against it.

Thankfully, Canuck has patched the game to improve deep coverage. Those streak, post, and corner routes no longer feel exploitative, and I can usually feel comfortable user-controlling a linebacker or lineman now. I still want to bring it up though, because the state of defensive play on release was unacceptable!

Running away with the game

Running the ball is much more comfortable than passing the ball (as long as you're not running against that "short yardage" defense). However, running seems to feel a lot more lose than it did last year. I praised last year's game for its sense of ducking and weaving to find holes in the trenches. This year, the runners seem to cut even more on a dime, and don't get slowed down as much by changing direction. It's a really difficult thing to quantify, but it just feels different to me.

U.S. football concepts are being slowly added.

In keeping with the college football theme, Canuck added a lot of U.S.-style college football concepts and formations. Ace, pro, and I formations are all included in the game now, including some common running and passing schemes for each. However, many of these are only half implemented. Sure, there's "counter" plays, but the game doesn't yet support pulling linemen. So the counters still don't really feel like power or trap plays, like they're supposed to. Other concepts are still absent completely, such as screen passes, traps, power runs, play action passes, and so forth. Hopefully, these sorts of things will make it in next year.

A few of the Canadian concepts are also more fleshed-out. There's some new plays that use motion concepts to create misdirection plays or to clear out an area of the field for a run or a specific passing route. I really like these plays. I'd like to see more like them.

Jack of all, but master of none?

To be honest, I'm not sure if implementing a college football Dynasty mode was the right decision for Canuck to make -- at least not at this point in the game's history. It was certainly the right move from a business standpoint. Canuck wanted to beat IMV's Gridiron Champions to fill this significant niche in the sports gaming market, and the decision garnered a lot of buzz and support for Maximum. However, Canuck seems to be trying to cater to every type of football fan, by offering professional U.S. rules, a college Dynasty, Canadian rules, and so forth. They're straying from their original Canadian football niche, and I feel they're spreading their efforts too thin. They're doing a lot, but they aren't doing any of it particularly well. Remember, Canuck is operating with only one, single full-time developer. His heart is in the right place, and I appreciate what he's trying to do with this game, but there's only so much that one guy can possibly do!

Play Now mode allows you to play US pro or Canadian leagues, but doesn't include any of the college teams. But the Dynasty Mode supports only college leagues, and there is no Canadian or U.S. pro Dynasty. There's only the exact same, lackluster "season" mode that seems to be un-touched from last year. The college Dynasty mode is mediocre, and players who want a Pro career mode (with salary caps, trades, free agents, and a draft) are left behind. At least Canuck did include the option to play a Canadian college league.

Season Mode is unchanged from last year.

On top of all that, the differing rules potentially leave the game open to bugs or getting certain game rules incorrect. For example, the game currently (correctly) stops the clock after a first down, when using the college rules. However, it does not correctly re-start the game clock after the ball is set. This slows down the pace of the game considerably, and provides a lot more clock-stoppages to offenses running a two-minute drill. As the game gets more complicated, I worry that trying to support multiple rulesets may introduce more mistakes like this.

Will we see a pro Franchise mode in Maximum Football 2020? Will that mode come at the expense of the college Dynasty not getting any of the attention or improvement that it deserves and needs? Will Canuck start to slide down a slippery slope and introduce a whole new league like arena football? Or will Maximum Football slowly start to morph into Maximum College Football, and the Pro U.S. and Canadian fields and rulesets will become little more than tacked-on afterthoughts?

Whatever the case may be, I hope that Canuck puts most of its effort in 2020 into cleaning up the on-field gameplay. Improve the controls, improve the physics and tackling engine, clean up the pass coverage A.I., fix issues with passing trajectories and timing routes, and add more football concepts (like play action passes, pulling linemen, spy coverage, onside kicks, blocked kicks, etc.). Maybe even add some adaptive A.I. that learns and adapts to some of the user's basic tendencies. Those are the important things that I want to see! More modes is not going to sell me on next year's game. Noticeable improvements to on-field gameplay is the only way that I'll be buying Maximum Football 2020, especially if the asking price continues to climb.

Hopefully the increase in price (along with all the sponsorship deals Canuck has been signing) will bring in enough money to hire more developers and really get this game to a better state. Canuck can only coast on my good faith for so long.

I probably will not buy Maximum Football 2020 unless considerable improvement is made to on-field gameplay.

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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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