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Doug Flutie's Maximum Football 2020 - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • Creating and editing plays lets me be a coach!
  • Play-call screen shows safety assignments
  • Depth chart is usable
  • Faster QB release
  • Runners resist tackles better
  • Players make effort to catch deflected passes
  • Dynasty mode shows slow, but steady improvement
  • Canadian plays removed from U.S.-style playbooks

WHAT I DON'T LIKE

  • Bugs, poor stability, and rules issues
  • Still no accelerated clock?!
  • A.I. clock-management
  • Punts are live balls?!
  • Lacks power running moves
  • Lacks many football concepts
  • Many play concepts have been removed
  • Still no recruiting pitches that benefit weaker schools
  • All teams use the same playbook?
  • Play Designer is very rudimentary
  • No tutorials
  • Can't edit existing logos
  • No online content sharing
  • Feels over-priced

Overall Impression : D
Play Designer is nice, but not if core gameplay is this buggy

Doug Flutie's Maximum Football 2020 - 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: $30 USD

Original release date:
25 September 2020

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 bought Maximum Football 2020 for PS4 on launch day and found that the PS4 version launched with a set of bugs that made the game almost unplayable. In those first couple hours, I noticed some benign bugs. Every team in the game was duplicated in the team select and customization screens, and Canadian rules showed the wrong button icon for the sixth receiver. The more game-breaking bug, however was that running plays were completely absent from the user playbook, and the on-field action was very unstable.

The PS4 version was riddled with bugs at launch and practically unplayable.

After resigning myself to wait for a patch before bothering to play any further matches (let alone starting a Dynasty), I tried playing around with the logo creator, play designer, and other customization features to pass the time. The logo creator seems to be pretty much identical to last year. You have a handful of basic shapes, letters, and numbers that you place in layers on a canvas. If you ever created a logo with the Rock Band 3 logo creator, then you have a pretty good idea of how Maximum Football's logo editor works. Except that Rock Band 3 had a tremendous amount of shapes -- and even pre-made art -- that you could add to your canvas. Maximum Football has way less to work with here. The thing that stops me from even bothering with the logo creator is that I can't use an existing team's logo as a baseline.

I'd love to be able to take one of the cowboy logos from Columbia or another school to use for my Las Vegas Pioneers in Dynasty mode. Change the colors up a bit, maybe add the words "Las Vegas" (or at least the letters "LV"), and so forth. Just take the existing logo and give it a more personal touch. Nope. Can't. I either have to use the existing logo as is, or make a new one from scratch out of layers of basic geometric shapes. I'm not necessarily expecting to be able to disassemble each existing logo into their constituent parts, but at the very least it would be nice to insert the existing logo as part of a new logo, and maybe change the colors.

The logo editor has rudimentary shapes, and does not allow you to import or edit an existing logo.

These limitations don't mean that you can't make a good logo. Plenty of people with a lot more time and patience have certainly made some good stuff. I just don't care enough to put that much effort into it. Especially if I can't even share it online or expect to be able to export the logo into next year's game.

So I moved on to the play designer, and was almost immediately roadblocked by bugs. I was excited to try out the play designer in this game, but I went in with measured expectations. I was expecting to find a token play editor that was limited to basic football concepts. I didn't even get that far because the damn thing didn't work. I couldn't select different formations for new offensive plays. I couldn't test defensive plays. And I soft-locked the game by trying to back out of a certain menu, then hard-locked the game by trying to change the ruleset and re-enter the play designer.

The Play Designer didn't work as intended at launch, but I committed myself to coming back to it later.

Booting up the game to find nothing but bugs and lackluster new features was absolutely not the first impression that I was hoping to get from Maximum Football 2020. Sadly, this was the condition of the PS4 launch. How this got past Sony's approval process, but Axis Football got held up or blocked for both 2018 and 2019 is beyond me. At least Axis worked!

Working as intended?

To Canuck Play's credit, their developers worked overnight to get a patch out the following day. I was happy to relaunch the game and give it a second chance later that weekend. Canuck continues to release patches to address issues that have been reported, so it's possible that issues that I bring up in this review may have been fixed between writing the review, and whenever you happen to be reading it. This review represents the state of the game about 2 or 3 weeks after its release.

Bugs not withstanding, the improvements this year are, once again, pretty minimal. Many problems that I specifically reported in last year's review and video commentaries have returned this year. Worse yet, I also noticed many new problems that weren't in the game last year! I wasn't expecting a watershed change considering that Canuck's new developers and Unity partnership haven't even had a full year of working together yet. I will be expecting much more from next year's game, now that the new developers will have over a year of experience working in the game's code base, and Unity will be providing a full year of support as well.

Many issues that I reported last year remain un-resolved.

No two-minute drill?

In the meantime, there are still issues with the game clock not working properly in some situations. It stops after every play in Canadian rules, and it runs on all rulesets if a punt goes out of bounds. The play clock also seems to reset after the user team breaks the huddle, which allows the user to run double the time off the play clock if you wish. Most importantly, there is still no accelerated clock of any kind. The game ticks a few seconds off the clock before the play call screen pops up, but the CPU team is still consistently breaking the huddle with 25-plus seconds on the play clock (using a 30-second play clock).

There is still no accelerated clock, and the play clock seems to reset after breaking the huddle.

Just like the last 2 years, the lack of an accelerated clock, along with other clock-management problems drags down the pace of the game such that 15-minute quarters are exceedingly long to play, and result in inflated scores and stats. Despite this, the game still defaults to 15-minute quarters, and many gameplay PSN trophies are locked behind 15-minute quarters (or at least they were at launch. I tested several of them). So Canuck clearly seems to intend for 15-minute quarters to be how the game is played. I appreciate the intent, but you have to design a game clock that actually works and makes the 15-minute quarter setting practical!

Speaking of the game clock, the CPU team has apparently forgotten how to manage the game clock between last year and this year. The CPU team does not call its timeouts to preserve time when trailing late in the quarter. There also is not a no-huddle, hurry-up offense, or onside kicks implemented at all, so the rules are already stacked against any attempt at a late-game comeback as is, without the CPU being completely incompetent. In one case, I saw the CPU team down by 4 points, inside of 3 minutes, make absolutely no effort to use its timeouts to stop me from running out the clock. In another instant, the CPU was down by 2 points, with the ball, near field goal range, when the clock expired with the CPU team still possessing all three of its timeouts. The CPU team will, conversely, attempt to run out the clock if it has the ball with the lead. The CPU used its timeouts last year, but the functionality is apparently broken in this year's release.

The CPU team does not bother calling timeouts to conserve game clock when trailing late in the game.

A patch released on October 9 (a few days before the publication of this review) did address some of the clock-management issues. Canuck reportedly fixed CPU teams not using timeouts, and the play clock resetting after breaking the huddle. Other clock issues remain un-resolved as of the time of this publication.

Special teams still a mess

Another critical rules inaccuracy is that Maximum Football 2020 is considering un-fielded punts to be live balls. This is easily exploited by the human team by simply angling punts low and away from the returner (who is always offset to one side of the field, leaving lots of open space on the other side). Someone from the punting team can reliably beat the returner to the ball, and as long as it stays out of the end zone and in bounds, your guy will fall on it, granting you a free first down (probably in field goal range).

Un-fielded punts are live balls?!

Heck, even the CPU occasionally accidentally stumbles onto exploiting this bug, especially if kicking into a strong cross-wind. And by "strong" cross wind, I mean 3 or 4 miles per hour. Just like in last year's game, a gentle 4 mile an hour breeze is enough to wildly disrupt the kicking game.

Special teams, in general, is once again this year, the most under-developed and bug-riddled part of the game. In addition to punts being live and the game clock ticking after a punt goes out of bounds, the user also has no control of the returner while the ball is in the air. If the ball would land inside of the 10 yard line, I cannot steer the returner away to let it bounce into the endzone for a touchback. This is exaccerbated by the fact that sometimes, the returners just whif the punt and it bounces right past (or through) them. This, of course, is considered a live ball, which is usually recovered by the punting team.

There's still no onside kicks, no return reverses, no fake punts or field goals. There's also no clock-management plays such as spiking the ball or the QB kneel.

On the upside, I've found that it is actually possible to block kicks in this year's game. I have to cheat a little by giving a player a running start before the ball is snapped, but I have blocked a few field goals and extra points at the time of this writing. I've yet to block a punt, but it seems like it would be possible if I could just find the right angle and timing for my running start. Or I could just go offsides and stand right behind the longsnapper, since Maximum 20 doesn't enforce offsides or encroachment penalties on special teams plays.

Did I just block a field goal?

Even my CPU-controlled teammates sometimes get into a position in which they could hypothetically block a kick. Sadly, they don't seem to have any awareness or knowledge that blocking a kick is a thing they can do, since they make no effort to actually go for the block. They don't put their hands up or dive at the kick. If they're lucky, they'll run right in front of the kick, which will act as a block.

Not all bad

It isn't all bad. There are a few improvements. Perhaps the most noticeable improvement is that throwing the ball is generally more responsive, and the QB throw animations have been sped up. The input delay after pressing a "throw to receiver" button is gone. Receivers also make more of an effort to go for the ball in the air, including making an actual attempt to catch deflected passes. Catching and pass defense animations in general look a little bit better; though I still would not say that they look good.

Runners also seem to try a little harder to stay on their feet. They aren't crumpling to the ground when grazing a defender they way they did in previous years. Cutting is still a bit floaty, but generally feels good. Players have a decent sense of weight about them. Except for when they attempt a dive tackle. Diving tackles allow the defender to kind of hover in the air and fly forward in a way that looks awful. The highlight of the running animations, however, is the spin move. The spin animation looks great this year, and it's much more effective than it has been in previous years.

QBs release the ball faster, and players make more of an effort to go for the ball in the air.

I'm still bummed that there aren't any power running moves, such as stiff arms or shoulder trucking.

Defensive play is also cleaned up a bit. Safeties still give up too many deep passes, but I haven't noticed them standing still while streaking receivers run right past them. If a safety gets beat, it's because the receiver had a speed advantage. In fact, now safeties are almost being too cautious. I frequently see A.I.-controlled safeties (on both teams) back-pedaling 20 yards back, even if the offense isn't running any deep routes. They sometimes back-pedal themselves out of the play in this manner, but I guess as long as they're staying between the offense and the end zone they are technically doing their job.

The play-call screen shows safety assignments now.

Oh, and the assignment of the safeties is now shown as a bright green zone bubble in the play-call screen's play art. There's no on-field play art for the safeties, but at least the play-call screen tells me what their assignments are this year. This is a long overdue addition.

Coaching my team

Canuck promised that each team would have its own unique playbook and play-calling tendencies. This is technically true, but doesn't give each team as much of a unique flavor as implied. Even though every team has its own play book, every team starts the game with the same playbook. I also haven't seen anything in the Customization menus that allows me to view or change the play-calling tendencies of a particular team, so I have no idea who is running what style(s) of offense.

I can edit or create plays for a specific team's playbook, but I don't have the time to do this for every team in the league. I've extensively modified my own playbook, and I've added a few extra Flexbone runs to Logan's (e.g. Air Force) playbook to give them a more unique flavor when I play them every year, but that's about it. Who knows if Logan will even bother calling those plays, since the game won't let me delete all the uncharacteristic shotgun and spread formations or plays from their playbook to make them more likely to call runs.

While scanning through multiple teams' playbooks, I also noticed that many plays and concepts from last year's game are missing. On the upside, all of the half-working Canadian concept plays and formations have been removed from the US rules and college playbooks, which is a good thing.

One of my favorite "money plays" from last year was a fullback Toss Crack play from the split-backs formation. This play is gone from my school's playbook, and I haven't seen it in any other school's playbook either. Perhaps it was removed because Canuck considered it "exploitative"? I also haven't found the Whiz Fly play yet, which was another overpowered play from last year that I believe might have been in one of the Canadian playbooks, and as such is gone from the US and college playbooks this year.

Are these supposed to be stunts or contain assignments?

At first, I was annoyed by the lack of these favored plays in my team's playbooks. However, after contemplating, I realized that these missing plays actually gave me a very good reason to go back to trying out the Play Designer.

I can imagine myself easily losing myself completely in a play designer. This one is an acceptable first attempt, but is extremely limited. Bugs and soft-locks aside, the game doesn't explain what any of the commands do. Certain offensive players can be assigned one of several numbered "reads", but the game doesn't bother to explain what these reads are. I think they represent the QB's route progression, but I can easily see other players who are less knowledgeable about football having no clue. Defensive players can be assigned to "attack the ball" at various angles, but the game doesn't explain what each angle represents. There's one angle that goes diagonally to the side, and another that goes diagonally out then cuts straight downfield. Are these intended to represent defensive line stunts? Is one of them supposed to be some kind of outside contain assignment? If so, which one? Having some text descriptions of what the different assignments do would certainly help.

Flexbone is the only formation I've found that allows running with the wingbacks, which are tight ends.

Even if I perfectly understood what each assignment meant, the play designer is still extremely limited. As far as I can tell, I cannot create my own formations (on offense or defense). I can't assign my defenders to show blitz then back off into coverage, nor assign backers to try to get a running start on a blitz (even at the risk of them going offsides). The game does let me assign offensive players to go in motion before the snap, so it seems like it shouldn't be too hard to assign some pre-play defensive motion as well.

Offensive plays are entirely relegated to basic drop-back passes and pitches or hand-offs to running backs. I tried making a jet sweep using a wingback (or "slot back", I guess it's called in Canadian football?), but no luck. I couldn't assign the QB to hand-off or pitch to the motion wingman. He would only hand-off or pitch to the fullback. If you want to run the ball with wing backs, you have to do it from the Flexbone formations. Unfortunately, the wingbacks in these formations seem to be tight ends instead of running backs, and since formation subs are apparently not in the game this year, you can't re-assign your running backs as Flexbone wing backs. Sorry Air Force and Navy, no triple-option for you.

The Play Designer does not support pulling linemen,
even though the Canadian playbook has at least one run with a pulling lineman.

The Play Designer also doesn't support pulling linemen (as of the time of this writing), so you can't even create basic football concepts like counters, traps, power sweeps, or screen passes, which have been a part of football for 100 years. This is especially disappointing because these concepts were added to last year's game, and I know there is at least one play in the Canadian playbooks of this year's game that includes a pulling lineman. And you certainly cannot create trickier plays like reverses, flea-flickers, option plays, run-pass options, or exotic blitzes. There's also no option to create or edit a special teams play, so no fake kicks, reverse returns, hook-and-ladder returns, or anything of that nature either.

Yeah, the limitations of the system are a bit disappointing, but I've still spent hours in the Play Editor creating, testing, and tweaking plays between my Dynasty games. Even if I couldn't create exotic reverses, jet sweeps, or other trick plays, I could at the very least restore some of the plays that I liked in last year's game, but which are apparently missing from this year's game. And heck, while I'm installing a FB Toss Crack play, maybe I'll supplement it with a HB Toss Crack going the opposite direction. Or run a play action off the Toss Crack and take a shot downfield!

... And holy crap ... suddenly here I am actually coaching up my team! Best of all, I don't even have to exit my Dynasty in order to do it, since the Play Designer is accessible from within the Dynasty's "Customize" menu. So I can design and test these plays using my actual Dynasty team's roster and personnel. Between games, I'm finding myself creating new plays or tweaking existing plays based on what I saw in matches and how my existing plays worked in game situations. I even spent a whole Saturday night adding Cover 3 and Zero Blitz concepts to my base 4-3, 3-4, a 4-4, and 4-6 defensive formations. Even though the Play Designer is relatively simple, it still means that if I find that a play is broken and doesn't work in an actual game, I can try to fix it! I might not always be able to fix a play, but damnit I can try!

It even seems possible that other teams in the Dynasty can pick up your successful custom plays and add them to their own playbooks. I've seen my custom "Split Motion FB Counter" be used against me by other teams in Dynasty mode.

I've spent many hours adding plays and concepts to my Dynasty team's playbook.

Dynasty mode shows slow, but steady improvement

Aside from the Play Designer, the Dynasty mode also has a number of improvements. The most noteworthy (for me) is that recruiting seems to be a bit tougher. Prospects will hang up on you sooner, and have less tolerance for the user repeatedly using pitches for which the school has low ratings. I think there might even be a penalty to the prospect's interest in your school if you cause them to hang up on you. Heck, some prospects won't even talk to me if my school isn't good enough. If a prospect is willing to talk, it's still possible to chip away at a prospect's resolve by calling him every week and making the same one or two pitches, so long as you don't make him hang up on you.

Prospects won't talk to you if your school isn't good enough.

I'm still bothered by the fact that the game does not include any pitches that favor lower-tier schools. As I mentioned last year, the Dynasty mode lacks pitches for "early playing time", "play-calling tendencies", "recent upset victories", or any other pitch that might convince a prospect to come to my cupcake school instead of a bigger, better school in a Power 5 conference. I was hoping that "play-calling tendencies" would at least be added this year, due to the addition of the team-specific playbooks and tendencies. No such luck.

I also still have complaints with the "close to home" pitch. At launch, this pitch was completely broken. After a patch, the "close to home" pitch only seems to give "elite" status to schools in the same state as the prospect. Schools in any other state have "low" rating for this pitch. This means there is no benefit at all to recruiting in neighboring states.

The other big improvement (for me) is that the Depth Chart screen has been improved. The U.I. is cleaner overall, and it's easier to directly compare players' ratings. It still isn't perfect, though. The list of players doesn't scroll, so it's impossible to sub certain players into certain positions. For position groups such as kickoff coverage (that has 10 players in starting positions), I can only see the top handful of available players. Those are usually high-rated players who are starters at other positions. So if I want to fill my special teams units with underclassmen reserves to minimize the risk of injury to my starters, I still can't because those low-rated players simply don't show up in the list.

The depth chart is easier to navigate, but is still limited in functionality.

I also wish that the U.I. would list what other positions a given player is starting at, so that I don't have to keep toggling between different position groups to make sure that I don't have the same player starting in too many different positions.

The News Feed in the Dynasty hub could also use improvement. It always defaults to page 1, which is the oldest page of news. There's no "Go to latest news" button, so you have to flick the right stick more than a dozen times to get to this week's news. It really should just start on the latest page of news. It would also be nice if it listed the week number for each item of news so that I know when each event happened.

There's some other small U.I. improvements as well. The recruiting board now shows players that have already committed to a school. I prefer this much more than last year, when the game would just remove the prospect and automatically replace him with another arbitrary prospect. This small bit of extra feedback tells me the position and quality of the prospect that I lost to another school, so I can look for my own replacement that matches one or both of those criteria. I wish that the recruiting board would tell me the 40-yard dash times and other physical attributes of the player. That way, I could prioritize my recruiting time towards speed if I want.

You can even spectate any game in the schedule using the new broadcast camera. This could hypothetically be used as a "film study" tool to scout out an upcoming opponent. It's really not worth the time and trouble, however, since (as I mentioned earlier) the teams and their playbooks still don't feel varied enough. But if Canuck can find away to store play-by-play info for each game, convert that play-by-play data into a watchable highlight reel for the user to watch, and attach that to some kind of scouting report that highlights key players, tendencies, and other information, and then allows the user to customize your own plays to counter those opponent tendencies, then we are really talking true football gaming innovation.

I can "scout" an opponent by spectating any game on the schedule.

The Dynasty mode has also been updated with conference championship games, player transfers, annual awards, and a few other nice bells and whistles. The mode still maintains its addictiveness due to its recruiting, and the Play Designer adds an extra level of expressiveness and customization that gives the user ownership over your Dynasty team. But it's still a far cry from EA's NCAA Football 13 and 14. There's still no coaching carousels, opponent scouting, training camps, position battles, rivalry games, trophies, school pageantry, or other such features.

More support means higher expectations

I can't help but wonder if my negative experiences with the game are the result of playing an inferior PS4 port. I imagine that most of Canuck's development and testing efforts are on the XBox. Maybe players on the XBox are having a more enjoyable experience with a better-optimized version of the game that doesn't suffer from all the bugs and technical issues that I've been experiencing? So if you're an XBox player reading this review, then maybe you should get a second opinion from another XBox player before you decide whether or not to buy.

2020 was the first year that Canuck Play had multiple [full-time] programmers working on the game. I'm sure they had to spend a long time getting those programmers caught up and familiar with the code, so I don't know how much effective work they were actually able to do on the game. As such, I didn't expect a whole lot from this year's version of the game. I expected to see a few improvements and a little bit more polish on the U.I.. And that is more or less what Canuck delivered, except those improvements feel completely overshadowed by a proliferation of bugs and other flaws.

I do feel like 2021 is going to be a bit of a make-or-break year for this game. With a full year of having multiple full-time programmers, the support of a team at Unity, and all the publicity that Canuck is receiving, expectations for Maximum Football 2021 are going to be much higher. There will also be more competition if 2K releases its NFL-licensed game -- even if it is a silly arcade game. The on-field action has to get better in 2021.

Numerous small improvements are completely overshadowed by major problems.

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The Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3 expansionsThe Witcher 3: Wild HuntThe Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
This War of MineThis War of MineThis War of Mine: the Little OnesThis War of Mine: the Little Ones
Tomb Raider (2013)Tomb Raider (2013)Total War: AttilaTotal War: Attila
Total War: Rome IITotal War: Rome IITotal War: Shogun 2Total War: Shogun 2
Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTotal War: Shogun 2: Fall of the SamuraiTrineTrine
Tropico 5Tropico 5Ultimate General: Civil WarUltimate General: Civil War
Uncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake's DeceptionUntil DawnUntil Dawn
What Remains of Edith FinchWhat Remains of Edith Finch 

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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.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

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Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

A Demon's Souls remake? What to keep, what to fix, and what to addA Demon's Souls remake? What to keep, what to fix, and what to add08/18/2017 Rumors of a Demon's Souls remaster or remake have been floating around for a while now (as have rumors of a sequel). I have mixed feeling on the idea of a remake/remaster. On the one hand, Demon's Souls is one of my favorite games ever and may represent the peak of the series. Naturally, I want more people to play it and recognize...

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Tips to help your prehistoric settlement thrive in Dawn of ManTips to help your prehistoric settlement thrive in Dawn of Man08/01/2019 There was a surprise indie hit on Steam a few months back. The prehistoric city-builder / management sim Dawn of Man saw lots of buzz around its release date and sold well beyond the developers' expectations. Did you buy it? Is it on your radar, but you haven't purchased it yet? Have no idea what Dawn of Man is? Well, it's a...

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