Madden NFL 22 - title

I knew it was a bad sign when the "tutorial" demo game for Madden 22 did not explain or tutorialize any new gameplay features at all. The reason is probably because there aren't any new gameplay features in Madden 22 -- at least not for the current-gen systems. If you want the advertised "home-field advantage" and momentum features, you need a PS5 or XBox Series X|S. Apparently, EA said this would be the case, but since I didn't pay too much attention to pre-release news, I wasn't aware of this fact when I bought my used copy of Madden 22 off of eBay a couple weeks after the game released. I remember reading that the "momentum" feature would not be in last-gen versions, but I thought that was a different feature from the Home-Field Advantage. I guess not. I still don't have a new console, so I'm stuck playing the inferior last-gen game.

I honestly don't see any technical reason why home-field advantage and momentum couldn't be included in the last-gen versions. It doesn't seem like it would be a technically demanding thing to include. I would be willing to bet that, since people complained about last year's next-gen game being identical to the last-gen versions, EA decided to just withhold features from last-gen this year in order to make the next-gen look like a legit improvement.

The heavily-promoted Home-Field Advantage feature was withheld from the last-gen versions,
even though I see no technical reason for why it couldn't have been included.

What EA failed to realize is that the complaint wasn't really that the next-gen games wasn't different from last-gen; the complaint was that EA wasn't doing anything with the hardware that they couldn't do in last-gen. Simply withholding features from last-gen that are perfectly possible to include from a technical standpoint does nothing to address the fundamental complaint that the next-gen game does not feel "next-gen" in any substantive way.

Personally, I actually thought that last year's next-gen version did have noticeably better player movement and overall game pacing in the one match that I was able to play on a friend's PS5. The higher framerate and more precise movement gave me a much greater sense of control. The improvement was most noticeable on inside running plays, in which I found it much easier to squeeze into the gaps for positive yards, instead of just ramming into the asses of my blockers, or right into backside pursuit. The problem was that the animation system and A.I. looked identical to last-gen, even if some of the physics and locomotion were better.

Frustratingly, many users seemed to complain about last year's next-gen version feeling "too slow", so I wouldn't be surprised if all of those subtle improvements were stripped out from this year's next-gen version. I guess I'll find out if / when I get a chance to play this year's next-gen version. If I do get to play the next-gen version, and notice that it does feel substantively different in any way, I'll be sure to update this review, or post an additional review of the next-gen version. So be sure to check back for that...

#FixMaddenFranchise movement finally forced token upgrades

Thankfully, the new Franchise features at least made it into the last-gen version; otherwise, there would be absolutely nothing new in the game at all. EA finally did make additions to Franchise, but the effort feels limp, and it came at the cost of removing some of my favorite features from this past generation of Madden Franchise modes.

Axis Football has been offering full coaching staffs (including position coaches) for years now.

Adding offensive and defensive coordinators has long been considered to be the bare minimum that EA could (and should) do to improve Madden's Franchise mode. We only get a head coach, offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, and some abstract "personnel" manager. If you were expecting a full slate of position coaches, as has been offered in Axis Football for the past few years, then you'll be disappointed. There's not even a special teams coordinator. Let alone a team doctor / medical staff or talent scouts (at least not when the game released).

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Chicago Bears alt logo

The Chicago Bears really hit it out of the park with the 2021 draft. What's funny is that this draft mirrors the Bears' dumbfounding 2017 draft, but with an almost polar opposite outlook. In 2017, the Bears infamously traded up one spot to take Mitch Trubisky with the number 2 overall pick. At the time, Bears fans and sports pundits were scratching their heads wondering what the heck Ryan Pace was thinking, as Trubisky wasn't even projected to be the best QB in the draft, let alone the second best player overall. With the gift of hindsight, the Bears' pick looks even worse considering that both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were both available, and neither was drafted in the top 10. Other notable players from that draft whom the Bears passed on drafting include Jamal Adams (pick 6 to the Jets), Christian McCaffery (pick 8 to the Panthers), Marshon Lattimore (pick 11 to the Sants), and Evan Engram (pick 23 to the Giants).

Photo by Chicago Bears
The Bears got a steal at the 11th overall pick in quarterback Justin Fields from Ohio State.

The Bears once again traded up to select a QB in the first round. Many analysts listed Justin Fields as the 3rd best QB in the draft, but also acknowledged that the top 3 positions were close to being a toss-up. Fields could easily have been the third overall pick to the 49ers, but San Francisco opted to take Trey Lance instead. This meant that Fields was still available at pick 11, after both the Broncos and Eagles passed on selecting him. The Bears traded up with the Giants to select Fields 11th overall. Like I said, the situation resembles the 2017 draft, except instead of trading up one space to reach for a QB who everyone expected would be available much later, the Bears patiently waited to steal a top talent who had slipped to a later pick. Sure the Bears gave up their first-round pick for next year's draft, but they got a much better value from it this time around.

The Bears had a similar opportunity in the second round, trading up with the Panthers to take offensive tackle Teven Jenkins with the 7th pick of the second round. Jenkins was projected to be a first-round talent, but slipped to the second round. Once again, the Bears got excellent value for their pick. Fields may sit behind Nick Foles and/or Andy Dalton for a period of time, but Jenkins will likely be a started in week 1 (especially since the Bears promptly cut veteran tackle Charles Leno Jr. after drafting Jenkins). And even if Fields does sit behind one of the veterans, I fully expect that he'll be starting by the end of the season.

Not only are both Fields and Jenkins excellent picks in their own right (and excellent value), but they also compliment each other well: an elite passer and an elite pass protector. The fact that both slipped to later picks (or rounds) will also potentially mean that both will be playing with a chip on their shoulders.

Photo by Brett Deering, Getty Images
Fields can likely feel safe with offensive tackle Teven Jenkins blocking his blind side.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2020 11:20 AM

Is Chicago's Nick Foles experiment over?

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan
Chicago Bears alt logo

When I wrote earlier this year about the Bears benching Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles, I said that I was surprised that Trubisky had been named the pre-season starter, that I expected Foles would eventually have the starting job, and that I was still surprised that Trubisky was suddenly benched in the middle of the week 3 game against the Falcons. It all seemed so indecisive. Trubisky had supposedly earned the job in training camp, was playing well, had lead a comeback victory in week 1 against the Lions, but was benched after a single mistake.

From my position as an un-informed spectator, the whole thing made no sense.

Then Foles came in and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard either. Foles lead the team to 2 victories, and it almost looked like the decision to change quarterbacks wouldn't hurt the team. Then the Bears' offense started playing far worse with Foles as starting quarterback, dropping the next six games straight. Granted, most of those 6 losses were against solid good offenses, such as the Saints, Packers, and Titans, and the Bears struggled to keep up. But Foles just wasn't looking good, and he wasn't helped by a stagnant run game while Tarik Cohen has been sidelined with injury. By the time of the week 10 matchup against the Vikings, I was starting to expect that a switch back to Trubisky probably should happen.

Mitch Trubisky has re-taken the starting job from Nick Foles. But was it too late to save the season?

That switch waited a few more weeks until the week 12 game against the Lions. The Bears still lost that game with Trubisky playing, but the offense did put up 30 points. The offense has also gone on to score more than 30 points in the Bears' 2 wins since, including a victory over the Vikings this past weekend that moved the Bears up to the top slot for playoff runner-up. The Bears are now 1 game behind the 7-seed Cardinals with 2 games left to play. They're also 2 games behind the Buccaneers and Rams, but only have a tie-breaker with the Buccaneers. Their victory against the Vikings puts them 1 game ahead of the Vikings (who are the only remaining team eligible for a wildcard berth). The Bears basically need to win both their remaining games (including a week 17 rematch against a Packers team that embarassed the Bears at the end of November), and then also hope that the Buccaneers, and/or Cardinals lose their last 2 games.

The most likely path to a playoff birth is if the Cardinals lose both their remaining games, and the Bears win both. That would give the Bears a 1-game lead over the Cardinals. The Cardinals' remaining games are a home matchup against the 49ers (coming off an upset loss to the Cowboys) and a road game against the Rams. Both are tough matchups for the cardinals, but very winnable ones. The 49ers also have nothing left to play for except pride and the satisfaction of maybe playing spoiler to a division rival.

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Axis Football 20- title

Compared to messy launch of Maximum Football 2020, the release of Axis Football 2020 went pretty smoothly. Maximum launched with some signs of regression from its 2019 iteration. Canuck Play has since patched out most of those bugs and issues, but those weeks spent fixing bugs that shouldn't have been in the game to begin with, are weeks that weren't spent improving the game in other areas. Axis 2020, on the other hand, is a small, but noticeable, upgrade to its 2019 counterpart.

This tweet may have oversold 2020 a bit.

Not the overhaul I expected

I may have set my expectations a little high with Axis 2020. Axis Games had posted to Twitter that they planned to completely redesign their locomotion and tackling system. I got my hopes up for something more robust and realistic. The end result still shows some steady progress, but it isn't the complete overhaul that I was expecting and hoping for.

I don't want to discourage Axis from tweeting promises of gameplay improvements. I really like having the transparency of knowing what the developers are working on, and I also understand that it can be easy to over-promise sometimes. I work as a software engineer. I know how it goes. That being said, I really don't feel like 2020 constitutes a "complete rebuild from the ground up", and the tweet in question definitely oversold 2020 by a lot, in my opinion. I don't know what was done under the hood. Maybe they did make extensive changes. It just doesn't feel all that different.

Movement hasn't been completely overhauled,
but there are some new animations.

There was some noticeable work done to animations and player movement. Tackles do look a lot cleaner most of the time. There are also a few new animations, such as animations of players bending over to pick the ball up off the ground on fumbles or un-fielded kicks. But that's about it. I would have liked to see more animations of players falling on a lose ball, especially the less athletic linemen. Other than that, most of the player movement, ball-carrier evasive moves, catching animations, blocking animations, and so forth look pretty much identical to last year (and the year before).

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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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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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