Axis Football 21 - title

Axis Football is still a tough game to review. It's a very playable game that I support and recommend, but without Maximum Football to make Axis look better by comparison, it's a lot harder to overlook Axis' flaws, limitations, and lack of large-scale improvement. There's forward progress and noticeable changes, but still so many long-standing issues. The slow rate of progress is much more forgiveable than Madden, however, because the developers at Axis Games do not have access to hundreds of programmers and animators, or billions of dollars in cash. Progress is slow and steady, and that's pretty much all we can ask for given the company's limited resources.

If you're looking for a remarkably different game, then you'll be disappointed. Axis 21 feels largely identical to Axis 20, which felt largely identical to Axis 19 If you like Axis Football and are OK spending $30 to play more of it, then you'll get your money's worth.

Axis Football 2021 still looks and feels very similar to previous years.

Customization is the focus in 2021

The primary focus of development for Axis 21 seems to have been in its customization options. Previous iterations offered only limited options for customizing teams and uniforms, but Axis 21 has a much more extensive customization suite. Team uniforms and logos can be edited, and whole new uniforms can be created. Team playbooks and play-calling tendencies can be edited. Even the field is customizable.

About the only things that are missing from this customization suite are the ability to create or modify stadiums, and a playbook editor. Maybe we'll see those next year.

The customization suite is much more extensive this year.

This more advanced customization suite should hopefully draw in some of the crowd that got left in the dust when Maximum Football was canceled. If you're a fan of customizing teams and uniforms, and you haven't played Axis Football before, then 2021 might be the year to hop on the Axis Football bandwagon.

Another nice inclusion in this year's customization suite is the ability to update team rosters, which means I could modify my roster to match my roster from several seasons into Axis 20's Franchise Mode, instead of having to start over with the same initial roster that I've been using since 2018. It's a lot of work though to modify every player on my team (let alone the entire league), and I opted instead to just randomize my roster and go from there. Randomizing the roster is, I think, also a new feature in this year's game. I wish Axis would include the ability to import last year's Franchise rosters so that I can have a sense of continuity and progress between releases, without all the tedious busy-work on my end. Being able to import team customizations from year-to-year would also help reduce the prep work required by the user, and allow us to get right into enjoying the game.

Using the roster editor, I can re-create my team from last year, but it's a lot of busy-work.
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My expectations for the Chicago Bears' 2018 season was quite reserved after the team's decent preseason performances. The starters saw very little play time, so I didn't really know what to expect. My expectations rose a little bit after the Bears swindled Khalil Mack from the Raiders. At least the defense would probably be pretty good. I wasn't expecting the defense to be this good, however!

Khalil Mach has absolutely dominated in these early season games, recording at least one sack and a forced fumble in each of the first four games (as well as some fumble recoveries and an interception returned for a touchdown). This dominance wasn't quite enough to stop Aaron Rodgers from limping his way to a 20-point comeback victory in the second half. Rodgers left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury, but came back later after backup Deshaun Kizer proved to be completely ineffective.

Khalil Mack has been absolutely dominant, and is on pace to earn every penny of his contract!

Rodgers was clearly in pain, as he was forced to stand and hobble in the pocket, unable to put much weight on that injured leg. Yet the Bears didn't manage to get to him at all in the second half.

Put quite frankly, and bluntly, I am dumbfounded that Rodgers' career isn't over. That might sound heartless, but Rodgers did not need to come back into that game. He should not have come back in that condition. His coaches and trainers should not have let him, and the league should not have let him (considering all their BS talk about "player safety"). If he had suffered further injury (possibly season or career-ending), that would be entirely on him and the coaching / training staff!

Now I don't know if coach Nagy and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio dialed back the pressure (which it looked to me like they did), or if Rodgers' offensive line simply laid it all on the line to protect him (in which case, they all deserve awards!), but I would have been sending everything and the kitchen sink after Rodgers during that second half. I'd have been blitzing 6, 7, or even 8 guys every single play. No mercy. If Rodgers wanted to put himself at risk by coming back into the game with that injured leg (again, barely even able to stand on his own leg, let alone run on it), then I would have made him suffer for it.

If the NFL really cares about "player safety", then why did they not intervene
when the Packers put Aaron Rodgers back into the game?

I don't want to see anybody get hurt, but Rodgers was asking for it. Again, considering it's hard-line positions on player safety, I am absolutely amazed that the NFL allowed the Packers to play Rodgers, and that they didn't fine the Packers or Rodgers for that reckless behavior. This just goes to show how the NFL isn't really concerned with player safety, only with the bottom line, and Rodgers leading an epic come-back victory while hobbling around on one leg certainly made for prime viewing, and made that game into an all-time classic. The NFL will penalize and fine defenders for doing their jobs, but you'll let a cripple walk onto the field and put himself at risk? Shame on you, NFL!

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Madden NFL - title

I recently wrote regarding a proposal for improving practice squad and training features by hiding player ratings until the player has played enough games to reveal them. Of course, there's still a lot of other aspects of the game that I'd like to see improved. I was pleased that this year's Madden 17 implemented some items from my wishlist from last year. There's still a lot from last year's wishlist that I'd like to see implemented in some fashion. Playing Madden 17 has also raised new ideas for improvement.

Let's start out by going over some of the things that are left over from last year's wishlist:

Loose ball A.I. was a point on my wishlist last year, but it wasn't addressed, as evidenced by this clip.

Now, admittedly, a lot of the following suggestions are going to be based on my own subjective experiences with the game. And these opinions come from someone who is almost exclusively a single-user Franchise player. My priorities are going to be far different from the desires of MUT players or even online franchise players.

I'm also not going to bother (right now) with the obvious problems: rubberband AI that creates obnoxiously artificial "momentum swings", the broken man coverage, robo QBs, the complete unwillingness of my linemen to block at the point of attack on run plays, or the down-tuning of new features (such as throw out of sack, aggressive catch, and defensive line moves) to the point of irrelevance, and so on. Instead, I'm going to try to focus on less-obvious mechanics that interact with these problems and which have forced EA to make the [bad] decisions that they've made.

Better run-pass balance and longer games

The general design of Madden isn't very run-friendly. The fact that the game is balanced and tuned for quick, 6-minute quarter, pick-up-and-play online matches (instead of full 15-minute quarter games) means that grinding it out on the ground to establish the run is futile. Trying to run the ball in a 6-minute quarter game (with accelerated clock turned ON, which is the default) can rapidly burn through time. I regularly eat up an entire quarter and a half in a single drive when I commit to the running game in such matches, and that is just unrealistic. This forces both players and the CPU to depend on the passing game to score before a half expires. In my opinion, this is a fundamental design flaw of Madden, and the game will never be truly great as long as 6-minute quarters is the focus of design.

Madden 17 - low rushing yardage
Madden's fundamental design is not very run-friendly.

But fundamental design flaws aside, my experience with Madden 16 and 17 has been that the CPU is completely inept at running the ball. Even when the blocking is solid, the CPU-controlled back can rarely identify and hit the hole, and usually runs right into a waiting defender or one of his own blockers. CPU backs are even worse at running to the outside, as they'll often run backwards in a futile attempt to get to the edge, instead of just cutting upfield for whatever yardage they can get. This often leads to large losses of yardage, backs up the CPU, and contributes towards the CPU's over-reliance on passing the ball. I usually play with the CPU Run Blocking A.I. slider up between 80 or 100, and yet CPU running backs still routinely finish games with stats along the lines of 15 rushes for 20 total yards. Pathetic. If a CPU runner does have a successful game, it's usually because they broke one or two long runs due to a missed tackle, and 90% of their yardage total comes from one or two plays. Also pathetic. Seriously, I have rage-quit an hour into games because of the CPU's ineptitude.

CPU Doug Martin runs right into his pulling guard [LEFT] instead of going inside like the trap play is designed.
CPU Doug Martin has a huge hole with only a single cornerback to beat [RIGHT], but cuts into traffic instead.

I also have a lot of trouble running the ball myself with my own Run Blocking A.I. slider set to anything below 60 or so...

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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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