One of the most disappointing titles of 2005 was AFL Premiership 2005 - a game was made all the more upsetting because of all the promised inclusions that never made it into the final game. Sony picked up the publishing rights to the game and Xbox owners were left in the dark for a few months, though it didn't taken AFL long to find a publisher in THQ - but is the game that much different from the rushed buggy Playstation 2 version released only three months ago?
Unfortunately, three months doesn't appear to have actually done much to the game at all. The Xbox version is missing the bonus DVD that the Playstation 2 version had and there is no Eyetoy support for scanning your player's face in. The Xbox version does benefit from a late release though, as all the changes from the AFL draft have been implemented into the game, so the people who complained about the stats being out of date will be pleased. The overall team score hasn't been updated though; which means that Collingwood is still the number one ranked team, with a score of 67/100.
In terms of options the game features three main gameplay options from the main menu. Players can choose from exhibition, season and multiplayer. The exhibition mode is for a quick game of footy and the season mode allows you to play through the pre season wizard cup right through to finals series. There are actually a few omissions from the game, such as the mini ball games, which were often a little bit of a fun distraction, which have been completely removed.
Online play is a new addition to the series and Xbox Live support has been included. We jumped online and there were a few people online, but not as many as we'd hoped for. There were no problems with the network coding and setting up a match is quick and painless; although some more statistics about each gamer would have been a good addition. Offline multiplayer is also possible, and the game is fun in multiplayer as both player's are disadvantaged by the game's shortcomings.
When the new AFL game was first announced, it was proclaimed that the game would feature an entirely new game engine, which was a long overdue addition. So, when we launched into an exhibition match and realised the game engine hasn't been "fully upgraded", we were completely disappointed. Aside from a few minor differences, all that has really changed is that the camera has been set back a bit, and this is what is being touted as an all new game engine. Unfortunately, the animations are just as repetitive as before, and the controls are just as confusing. Those who want to jump into a game and work the controls out as they go may want to rethink this, as the pause menu doesn't even outline the controls.
Whilst we appreciate that IR Gurus have included some new features in the title, they just don't feel fleshed out enough. For example, with the Brownlow medal, the player's votes are not shown at the end of a match, which can mean that you have no idea who is actually recieving the votes. The trading is also far too simplistic, and it is also too easy to get any player from any team - there needs to be some challenge, as it is far too easy to create the "dream team", which makes the title even less challenging.
The difficulty level in the AFL titles has always been set to "extremely easy" and this game is no different. After playing the title for fifteen minutes we were annihalating the AI, and the game is made even easier by the fact that the AI make some bizarre decisions in the field of play. Most players will be forced to choose the hard option, just to get a decent challenge.
The artificial intelligence is just as lacking as in the game's predecessors. They make some silly moves, and they make decisions that simply defy logical, and take away from the overall realism of the game - such as passing when only metres out from the goal. Individual statistics were always a highlight of the previous titles, and IR Gurus have basically removed them from this incarnation. A pop-up box comes up when a player has the ball, and outlines their statistics, but their is no way to actually look at their statistics after a game. Team statistics can be viewed from the menu at any time during the match.
Graphically, the game looks remarkably similar to the previous incarnations, the character models are blocky and the crowds in the stadiums just look like cardboard cut-outs. Players are very difficult to recognise and their animations are very repetitive, overall the game just doesn't flow as well as it should. Despite the poor quality character models, the frame-rate can often drop as well when the action becomes a little intensive. The Xbox version has recieved a minor upgrade graphically and the players look a little better; but not significantly.
A new commentary team has been adopted for this incarnation, which features Dermott Brereton and Dennis Cometti. Unfortunately the commentary is rather stale and we get comments like "The leading team is (pause) Sydney" The commentary becomes very repetitive and at one stage Dennis Cometti asks Dermott if he has a comment, and he says no, which just seems like filler material. Aside from this, the crowd seems like it is sitting at a drive-in and listening to a movie, rather than being at a football match.
Aside from the season mode and the multiplayer options, there isn't much to keep gamers coming back to this game. If you're a big AFL fan and can forgive the bugs and other poor development decisions that were made with the game then you may find some joy in it, but no more than in previous titles. The season mode is over fairly quickly, and there are no real bonuses that make it worth playing through again. The novelty of playing through during the AFL season is lost, because the season is over.
The Xbox version of the game is actually worse than the Playstation 2 version, IR Gurus had another three months development time, and in that time they have only changed the player rosters, which is simply not good enough. The game doesn't come with a bonus DVD, nor does the game feature Eyetoy support. If you're a fan of AFL then you're best off waiting for a better version of the game to come out, or even going back to AFL '98 on the PC, simply because the game doesn't feel like such a punch in the face for AFL fans.