Omaha, Omaha, Set HUT!
HIGH Juking a corner out of his cleats on the way to a 37-yard TD.
LOW Watching my human-controlled DT jump offsides for the 9th time because of a glitch.
WTF Why are my blockers rushing downfield to catch a punt?
I enjoy football, but watching NFL games is problematic for me for a number of reasons. I also don’t like feeding the Madden maw, and I love the idea of taking a team of fictional nobodies and turning them into gridiron legends. All of those things make me love Axis Football 2019 from Axis Games.
Unfortunately, this love comes at a steep cost — frustrations abound, the presentation is lacking, the controls are sometimes glitchy, and the AI is… odd. But, despite its many, many foibles, I can’t help but keep coming back to it for my PC football fix.
On the field, Axis Football 2019 should feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever played a Madden or similar. By first selecting a play based on formation (or using the “Ask Mike” feature to pick one) and then controlling players directly, one has complete control over the action.
When running, the back has the ability to juke, spin, or dive, while the QB has several options for how the ball can be thrown. Players can choose standard icon passing, or use the “Aimed” passing where the right stick controls the direction of the throw while the length of the button press determines the velocity, allowing the QB to toss quick bullet strikes or lead a receiver with a high pass.
On defense, the selected player has access to power and finesse moves to shake blockers. All players have access to a limited speed burst, perfect for gaining a quick step or two on opponents.
Overall, Axis plays a pretty decent brand of football. Finding a way to sneak an RB through the defensive line via a well-timed block is challenging, as is being able to cycle through check downs in order to spot a receiver who may just have slipped past the coverage. I like the realism of the Aimed passing, but I often find myself unable to get a pass off before being smoked by a DB.
Defense is more of a mixed bag. Switching to the closest defender to the ball is easy enough and my run defense is usually stifling, but pass coverage seems to elude me. While I often have trouble locating an open receiver when I’m on offense, the AI seems to carve me up regularly. All in all, though, I find the outcomes fairly realistic, and games at the Pro level are competitive.
Unfortunately, like recent Eagles receivers, AF2019 makes a fair number of missteps. For example, the opposing team will often decline penalties that would have been beneficial for them to accept, especially on short yardage offsides calls that would give them the automatic first down. Then again, the AI may be taking pity on me as I frequently encounter a glitch where I lose control of my defensive lineman who decides to run randomly around the field, blithely crossing the line of scrimmage.
Tackling occasionally runs afoul of the rules of physics and players worm their way out of obvious hits, while some defenders seem to merely need to be in the vicinity of the ballcarrier to bring him down. Some hits seem absolutely brutal and realistic, while some players ragdoll and spasm hilariously after even minor hits. The ball itself seems to be provided by Tom Brady as it joyfully rolls or bounces to the other end zone after a drop or incompletion.
I’ve also seen blockers race downfield to step in front of their own kickoff/punt returners and then slowly lumber back the other way, and every interception is stopped almost immediately by the receiver who failed to reel in the pass. No pick-sixes here. No fair catches, either. It’s odd, because the game on the gridiron can be irritating, but it’s also oddly entertaining.
Axis Football 2019 offers an extremely robust Franchise mode. Players have the ability to hire 16 different coaches and scouts and these staff members can gain bonuses that aid the team on the field, so it’s important to hire and keep talented people in the front office.
Between games, I can set on-field practice intensity, build and maintain my facilities which will improve team morale, scout colleges for future drafts, and watch the trade and free agent market to see if I can acquire more talent. The game does a good job of letting me know my team’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas of need, although it severely limits the amount of scouting I can do in each region of the country by only allowing me 3 points, meaning I can only scout three players, or one multiple times.
Each scouting point improves the accuracy of the report generated for each player, so it’s vital to guess correctly when determining what players to watch. During the off-season, I need to re-sign players and coaches, and conduct my draft. AF2019 allows me to automatically attempt to re-up contracts but all drafting has to be done manually, which can sometimes become tedious, especially in later rounds. Also, I wish the randomization of player names was a bit better, as I once drafted a younger version of my starting kicker as well as a few other position players.
Interestingly, Axis forgoes the standard NFL-league format for an approach more similar to English football. There are three tiers of teams, each with their own standings and championship. Winners of the 2nd and 3rd tier trophies get to play the lowest ranking team in the tier above. The winner is promoted and the loser is regulated. I like this system, even though it makes accurately modding an NFL season impossible, should I want to do so. However, the game does keep fairly detailed season stats, providing power rankings, and an eye on each league’s players of the week. I wish career stats were tracked, though, as it would be cool to watch players progress, eventually retiring and potentially being elected to a hall of fame of some kind.
Like the Patriots in 2007, Axis Football 2019 isn’t perfect, but I enjoy it for what it is. So long as prospective players bring a lot of patience, the on-the-field play and deep franchise mode should keep them coming back for more. Second tier championship, here I come!
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Axis Games. It is currently available on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed, although I did finish four franchise seasons. The only multiplayer mode is local co-op, which I was unable to try (my kids are not football fans).
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. No content descriptors were provided by the ESRB. This game is a simulation of American Professional Football. Players tackle and hit one another during each play. Players are injured during the course of games, but the injuries are not depicted graphically. Commentary alludes to occasional consumption of alcohol. If parents allow children to watch the NFL on television, they’re going to have no issues with this title.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No play-by-play commentary or game analysis is available to players via text. While the play-by-play and sideline reporting are not critical to success on the field, the lack of these features lessens the “big game” atmosphere the game tries to emulate. There are no options to change fonts, and no subtitles are available. This game is not fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable. The game allows players to choose between three different passing modes. The first is “icon” passing similar to Madden titles where each eligible receiver is highlighted by a corresponding face or shoulder button. Pressing the corresponding button throws to that receiver. Aimed passing allows the player to manually direct where a pass will be thrown using the right stick. Pressing the right bumper throws a lob pass while holding the button down throws a bullet pass. Pressing the right stick throws the ball away. There is an option for “Stick Push” passing, but I am unclear as to what this does. It is not explained, and pushing/clicking the thumb sticks seems to have no effect.