Moving Up In The Standings

HIGH Improved game flow. Crazy-deep franchise mode.

LOW Blocking is still weird.

WTF why is my LB spasming like that after a hit?

I enjoyed Axis Football 2019 a great deal last year, even as I lamented its shortcomings.  For this year’s release, I was looking for an improved on-the-field experience coupled with refinements to the already impressive franchise mode.  I am pleased to report that, by and large, Axis Football 2020 improves on its predecessor with a number of welcome new additions. It’s s an impressive display of growth in a year, but there are still a number of rough patches that need to be addressed before the game can truly be considered great.

The most notable improvements on the field take the form of new animations and beefier AI that provides a greater challenge, even on the easier difficulty settings. 

Computer-controlled running backs make far greater use of jukes and dizzying spins to throw tacklers off and pound out just a few more yards per carry. 

Receivers have some pretty new catch animations which allow them to snag passes on the run while gobbling up real estate, especially when they’re able to shake loose from coverage. 

Long bomb passes are a more viable strategy this year as players now run far more intelligent routes and offensive linemen struggle to maintain the pocket for as long as possible, giving the QB just enough time to check through his progressions or take off and run if the situation warrants. 

On defense, linemen are able to get more involved with plays by breaking loose from blockers and getting a hand on errant runners or receivers. 

I was also pleased to see multiple defensive backs working together to bring down ball carriers, and I was in awe at how quickly a determined linebacker could shred through an O-line to ruin a quarterback’s day with a truly devastating hit. 

Penalties happen at a much more believable and realistic rate in Axis 2020, and I actually need to apologize to the team for a comment I made last year about linemen constantly jumping offsides —  it turns out I had issues with my controller in both this year’s and last year’s version, and a swap to a new wireless Xbox One controller made all the difference!

Things are still far from perfect on the field, however. While line play is (generally) greatly improved, there are still too many times where the opposing teams seem to simply snap into contact like magnets, rather than engaging with their opposite numbers in a more organic fashion. 

Linebackers in coverage seem to forget there’s a play going on and simply run back and forth without realizing that a runner has passed the line of scrimmage and is heading up field unhindered. 

There are also still a number of laughable animation glitches, like players bouncing off of one another like pinballs after a monster hit or ragdolling into physically impossible forms.  There are new crowd animations that provide a better atmosphere, but stadiums still look sparse and referees and various sideline dwellers stand rock-still even as plays unfold around them. 

Other quality-of-life improvements need to be made with play-by-play and sideline reporting.  Too often entire conversations are repeated, especially during pre-game festivities.  Additionally, blatantly incorrect play-by-play calls are frequent, such as describing incomplete passes as out-of-bounds runs and the sideline reporter talking about how disappointed my coach is with my offense when I have a 21-point lead.

Off the field, Axis 2020 continues to shine.  It’s incredibly satisfying to take a third-tier team without prospects and turn them into a contender simply by scouting and drafting well. 

Scouts now have many more opportunities to evaluate players in 2020, and General Managers have the ability to scour free agent pools and make offers. 

Various position coaches provide boosts to their teams based on experience and ability, and purchasing facility improvements (like better workout centers and improved training equipment) can help players recover from (or prevent) injuries. 

Contract negotiations for returning players are quick and painless, and a handy “Resign All” feature allows players to efficiently shore up any roster holes if one doesn’t feel like haggling with individual team members.  Interestingly, it’s also possible to run a team at a loss for at least a season, although it severely limits any future moves.

The revamped year-end draft is fantastic.  It’s now presented more like an ESPN broadcast, although there’s a welcome ability to skip immediately to my own picks rather than waiting to see what everyone else does.  Information is also much easier to parse, and I was able to quickly determine my team’s remaining areas of need while snagging some of the talent I’d had my scouts keeping an eye on. 

Grading yearly releases is tricky.  Axis Footbal 2020 has made some great strides compared to last year’s title, and it’s much easier to recommend this year’s installment.  The franchise mode is just about perfect and should only require minor tinkering in order to keep fans happy, but the on-field play and presentation definitely need to be addressed if this series is going to ever be considered a contender to the Madden throne. 

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Axis Games.  It is currently available on PC and XBO.  This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC.  Approximately 13 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and several in-gameseasons were completed.  I did not have the ability to test the local 2-player coach mode as my family members still aren’t football fans.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E.  This is a realistic football simulation, with all of the tackling and hitting that is a standard part of the game.  Injuries are described (not in any type of gory detail) and not shown.  Commentary does refer to the potential of drunken fans in attendance and the word Hell occurs in one opening menu song.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers:  The game is playable without sound, but audio cues including crowd noise and in game commentary have no subtitles, which severely impacts the feel of the title.  Additionally, without being able to hear a snap count from the opposing quarterback, a human player on defense is at a slight disadvantage when attempting to get a jump on the offensive line.  This game is NOT fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

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