A Fresh Set of Downs

HIGH Much more solid on-field experience; better realism, improved animations

LOW Presentation is still lacking, some minor annoyances and glitches.

WTF Why would fans want to sit BEHIND the video screens in Carolina’s stadium?


Last season, I had my concerns about the direction of the Axis Football franchise. I was becoming frustrated with foibles on the field such as strange AI decisions and lack of information about why my receivers were failing to catch the ball, so it wasn’t without trepidation that I booted up Axis Football 2023. Imagine my delight when my first thought after just a few drives on both offense and defense was “Man, this has gotten so much better!”

While still not flawless by any means, the new physics engine and myriad animation improvements has breathed new life into this series, and may even pick up a few dissatisfied converts from that ‘other’ title.

The first element that jumped out at me while playing this year’s version of Axis was the new momentum-based physics system. A running back is able to surge ahead for a few extra yards after an initial hit by bouncing off a would-be tackler. A receiver or quarterback might be able to squirm out of a linebacker’s grip to break free for a big gain. To compensate for this, several defenders may be needed to bring down a particularly strong or elusive ballcarrier.

Coupled with numerous new tackling animations, this improved physics engine adds tremendously to the suspension of disbelief. Realistic holes open up in the defensive line based on skilled blocking, allowing enough of a window for the RB to slip through, or setting up a crucial block that allows a receiver to scamper in for the score.

The ground game isn’t the only thing showing improvements. Hundreds of new throw and catch animations spice up the passing game tremendously. Not only are these animations aesthetically pleasing, but they provide the player feedback previously missing in this title. I know have a much better understanding why a receiver failed to snag the dump over the middle, as I can see the ball go through his hands as he tries to make a desperate waist-level grab while being pursued. I can also see the opponent’s secondary get a hand in the path of an otherwise on-target ball. My air attack is still trash, but I know now that’s because the Philadelphia Express have a sub-par QB and some rickety receivers. To counter this, I’ve had to alter my game plan, running short-yardage strikes and relying more on my moderately agile running back to pick up yards, at least until I’m able to acquire some more impressive talent via free-agency or next season’s draft.

Defensively, improvements have been made to fumble recovery and interceptions. Axis now allows turnovers to be recovered for serious yardage, as opposed to previous iterations where the defender was invariably brought down immediately upon recovering a loose ball or picking off a pass. Special teams have improved as well, meaning a kick/punt return can be broken open for big gains or a score far more often than in the past. It may even be too often right now, as I’ve been able on occasion to score 1-2 touchdowns per game via a kickoff return.

Unfortunately, the AI still makes some questionable decisions. I’ve seen receivers run the incorrect route, completely throwing off (pun intended) the pass I was about to hurl. Linebackers still occasionally stand completely still, allowing a play to unfold around them. Players no longer ragdoll across the field after a big hit, but all field goals and/or punts that float across the end zone simply roll through the wall of the stadium, vanishing into the football ether. I believe this to be the home of the “football gods” that determine the outcome of so many campaigns.

Off the field, Axis Football 2023 still offers the most compelling franchise mode available. Players once again have full control of every aspect of team management from sending scouts to check out prospects across the nation, to purchasing a pool for the practice facility to help players recover from injuries. The game offers the usual trades and drafts to hopefully help a team bring fresh talent in to replace low performers (see QB – Philadelphia Express), shore up an injury-depleted roster, or try to fill the glaring hole when a celebrated veteran hangs up the cleats for the last time. I still struggle with drafting and scouting, though I’m beginning to suspect that’s a me problem. Axis tells me what my current needs and who the best possible players available are, but I never seem to be able to find true stars to help me in my rebuilding.

Despite all of these improvements, there are still some glaring issues with Axis Football 2023 that keep it from true greatness. Glitches and bugs still crop up (like suddenly awarding my opponent a safety immediately after I’d scored a touchdown. Perhaps the football gods felt bad for the beating I was giving them?) The commentary is still incredibly repetitive at best, and can be completely inaccurate at worst, attributing gains to my receiver when my QB ran for a first down, or otherwise incorrectly describing action as it occurred. I know the on-the-field improvements were the focus this year, but these issues need to be addressed for Axis to truly stand out.

Axis Football 2023‘s improvements far outweigh its shortcomings, though. It plays much more true-to-life, and the new visuals increase the immersion like never before. With the lower price point this year, it’s really a no-brainer. Football fans would do well to give Axis the shot it deserves with this year’s version.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Axis Games. It is currently available on XBO, XBX/S, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the and multiple seasons were completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. This game is a realistic depiction of professional American Football featuring blocks and tackling similar to an NFL broadcast. Injuries are described in text between plays and in status screens, but injured players are not shown on the field, and there is no blood.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not offer subtitles. (See text examples above.) While playable without sound, the in-game commentary is lost. Audio cues for turnovers are accompanied by a brief slow motion effect to alert the player. This game is not fully accessible.

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

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