Axis Football 2015 Review (PC)
When Axis Football 2015 went live on STEAM last Wednesday, July 15, the Greenlight program's latest graduate hit the field stumbling and bumbling around like a broken, buggy mess. Most –- but not all -- of those gameplay glitches have since been bandaged up by the version 1.3 patch. But there's no hotfix for Axis Football 2015's biggest problem: it's simply not much fun to play.
The game's one noteworthy feature –- using mouselook to aim your passes -- just feels like an alternative to traditional icon-based passing rather than a revolutionary replacement. All other aspects of Axis Football 2015 come across as amateurish and archaic. A more apt title would have been Axis Football 96, because that's the era of football gaming –- the Nintendo 64's and Sony PlayStation's early 3D efforts –- the on-field action and off-field options most closely resemble in their current state.
Regardless of which control scheme you choose (the loading screen recommends a mouse & keyboard, although gamepads are supported), one component of your offense is always going to be handicapped in Axis Football 2015. WASD movement works fine in first-person shooters, since those games' action relies heavily on strafing, but WASD just isn't an acceptable substitute for a joystick in a game that demands rapid and precise eight-way movement while carrying the ball. Passing controls have the opposite problem, in that a mouse or other pointer device will naturally give you much finer placement over your quarterback's aiming cloud than any joystick ever could. To make things even worse for gamepad users, there is no way to lock your right stick's aim onto your first read before the ball is snapped, like you can with a mouse. The ideal method of controlling Axis Football 2015 -- running with the left joystick, while aiming a mouse with your right hand -- isn't even officially supported by the application. To achieve this setup, you'll have to trick the program by starting with only a mouse & keyboard connected, then plugging in a controller after the opening kickoff. I only discovered this workaround after paging through Axis Football 2015's STEAM forums, so I doubt most players will ever realize this option exists.
Once you finally manage to get Axis Football 2015 controlling reasonably well, the game still won't play very well, due to obtuse AI and outdated animations. Axis Football 2015 contains several money plays -- such as WR screens, Seam Attack, and FB Smash -- that will succeed almost every time on offense, even against the toughest difficulty setting. On defense, you can obliterate the highest-rated running backs in the game just by calling a basic two-man blitz whenever the CPU picks an obvious running formation. You can audible to any play in the current formation at the line of scrimmage, but the CPU won't ever wise-up to your blitzing strategy and switch to a screen pass or some other quick-hitting strike that would burn a blitz. Some offensive plays like Cross Toss are also completely broken, because the quarterback can't properly hand the ball off to the running back. These shouldn't be issues, since the game has less than 100 plays to get right. John Madden Football 92, for comparison, included over 100 plays on the SEGA Genesis. That was also the year Madden debuted an instant replay feature, something that Axis Football 2015 inexplicably lacks. While flipping the direction of plays can be done in the huddle, it's disappointingly not an option at the line of scrimmage. You also cannot send any men in motion, or create player-specific hot routes. Mechanics like these have existed in most football games for the last decade, and should be expected of a $20 product releasing in 2015.
Even the highest-rated AI quarterbacks in Axis Football 2015 are ignorant of how to manage the clock during end-of-half and end-of-game situations. They'll let time expire after they've already crossed midfield, instead of trying to get into field goal range before halftime. And they won't run out the clock if they're ahead in the final minutes of a game. CPU-controlled teams consistently make incorrect calls on when to run (Let's keep pounding the middle on third and long!), when to pass (Who cares about protecting our late lead?), and when to attempt a fourth down conversion (Three minutes gives us plenty of time to punt and still score 21 points!).
As idiotic as the AI is, Axis Football 2015's pitiful amount of player animations is a much bigger issue, since the CPU can at least be replaced by a buddy, if you have a second controller at hand. Although the pre-game launcher lists a "jump" button, I could not find a way to trigger any leaping or catching animations, plus the game has no pass interference rules (or any other penalties at all, aside from illegal kickoffs out of bounds), so every jump ball in Axis Football 2015 just becomes an unidentifiable clustermuck of polygons, until one player miraculously emerges with the football glued to his globby hands. If a defensive back makes an interception and isn't tackled immediately, it usually becomes an easy touchdown return down the sidelines, due to the huge speed differential between DBs and the other positions on the field. Computer-controlled defenders come equipped with an annoying cheat code that allows all of them to simultaneously converge on the ball as soon as the quarterback's throwing motion begins. Your opponent's defensive backs will have no difficulty running step-for-step alongside your receivers' diverse repertoire of routes, yet your own CPU-controlled teammates are so inept in the secondary that they often can't keep within 10 yards of their assignment on a simple streak pattern.
The animations between blockers and pass rushers are equally abysmal -- “animation” is a more accurate description, since there's only one. In it, both players will magically fuse together to become one immobile object after the ball is snapped. There are no bull rush, swim, or rip moves, so if you get “blocked,” you're taken out of the play until the whistle mercifully blows. You can forget about using teams like Buffalo or Miami who have a fearsome frontline, because blitzing seems to be the only way to get any kind of consistent pass rush or penetration on running plays. Ball carriers don't possess any special moves, either, as basic jukes and spins are not present in this build.
Between its blurry white lines, Axis Football 2015 makes Madden NFL 08 -- the last football game of any significance released on the PC -- look like a Mona Lisa made out of ones and zeroes.
I do appreciate how easy it is to find each team's text file and rename every player on the roster (this is an unlicensed product, of course). Logo and uniform editing is off-limits at the moment, but might become available at a later date. The gameplay, however, has 99 yards to go before I would want to waste a second of my time making superficial edits to a game that I don't have any fun playing.
Apart from offline exhibition matches, Season is currently the only other mode in Axis Football 2015. This consists of a randomized 12-game schedule, culminating in an 8-team, single-elimination tournament to decide the league champion. You can only control one of the available 32 teams, and there is no multi-season progression. Individual and team stats are shown at the middle and end of each game, but that is the only time you will see any stats on screen, since they aren't stored in the main Season hub.
With so many missing features and such snooze-inducing gameplay, the most enjoyable aspect of Axis Football 2015 actually ends up being the commentator, who sounds like a parody of Ball State's "Boom goes the dynamite!" student broadcaster. When the worst part of most football games (announcing) is your best attribute, you know that something has gone horribly awry in the development schedule.
If you're a patient person, the creator of Axis Football 2015 is promising lots of free post-release support, starting with an unspecified August update. But I strongly recommend taking a "wait-and-see" approach with your wallet, considering the dismal state the game is in right now.
Score: 2.5 (Bad)