AFL LIVE marks (pun intended) the first time in 5 years fans can grab a controller and enjoy some armchair Aussie rules action. Released by Tru Blu Entertainment, AFL LIVE features all the teams, most of the players, and a fair few real life venues. As anyone who’s ever watched a game of AFL on television and watched one live in a stadium would know- TV coverage simply does not do justice to the 360 degree, fast paced, fumbling nature of the sport. No matter where you position cameras, how tight or wide your shots (or how you switch them) you can really never capture the ebb and flow of the game in action.

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Sadly, the same must be said for AFL LIVE. Unfortunately, even using a single camera for most of the game play, AFL LIVE  doesn’t allow the player to feel a sense momentum as often as it should. This is the game’s biggest problem, but how do you rectify it in a video game? Maybe you just can’t.

That said, AFL LIVE isn’t a bad game. We played the XBox 360 version and it’s a lot of fun- the controls, in the end, are pretty well thought out and most of the time work really well. I wasn’t a fan of using the right shoulder button to sprint, I would have much rathered use the trigger, same thing with the left button to select your player in defense- I just would have liked to use the left trigger.

The rest of the controls are what you’d expect. Holding X while you have the ball will take a shot at goal, while A will kick pass. A tap of X after taking a mark close enough to the goal posts will change the camera to behind your player, allowing you to more accurately adjust your kick to accommodate for wind, distance and position. Centre bounces are particularly thrilling as you try to position your players and tap A as the ball is at it’s highest point- getting it just right is always satisfying, particularly against a human opponent. Dribbling and hand balling are a bit more cumbersome, and again, trying to handball to another player while also trying to select them using the left button requires dexterity.

One other niggle I had with the control was the amount of time it takes to preload your kicks. Even small kick passes take too long to power up- a lot of the time you’ll have a defender on your ass before you can get the shortest kick away. This really slows the momentum of the game, something I’m assured happens much less often when the sport is being played for real.

As far as features go- AFL LIVE probably won’t disappoint fans. All the teams, including rep sides, most of the big names players and a fair few of the real life venues are included- for the most part realistically recreated and featuring real world sponsors. Fans will no doubt enjoy recreating classic matches between the right teams in the right stadium, and as a Sydneysider I really enjoyed seeing ANZ Stadium (The 2000 Olympics stadium) recreated, even if I didn’t get to light the cauldron.

There is a create a player feature- pretty standard (although I liked how you could assign your player a nickname for the commentators to use), as well as a career mode of sorts where you can guide your team to glory in the Toyota AFL Premiership, NAB Cup or custom build your own season. There’s also five difficulty settings, from “amateur” to “legend”- we played on the default setting, rookie. I was told the CPU matches get difficult quite quickly- I didn’t get far enough into them to find out so I’ll take my AFL loving mates word for it.

There’s also a live training mode that allows you to practice individual skills such as taking a mark or kick passes, as well as the more complex moves like stab passes and spoils. AFL LIVE also features an online component which promises competitive or cooperative play with up to four players locally. I can see how this could be great fun- although we didn’t try it out.

Other aspects of the graphical presentation are a little lacking, most noticeably the crowds. They’re really ugly- especially up close. And why they didn’t at least fix the horrible animations when a goal is scored is beyond me. You see it so often… there’s pom-poms being waved over the banisters behind the goal posts, but no one is holding them. They’re being waved by thin air and it just looks awful. The stadiums themselves are pretty detailed and the real world advertising looks nice, especially the painted logos on the field. Grass textures and weather effect like rain are okay too, and look better depending on which camera you choose.

Player animations for the most part are fluid and realistic- with some nice variation in player reactions to certain situations such as a missed goal, or two players jostling for position during a ball up. It may not be on par with a AAA title like FIFA, but I still think the developers have done an overall good job, considering the dynamic nature of the game and amount of different animations that are actually required to create a realistic looking AFL match. The screenshots we’ve used here come from Tru Blu’s official website- I don’t know which version they’re from but I can’t imagine there’s much difference between the PS3 and 360.

There are a few other issues that I’ll just glaze over- the commentary is repetitive and quite boring- Dennis Cometti and Brian Taylor are two of the most recognised in the business- but where is Bruce McAvaney!?! Also the crowd doesn’t ever seem to get too excited about anything- it’s more like a dull roar than the hollering and hooting by passionate Melbournians an AFL fan would be used to.

Wrapping up, as a non AFL lover I really enjoyed playing AFL LIVE. It has its flaws, sure- but in all fairness you should easily overlook them all- and quite frankly, for an Australian developed game and one with quite a niche market- I’m surprised and very impressed that this game got published at all.  You’ll need to invest some time to get to grips with the controls, but once you do it’s a great deal of fun and the best home AFL experience there is. I never feature a game on that I won’t recommend, and I really didn’t want to be too hard on it- so let me just tell you if you’re an AFL fan- or even just a gamer looking for a different kind of sports experience- buy it, you’ll enjoy it.  -zinger

AFL LIVE is available on PS3 & XBox 360.

Have you played AFL LIVE? Got something to say? Leave a comment below!