Monday, March 06, 2006

Electronic Arts, for PlayStation 2 and Xbox
rated E10+ for ages 10 and up (language, mild violence, suggestive themes), $29.99.

Like jai-alai, bocce and curling, arena football is one of those sports where most people are aware of its existence, but couldn’t — if their lives depended on it — tell you how it’s played.

Thank goodness for Electronic Arts.

If they hadn’t come out with "Arena Football," the official video game version of the sport, I might have spent my entire life unaware of the deep intricacies and delights that the AFL regularly provides.

Yes, I was being sarcastic.

Arena football, for the many of you who don’t know, is basically regular football as overhauled by a hyperactive 8-year-old.

The playing field is only 50 yards long. The goal posts are much narrower to make field goals more difficult. And the sidelines are padded off, so players can’t run out of bounds.

As you might have guessed, "Arena Football" is designed to be fast, furious and to keep the scores high. Anyone hoping to rely on their defensive team to help carry the game will be disappointed. Only throwing long bombs, and lots of them, will result in a win here.

EA’s rendition of the sport comes off as a pretty bare-bones affair. While all of the official AFL teams are represented here, the players all look pretty interchangeable. The arenas, too, are virtually impossible to tell apart, whether you’re playing in Philadelphia or New York.

The game itself is easy to grasp. Anyone who’s taken a turn at "Madden" shouldn’t have too much trouble here. The only difficulty resides in kicking the ball, which is done by swinging the right analog stick forward and back.

Move the stick to the left or right, however, and watch your ball go out of bounds.

Many of the games I played were much closer than they should have been because my thumb twitched ever so slightly, and my field goal kick was no good. Thus, what at first seemed like an interesting innovation quickly became a major annoyance.

"Arena Football" is a fine rental for fans of the sport and the curious, but ultimately it’s a bit too shallow for anyone to delve into for any lengthy period of time. There aren’t enough plays, there’s no running commentary, the stadiums seem empty of fans, and the few animations are repetitive and dull.

If EA were to put a bit more muscle behind this license, it could come up with a game that actually captures the frenzy of the sport. As it stands now, "Arena Football" compares to most folks’ regard of the AFL: second rate.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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