High school can be a difficult time in the life of a teenager, especially nowadays. For me, it wasn’t so bad. Madden was still releasing on the PC and I was able to continually appease my father, community, and harrowing self-doubt by tossing the ol’ pigskin around with my peers. Playing football in high school taught me grave lessons and gave me some of my greatest memories, a few I still carry with me today. For example, when I bend my right knee too far, pain shoots throughout my leg and I get a sudden sensation that hot water is running from my head to my feet. I sure do miss playing the sport of football.
Unfortunately, today’s PC-playing youth has been without a proper American football simulation for years. They can’t take the lessons that Madden annually doles out with them into the real world of football. Instead, they’re left on the sidelines as their console-playing peers surpass them, leaving smiles on dads everywhere they turn.
But just a few days ago, Axis Football 2015 landed on Steam. After spending time with it, I'm happy to report that it’s the closest video game approximation of high school football ever.
It's very unfriendly
Even if you don’t know how to play the American game of football, you do know that it involves getting yelled at by older men about how you’re not trying hard enough or to be stronger and better at everything. Axis Football 2015 approximates this feeling by being very obtuse and hard to understand.
Performing well in Axis will be very difficult and entirely up to luck. You’ll get some tips from the game, but I was so nervous that I closed them before I could read them. Something about “how to pass” I think. The controls are listed in the launcher, but not the in-game options, so I just jammed around on the keyboard with reckless abandon.
It’s just like high school football, when you get handy tips from your coach. Mine used yell stuff like, “Red gun, red gun! Damnit, Davenport, red gun!” but I was never listening, usually trying to establish eye contact with my dad in the crowd. And if anything went wrong, I’d just blame my buddy Joe for not being as strong and tough as he could be.
The AI players are as smart as actual teen footballers
The attention to detail here is unreal. Watch how everyone runs in place directly around the ball before falling down in a lazy dogpile instead of actually picking up the ball, the most desirous object in American Football, and running towards the endzone with it. Fascinating. I’d like to take a dive into the minds behind the minds, see how they know what makes a teen tick.
The crowd is full of dead, uninterested people
Just like in high school, the people you want in the crowd are late, left early, or didn’t come at all. And if they did, they’ve put on a face that says, “Help! I’m stuck here! It is so very cold!”
It ‘cups your butt on the sidelines for a little too long’ before ‘sending you in for your buddy Joe.’
Obviously, this is figurative language. Axis Football 2015 does not have any extremities, so it can’t cup your butt at all. But between the grey inanimate crowd, the amateur announcer, and the overwhelming sense of bearing witness to something wrong, Axis Football 2015 did a fine job making me slightly uncomfortable before the adrenaline rush from scoring or tackling another (virtual) man to the ground returned my mind to its blank state.
Native Americans are still mascots
During my junior year, I had a coach that would often tell very loud, angry jokes about people that didn’t look and behave exactly like him. Axis Football 2015 doesn’t simulate an angry, sad old man, but in a bold move, the developers managed to preserve the NFL's (and plenty of high schools') overt tolerance for racism with its plays on their team names: the Kansas City Chiefs are the Indians, and the Washington Redskins are the Savages (softened somewhat with a logo of a lion).
It’s the only light in your life
In high school, football was the only thing that kept me going. If I didn’t have practice that day, it was much harder to do anything, like think about football or play football video games or sustain eye contact with my father.
Axis Football 2015 is the only simulation PC gamers have been given in a long time. While it doesn’t measure up to contemporary Madden or NCAA games, it does something much more with much less. It's the only gridiron game in the PC's vacuous sports void, it's the expired ramen in your college pantry on a Saturday night. Axis Football 2015 isn't a bright beacon on the way to football paradise, but it gives PC forlorn footballers a flicker of fun to tackle and juke by.
As earnest as the attempt here is, I have a hard time recommending Axis Football 2015. It’s an ugly reminder of better days gone by, no matter how sweet and tough and strong those memories might be.