This football game is the hardest I've laughed this year

Football players grabbing each other
(Image credit: Refactor Games)

A game of American football, despite usually lasting for over three hours, only contains about 15 to 20 minutes of action. There's a lot of waiting, milling around, chatting, huddling, lining up, yelling, looking, more yelling, and then an inevitable time-out whistle so there can be a long discussion with the coach, more milling, lining up, and yelling. When the ball is finally snapped, the actual play lasts for, what, 10 seconds?

And then while everyone involved mills around again it's time for us to watch those 10 seconds of action in slow motion instant replays from 14 different angles that can last several minutes. Hence the three hour game time.

This early access physics-based football simulator—smartly named Football Simulator (opens in new tab)—100% nails that aspect of the game but makes it way more fun than the real thing because the physics are utterly amazing. Not amazing because they're so realistic, but amazing because they're not at all realistic and thus hilarious. Like Madden, Football Simulator is an on-field football game where you control the QB and call plays, but the physics are so goofy and fun I spend most of my time like I do with real professional football: watching the replays in slow motion. Only in Football Simulator, I enjoy every moment of it.

It honestly makes it hard to finish playing a single game because even during a routine play something bizarre and wonderful almost always happens that requires me to watch the replay a couple dozen times:

That's just an incomplete pass that wouldn't even require a replay—except the referee runs over, steps on the ball, is spun around backwards, then trips over the foot of a fallen player, appears to legitimately die, briefly performs some kind of swim animation, and then sprawls out on top of another player who gets up and shoves the fallen corpse of the ref onto his face. How do you not watch that over and over from six different angles? (Note: the ref did not die.)

One of the best things that can happen is when the game's invisible math decides that the play you've run is successful but the game's Three Stooges physics engine definitely doesn't agree with that assessment but does its best to make it work anyway. Below you can see the very first successful completion I made in my first game, and it's a beauty. Here's the replay in slow motion:

Yup, that is definitely a valid and successful passing play in the sport of real football. My quarterback wobbles around with his arm cocked while four guys piledrive him into the center of the earth. Just before he is crushed to death beneath a thousand pounds of sweaty footballer beef he gets the throw off from one inch above the turf using (apparently) just the power of his fingers. The ball spirals to the receiver who ran maybe a one-yard slant and now stands motionless with his arms held straight out waiting for the pass, which is the correct way to catch footballs. The pass reaches him at his shins, levitates, then hovers at dick-level for a few moments before being magnetized into his hand. At this point the receiver runs the rest of the play, which is called "panic and then get immediately pancaked."

The physics aren't just constrained to the field. We see it in real football all the time when a player runs or is knocked out of bounds and into the crowd of seemingly thousands of football team employees that are somehow all needed to stand around on the sidelines so football can happen. These non-players get jostled, bumped, and occasionally knocked over. Same happens in Football Simulator. Play your cards right and you can take down a bowling pin formation of those coaches who presumably have some sort of football-related jobs but seem to do nothing but watch the game from one inch away.

And the wobbly, noodly physics of Football Simulator don't just entangle the players, refs, and impassive gangs of demi-coaches lurking on the sidelines. In season mode you can play as the King Coach of the football team to experience the management side of the sport, and explore the facilities in the offseason like the practice field, gymnasium, auditorium, and offices.

While you do this, full football physics are enabled. Here's me, a professional football coach, reporting to work on my day to do some professional football coaching, like a professional.

It's gonna be a great season, I can tell. That is, if I ever get around to actually drafting a team and managing them, because I'm too busy diving onto couches, bowling over cheerleaders and players, throwing brooms, and being utterly defeated by staircases.

Football Simulator is pure wonky physics joy and a welcome relief from the Madden series juggernaut. It's currently in early access on Steam (opens in new tab), where future features include online multiplayer, the option to "wander the stadium between plays" and even get into physics-based brawls with unruly fans. It's even planning a VR mode! That might just get me to strap on a headset so I can strap on a helmet that will get knocked off when I collide with a ragdolling ref as he keels over in the middle of a play.


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Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.