Sony

Axis Football 18 (PS4)

Nothing about Axis Football looks, plays, or sounds professional. That’s why it works.

The NFL and EA produce a yearly, idealized look at pro football. It’s clean and glossy. Precise and comfortable. That’s the only pro football choice, made under multiple corporate banners. Not Axis Football.

This is made by a handful of developers, not hundreds. There’s no licensing, although player names make references to the Keanu Reeves-starring The Replacements and one team borrows their name from the failed XFL. How appropriate then as both of those things stem from the early 2000s, the time capsule where Axis Football came from. It defines “jank,” and struggles to keep a rudimentary frame rate. AI is doltish. Resolution crumbles. If Axis Football doesn’t crash during a session, consider that lucky.

Yet Axis Football is comfort food in its independence. It feels freeing, loose and imprecise, more in-line with a human unpredictability than the sought-out perfection of Madden. This isn’t the NFL – it’s an amateur league, and in that role, Axis Football embraces itself. There’s individuality and identity in a wonky game of Axis. An entire season of Madden’s glitz doesn’t have that. While playing, it’s as if Axis is still under construction, some overworked coder in the background trying to keep pieces together. If such rings true for a stream of digital ones and digital zeroes, then Axis Football feels hand made, with the little imperfections that define a work visible for all.

Axis Football 18 looks 20-years late (and is literally a year late, based on the title), but that retro skeleton is a thing of awkward beauty.

3/5

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