Arena Football Impressions

Just ahead of Arena Bowl XIX, EA Sports gives us a sneak peek at their upcoming Arena Football game.

On the eve of Arena Bowl XIX in Las Vegas, EA Sports unveiled its upcoming Arena Football League game. Actually, the first view of the game came from a trailer posted on the EA Sports Web site on the Friday before the big game. However, we had a chance to see a bit more and hear a bit more on what the developer envisions for the game, which will be EA Sports' fifth entry in its football dynasty (the other four include the Madden, NCAA, and NFL Street franchises, along with the newly announced fantasy football franchises).

From the footage we saw, Arena Football is, in some ways, going to look much different from any other currently existing EA Sports football game. Yes, player models look like they're straight out of the Madden file book, but how these athletes are presented will be different from what you're used to. For one thing, arena football games, as the league's name implies, take place entirely indoors. Because of this, the lighting will be more akin to a rock concert than an NFL game. As a result, spotlights, lasers, and even fog machines will be front and center when highlighting player entrances. Of course, this is exactly how the real AFL does things, so this is well in keeping with the standards of the real thing.

The camera angles we saw in the in-game footage shown for the game suggest a different approach as well. Instead of the default behind-and-above-the-quarterback angle used in all other EA Sports pigskin games, the footage showed off camera work that was slightly closer to the action. If this is the idea of conveying the feeling of being part of the action on the field, the camera angle shown in the demo should be effective when applied to gameplay. However, if it means always giving you a wide-open view of the field, that remains to be seen. When asked about the camera angles, Arena Football producers said they had not as of yet decided on a default camera for the game but were striving to make sure that each camera angle used would be both visually interesting and effective for gameplay.

One thing is for sure, however, Arena Football will sound unlike any football game before it. For example, games will not include any play-by-play or color commentary. Perhaps the reasoning for this move has to do with the fact that there doesn't seem to be the equivalent of a John Madden or a Lee Corso in Arena Football League broadcasts: in other words, someone who's name and voice has become fairly synonymous with the sport he or she lends his or her voice to. According to the game producers, the decision has more to do with putting you, the player, in the middle of the action on the field, in turn eschewing the sort of broadcast-television presentation style that's part of the Madden and NCAA series. Instead, the sounds you hear will be identical to the sounds you would hear in an AFL arena: the roar of the crowd, the trash talk of your opponents, the blaring music between plays, and the overhead PA announcer.

In terms of gameplay, not a lot of information has been released about Arena Football so far. Producers claim the game will be very authentic to the eight-on-eight action featured in the real Arena Football League, and you can expect all the rules that make the real game so exciting to watch--the smaller field, the high scoring, and the emphasis on the pass--to be well intact. One of the challenges in the game will be straight from the real AFL: dealing with a small roster of football players, a portion of whom are required to play both sides of the football during the game. Because the AFL has strict substitution rules in place, producers told us that part of the challenge to be found in playing through Arena Football's season mode will be in effectively managing your players through injuries. Half the challenge in winning, it seems, will be making sure that everyone on your team is in as good a shape as possible when game day rolls around.

In terms of the type of football gameplay experience they were targeting, producers said they were looking to find a balance between the more realistic style of play found in the Madden and NCAA series and the arcade, pick-up-and-play stylings of the Street franchise, all while not going so far as to create a full-on Blitz-style arcade game. You can expect to see slimmed-down playbooks on both sides of the ball in Arena Football as well, which is another move that reflects the run-and-gun atmosphere of the league.

We're still a ways off from seeing Arena Football in playable form. EA Sports producers say the game still has approximately eight months of development ahead of it, presenting a release date of February 2006, which is just in time for the 20th season of the Arena Football League. Between now and then, we're certain to see more details on just how the publisher's vision for this very different brand of football will emerge on your PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Stay tuned to GameSpot Sports for more information in the coming months.

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