When EA announced that it had picked up the license for Arena Football, one couldn't help but wonder exactly how hard the publisher was going to push this new property. If the latest entry in the franchise, Arena Football: Road to Glory, is any indication for the future, the answer is, "Not terribly." Last year's debut Arena Football game managed to show a bit of promise, but it was hampered by some unexciting features and consistency issues. Road to Glory suffers from precisely the same issues, as well as a few new ones to boot. Sure, EA has gone to the trouble of tweaking the gameplay in a few spots and adding the full roster of the minor league AF2 teams, but none of these additions fix what was actually wrong with the original game.
Road to Glory features the same Frankenstein's monster of traditional Madden football and Blitzy arcadelike gameplay that made Arena Football such a perplexing creature. On the one hand, the game nails the basic intricacies of the sport, hammering down all the goofy defensive rules and other arcane aspects that make it just different enough from regular NFL football to make things slightly confusing. On the other hand, the game tosses in all these weird extremes, such as violently shaking camera work, poorly voiced cutscenes where coaches and players jaw at one another, and the inexplicable ability to deliver late hits after a play is done. Despite the lack of tonal consistency, the gameplay does have its moments. It's still incredibly satisfying to deliver big hits on ball carriers and send them flying into or over the walls that line the field, and the touchdown-happy nature of arena football makes for some occasionally exciting affairs. But while these moments of satisfaction pop up from time to time, the game still feels oddly subdued on the field. It's as if the developers keep trying to supplement the lack of on-field excitement with a lot of postplay extremeness. It's just grating, more than anything else.
The ability to truly enjoy the gameplay is also often waylaid by one problem or another. One holdover issue that hasn't been addressed in this sequel is money plays. Specifically, certain post and straight routes will almost always result in a touchdown if you get the proper receiver/defensive back matchup. As long as you've got a receiver with a high speed statistic running the route, and the defensive back isn't quite as quick, the receiver will almost always outrun the defensive back by a solid margin and get the touchdown. This is especially true if you use the right-analog-stick-based precision passing to launch the ball ahead of the receiver. This issue is less pervasive in the online game because human players are far more adept at catching wind of what you're doing and will often take control of the defensive back in that situation and try to jam up your receiver. But it's still easy to get quite a few touchdowns that occur as a result of these money plays.
In fact, across the board, Road to Glory offers the same gameplay as its predecessor. The one significant addition is a new feature that lets you control both the quarterback and a wide receiver at the same time. If that sounds to you like it might be cumbersome, you'd be entirely correct. The way this mechanic works is that prior to the snap, you switch to the receiver you want to control. You then snap the ball as usual and run your route. While you're running your route with the left analog stick, you can use the right analog stick to move the quarterback right and left or forward if you decide you want the quarterback to run it. You then press the receiver's corresponding button to launch the pass. As cute of idea as this is, it's not practical until you've had loads of practice with it. Controlling two players simultaneously with both analog sticks while trying to concentrate on running a route with a receiver and not getting the quarterback sacked goes beyond the kind of thing a person's brain was meant to process at this current stage of human evolution. And the fact that the developers spent time working on this half-baked mechanic instead of fixing specific problems within the last game is a bit distressing.
The feature set of Road to Glory is almost identical to last year's game, with quick play, season, and online modes taking up the bulk of the real estate. The main upgrade to this year's game (and we use the term lightly) is the addition of AF2 teams. The AF2 is the Arena Football league's minor league system, which is kind of insane if you think about it because Arena Football is already a second-tier football league. The addition of these teams doesn't add much to the package, except that you can now run seasons for both teams and import AF2 rosters into an Arena League season to give you more free-agent options. Ultimately, while it's fun to see teams with kooky names, such as the Quad City Steamwheelers and the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings, the AF2 teams aren't a particularly great addition.
Other notable additions to the feature roster this year include basic create-a-player and create-a-team functions, as well as a field goal challenge, where you and a friend try to hit as many field goals from as many different positions on the field as possible. It's basically the same thing as the field goal minigame from Madden's minicamp mode, but in an arena. It's not devoid of amusement, but it's far from the sort of thing you'd really want as a big new feature in an Arena Football game, and it's also not playable online. The online modes have the usual roster of EA online features, with quick games, leaderboards, and some basic tournament functionality. Incidentally, all the games we played featured some measure of lag, from minor bouts to sections where the game slowed to a complete crawl. Connection drops also popped up on an infrequent basis.
Graphics and audio have gone basically untouched since last year's game. That's probably not surprising to anyone, given that EA decided to make the game a PS2 exclusive this year. But even animation and clipping problems that EA could have easily cleaned up are still present in this year's game. In fact, it seems as if clipping is even more of a problem than in last year's game. A player falling through the arena walls, as opposed to running into them, seems to be a semiregular occurrence. On top of everything else, the frame rate isn't even steady. Random bouts of slowdown tend to pop up without much rhyme or reason. It's nothing game-shattering, but it's enough to notice. There's still no commentary on the audio front, and the player and coach dialogue is terrible. Even the soundtrack feels half-baked; it recycles a number of tracks from last year's EA Sports games and includes a bunch of generic instrumental rock that could have come off of a low-rent extreme sports video circa 1995.
Although Arena Football: Road to Glory is retailing for a mere $30, it's still difficult to recommend the game, especially if you already bought last year's game. So little of the new content found in Road to Glory is compelling on its own merits, and you already saw the same basic gameplay and presentation in the original Arena Football. If you never bothered to take the plunge with last year's game, this is still a decent, albeit flawed, interpretation of the sport. But unless you're Mark Grieb's number one fan or hold season tickets to every LA Avengers game, you can probably just as easily take a pass on Road to Glory.