Against odds longer than those of the Arizona Cardinals winning a Super Bowl, Arena Football has somehow survived despite a hyper-crowded sports and entertainment landscape. In fact, it’s more popular than ever, as proven by a big fat television contract (now called by ESPN’s popular Mike and Mike in the Morning crew) and Electronic Arts’ exclusive AFL video game license. While still a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things, its frenetic pace and over-the-top style has earned a spot in the sports conversation; all of which proves, of course, that Americans plum love their football.
You’d think that indoor gridiron exploits would translate perfectly to a video game. Alas, EA’s second title in the Arena Football series, Road to Glory, is searingly mediocre. Borrowing heavily from the Madden engine for gameplay and last year’s Arena Football debut for everything else, it will be instantly familiar and accessible to folks who’ve spent any time with either franchise. Passing, running, and playing defense all make use of the tried-and-true Madden control scheme, down to calling hot routes, audibles, spins, and jukes. Unless you’ve been under a sports game rock these past ten years or so, you’ll be able to jump right in.
However, Road is virtually devoid of personality and flair. The arenas are sterile and dark, and the cardboard-cutout fans provide no atmosphere or sense of excitement. Joe Generic PA Announcer Guy, whose lack of pizzazz is almost tangible, provides the minimal game commentary over the loudspeakers. Arena aficionados - we know there are some - will notice all sorts of roster quirks, too, which remove some of the authenticity on which simulation sports games earn their stripes.
The most disappointing aspect of Road, however, is the numbing slowdown that occurs at the snap of the ball. On plenty of occasions the action gets choppy for a few moments, usually when the ball is behind the line of scrimmage. It doesn’t happen on every play, but its regular occurrence is a serious detriment to the fluidity of the game and frankly bummed us out.
Ultimately, Road to Glory is an uninspired effort that does little to satiate football fans’ jones for a gridiron fix this winter. The combination of its eerie similarity to last year’s game with some framerate issues should dissuade all but the most dedicated Arenophiles from investing the $30 for this PS2 exclusive. We’ll have to wait ‘til next year, when a next-generation version will hopefully rescue this franchise from the doldrums.