Mutant Football League (Xbox One Review)
Have you ever found yourself watching a game of American Football and found yourself feeling like there was just something missing? Amidst the roar of the crowd, you felt like there could maybe be more…blood and explosions?
Welcome to the Mutant Football League! MFL takes everything you know and love about real world American football and throws out all of the boring bits, like rules that say you can’t bribe the ref or blow up the quarterback. With a roster of characters parodying real world NFL players and arenas that come equipped with land mines, lava pits and giant worms that burst out of the grass, what’s not to love?
The first thing I noticed about MFL is that you’ll get an extra level of satisfaction from a lot of the games characters, teams and references if you know about American football going in. My passing knowledge of NFL teams and players was enough for me to recognise some of these little in-jokes, like the Nuked London Hatriots parodying the New England Patriots with their all start Quarterback, Bomb Crazy.
There’s 18 teams to choose from in Mutant Football League, though you’ll only have access to 16 from the start, and each has their own statistics and star players, as is the norm for any sports game. Disappointingly, the stats seem to make very little difference in MFL, with player skill being the overwhelmingly key factor to your success. That itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it leads to every team feeling very similar in the way that they’re played. The main difference between the teams is the Dirty Tricks they’ll have access to.
This is where NFL takes it’s biggest step away from any other NFL game. Dirty Tricks are special abilities that each team can use once per half of the game, and there’s a different selection depending on whether you’re playing offense or defence. Ranging from blistering speed boosts to steroids that make your players grow large as a house, to even arming the quarterback with a shotgun or a chainsaw, timing your Dirty Tricks to make an impactful play is key to victory.
On top of those, each team is given the chance to bribe the referee once per half. The ref bribe will cause the referee to call nonsense fouls on your opponents, such as scratching their butt and sniffing it or the coach wearing a pink thong, and can deny your opposition key moments in the game like touchdowns. If you’ve had enough of this type of call, you can opt to kill the ref in question, taking a distance penalty in return for removing the bribe.
When playing on both offense and defence, there’s a variety of formations and plays for you try out, but they boil down to a handful of different categories. While this lets you decide whether to play a more aggressive or defensive game, the different play styles don’t have a huge amount of variety from each other.
In reality, you’ll find a handful of plays that cover each category that feel good for you and stick with them, and that will be enough. So long as you mix up your plays and don’t run with the same formation over and over again you’ll be able to keep your opponents guessing. The AI does react to your plays intelligently, so you definitely won’t get away with using the same play more than a few times in a row before they start to shut you down.
That’s really the only secret to scoring consistently. Offensive plays practically play themselves once you’ve got one or two you know how to pull off, so you’ll find yourself concentrating mostly on the defensive plays. My favourite way to win was by getting a few points ahead, maybe a touchdown or two, and then systematically and brutally murdering all of the opposing Quarterbacks using every trick at my disposal. The QB is one of the few roles that, when you run out of players to fill it, your team automatically forfeits. A solid half of my wins on Season Mode are victories obtained this way.
Ultimately, that’s because breaking through the defensive line and sacking the QB is much more fun than just consistently stealing the ball or blocking the opponents plays until you get back on offense. At first I found Mutant Football League pretty difficult, but I think that’s mainly because there’s no real tutorial so if you’re not completely clued in on the language and tactics used in American Football you’re just left to figure things out yourself.
But once you take a few games to familiarize yourself with the different plays, Dirty Tricks and roles each of your players will fill, everything falls in to place and MFL becomes fairly formulaic. There’s no real variety between games, compounded by the fact that there’s no real difference between the teams.
On top of that feeling of sameyness are the commentators. Tim Kitzrow from NBA Jam and NFL Blitz is the main commentator in Mutant Football League, and while the commentary is interesting and even funny for the first few hours, hearing the same dozen or so anecdotes over and over again begins to wear pretty thin. How quickly you’ll grow tired of it depends on your opinion of the shock factor of having adult oriented commentators who don’t mind cursing away during the play by plays.
Mutant Football League is available on the Xbox One store right now for £14.99. I don’t think I’d pay that much for it. The game is decent enough fun for a few hours, and it shines in a multiplayer environment rather than the more stagnant vs AI modes, but the appeal does begin to wear off and the gameplay just doesn’t hold enough spark and variety to keep you entertained beyond that. MFL might be a decent time killer for your Super Bowl parties, but I’d be looking to pick it up on a sale instead of at full price.