I’ve been conflicted over whether I should talk about Mutant Football League at all. This is mostly because I funded the game on Kickstarter last year when it was in pre-alpha. I also realize I’m probably not the intended audience, even within the art style’s genre. My yearly exposure to football is limited to a few Buffalo Bills games and the Super Bowl. The last football game I played before MFL was Madden 06. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not as cut and dry as previous games I’ve discussed.
The premise is pretty simple. It’s an anything goes apocalypse! The dead are rising out of their graves, a tidal wave of orcs pollutes the air with a noxious green haze, robots are leaking oil, aliens have made football stadiums on the moon, and clones of Vernon Wells are wreaking havoc all across America. But that’s not all. Blood is raining from the sky in Killadelphia and the world’s #1 pastime is sponsored by… “Monsatan Industries.” Nearly every element of NFL culture is tweaked to meet the theme. It’s silly, visually appealing, and portrays a post-apocalypse that’s simultaneously grimdark and chuckle worthy.
Taking place in a violence-obsessed post-apocalypse, Mutant Football League has some interesting twists up its sleeves. The game’s own promotional material says killing five quarterbacks to force a forfeit is a perfectly acceptable strategy. However, while the AI loves to use Quarterback Sack Attack, I’ve yet to see myself or anyone else lose in this manner.
Mutant Football League also includes Dirty Tricks, a series of special plays which typically function as a guaranteed touchdown, guaranteed fumble, or both. For example, on offense you can take out a shotgun during a run play and reduce the entire opposing team to swiss cheese. On defense, you can turn 20ft tall, instantly kill or fumble anyone you touch and then easily make a touchdown because no one dares tackle the giant mutant on the field. Overall, Dirty Tricks make the game interesting and unpredictable as every team has its own set of tricks.
Opposing players aren’t the only thing to look out for. Mutant Football League fields are covered in hazards: Landmines, bottomless pits, sandworms, razorblades, and much more. Among these, one specifically stands out. It’s incredibly difficult to go out of bounds in MFL because the sidelines are often replaced with pools of blood or lava. This means you can’t maximize your yardage by diagonally cutting across the field. Instead, you have to jump, spin, punch, or dive your way out of danger or trick the other team into falling into a pool of acid.
Unfortunately, the AI in Mutant Football League is embarrassingly bad. You almost have to play against another human to face any sort of challenge. Back in the demo days of MFL, I would often shut out the other team by up to 48 points in just two quarters. Things aren’t much better in the full release. On All-Pro difficulty (Hard), I kicked the ball toward the obvious obstacles, only for the returner to instantly die by falling into a bear trap, causing a fumble. My team picks up the ball and makes a touchdown. THEN THE EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED AGAIN 17 SECONDS LATER. Meanwhile, on Masochist difficulty (very hard) the AI will generally intercept any pass you make and will regularly make field goals from up to 50 yards away.
Even though I’m not a big fan of the gameplay or AI, the art style is really the star of the show. The stadiums look great, the team logos are sleek, and the commentators are good…for a while. The narration usually doesn’t reflect gameplay as players have come to expect from other, modern sports games. Sure, you’ll hear general remarks that relate to the game “Rev up your engines! It’s time for a chainsaw massacre.” “The 40, the 30, the 20, the 10, HE’S GOING ALL THE WAY,” but I don’t think I’ve ever heard the commentators specifically mention a player by name. This is despite the fact that Tim Kitzrow, the lead narrator, is quoted as saying “”In what other video game could I talk about deflated balls?…[such as] after that vicious sack, Bomb Shadey will be playing with deflated balls for the rest of his career!” I usually play the Nuked London Hatriots and I’ve never heard that quip.
Between plays, the commentators will do a series of short skits. Unfortunately, this leads to the same problem every other comedy game faces: repetition. The more times you hear a joke, the less funny it is. You’ll hear “Oh my god! A man in a prison uniform just came on the field!” followed by “That’s the referee you idiot” dozens and dozens of times. It’ll make you smile the first time, but by the end of the football season, you’ll probably end up turning the commentators off. There’s just not enough material to keep it lively. In my opinion, one of the best examples of doing this right is Monday Night Combat, where the announcer usually chimes in at the beginning and end of each match (like Team Fortress 2), but also to inform players when interesting things are happening (churros/bacon/Bullseye appearing, impressive kill streaks, and specialist robots on the field). It still gets old after a while, but it retains some staying power by using narration as a spice rather than a sauce. Players aren’t slathered with it, but have just enough to make for an enjoyable experience.
Then there’s the players. Most player names are a parody of either a real NFL player or a sci-fi character. The first thing you’ll, unfortunately, notice about them is that they all have the same character model. Each species of player is exactly the same, give or take the size of their padding. This is honestly disappointing as characters parodying NFL stars have unique portraits and stats, but completely average appearances. Not only that, but their facial expressions are locked in a static pose; the lower jaws move, but face and eyes do not. This is especially noticeable with the human players. I might also say that their sideline quips usually aren’t funny. Many player lines are just references or the equivalent of yo-mama jokes.
I also found some of the team compositions to be off the mark for my tastes. For example, a few teams are themed to be a single species in complementary colors. The Orcs of Hazzard, for example, is a team comprised entirely of big green Orcs in scrap metal armor. Meanwhile, another team has mustard yellow orcs and skeletons with yellow bones playing alongside blue robots. It doesn’t necessarily break the games’ immersion, but I almost wish each team was comprised of just one or two species then have an All-Star team to bring them all together. Also there’s no team made of just Wez clones, so that’s a bummer.
Overall, Mutant Football League is fun…for a while. The art direction has a lot of charm, the dirty tricks are sure to delight, and the AI bashing its head against the wall will at least make for a great highlight reel. Still, I don’t think it’ll end up on my replay list anytime soon. It’s average. Not bad, just middle of the pack. Also their Super Bowl prediction was waaaaay off.