Review: New Canadian Football video game has potential but plenty of shortcomings

CFL fans have been waiting since 1999 for another three down video game to call their own, and now thanks to Canuck Play Game studios, they finally got their wish. Well, sort of.

After two years in development, Canadian Football 2017 was released to the public on July 26th for the Xbox One platform and for PC on Steam. Although the game doesn’t feature actual CFL teams and players, it does faithfully include every CFL city and fans from across the league will recognize their hometown colour schemes and stadiums in the game.

Before the game came out, much of the online commentary surrounding trailers and screenshots focused on the fact that the graphics weren’t as cutting edge as most new games.

After sinking a few hours into the game, I can honestly say the graphics aren’t an issue at all. If anything, Canuck Play’s two-person development team did a fantastic job given their lack of funding. Even more so when you consider that the studio had to abandon their plan of hiring a full development team after being spurned by the CFL and CFLPA.

Besides, the fact that people still play Tecmo Bowl is proof that a football video game doesn’t need to have the best graphics for people to enjoy it. As long as the gameplay is smooth and fun, people will play it.

Unfortunately for Canadian Football 2017, that isn’t exactly the case.

While the game does offer some truly innovate and fun things, such as the waggle, other aspects make playing it a frustrating endeavour.

To begin with, the game’s controls aren’t overly user friendly and the button layout isn’t intuitive. For most Xbox games, the A button is commonly used to accept something, or move forward on a menu. In this game, you’ll need to hit the B button (which is normally used as a way to back out of menus) to start your game.

Obviously Canadian Football 2017 isn’t Madden, but following a similar button scheme for gameplay wouldn’t have hurt. The controls themselves aren’t easy to figure out either. The only time a player gets to see a controller layout is when the game is loading, but if you’re not paying attention you won’t notice that you’ll have to cycle through the loading screen graphics to learn how to play. Furthermore, once the game actually starts, there’s no way to pause the game and look up the controls again.

On offence, the most interesting aspect of gameplay is the waggle. Simply put, it’s amazing. Pressing the B button before the snap sets players in motion and the A button snaps the ball. It’s a unique twist and a cool Canadian feature to have in the game. The only negative aspect of it is that the pre-snap camera view doesn’t show the entire field, so when you set your receivers in motion, you can’t actually see if the wide receivers go offside before you snap the ball. If you’re like me, you’ll often wind up being flagged for offsides.

The other huge issue on offence is that completing passes is extremely difficult. In the three games I played, I completed a total of 13 passes on 51 attempts. It seems kind of basic but in a Canadian football game, completing passes shouldn’t feel like winning the lottery. Too often passes hit receivers directly in the hands, only to have the ball fall to the ground. Other times the passes are perfectly placed but the receiver doesn’t turn around for the ball, leading to a drop.

In terms of the playbook, there’s a decent variety of run and pass calls but all nine teams share the same plays. That’s actually a good thing because with a 20 second play clock, you don’t have a ton of time to scroll around and pick your play.

When it comes to punting and kicking field goals, there’s only one play option for each, and no, you cannot do an onside punt, though you can score a rouge. Not having a real kicking meter complicates gauging your punts and field goal attempts.

As for playing defence, I experienced nothing but aggravation when trying to stop opposing offences. Not because it was impossible, but due to the fact that it was so difficult to control defensive players.

To begin with, cycling between defensive players is not easy and the buttons do to so aren’t responsive. Pre-snap, you can change defenders by using the right bumper button. But once the play starts, you must use the B button. The issue there is that changing defenders mid-play is erratic, which in turn makes tackling extremely difficult.

There are also minor glitches such as that fact that after your opponent scores, you have the option of accepting a kick off, or scrimmaging from your other 35 yard line. But without fail, you get the opposite of what you select.

To Canuck Play’s credit, they’ve already put out notices on their social media channels that they are aware of the game’s issues and are working to release content updates to address them.

Despite it’s problems, Canadian Football 2017 does offer brief moments of fun that show what the game could be. Long kick off and punt returns are a blast, as is scrambling from the pocket with your QB to pick up a much needed first down. And when you do manage to connect on those rare deep passes, you’ll be left with a feeling of immense satisfaction.

Overall, Canadian Football 2017 feels like it lacks polish. While that isn’t said to stop you from buying it, don’t expect to be purchasing something on par with Madden. This game is clearly an independent title and a work in progress. With this title Canuck Play seems to have set a foundation in place that they can hopefully build upon to improve the franchise in future annual releases.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).