Rugby World Cup 2011 Review
Developer: HB Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
Rugby has never really been well represented in the videogame medium, with more bankable sports like Football, gridiron and even pub based arrow-fest Darts receiving more of a look-in on the current generation of high-powered mega consoles. In fact, you would have to cast your mind back to Rugby 08 for PlayStation 2 and Windows, which was hastily released by EA to coincide with the 2007 World Cup, for the last time gamers had an opportunity to have a decent ruck in front of the telly. Which is a shame really, because as a sport Rugby Union is highly popular and as a major sporting event the egg-chasing World Cup is arguably the third largest affair in world sports, behind its Football counterpart and the Olympic games.
The 2007 release was masterminded by HB Studios, featured a huge array of licenced players, teams, stadia and music, and was packed with features and modes to tinker around with. Coupling the sterling front end and options with a great control system and well-received gameplay meant that 08 was the game rugger buggers had been waiting for and went down better than a half naked drunken sing song with the boys.
Sadly, even with England flying relatively high (they were defeated in the final of the aforementioned tournament), there were to be no yearly updates in the tradition of FIFA, Madden et al, and we have had to wait another five years (until the cusp of the forthcoming 2011 World Cup, no less) for HB Studios to once more emerge from under a pile of huge sweating men with another chance to tackle some Rugby gaming action.
Indeed, the 2011 Rugby World Cup is creeping up and will soon be upon us, and here is the officially licenced game. But does it score a beautifully struck drop goal through the posts, or leave you crushed with disappointment under a Gareth Chilcott-sized prop forward’s arse?
GRAPHICS: With some nice looking representations of the stadia that will stage the forthcoming tournament, the actual playing environments look realistic enough; similarly there are some decent enough approximations of the players on display. Animation is solid with the players smoothly delivering crunching tackles, the traditional tangle of arms and legs in rucks and mauls and all of the messing around and gubbins that comes with place kicking these days. What the hell is that weird fist-clenching thing all about anyway? Whatever the answer, it is included.
Unfortunately, where the likes of EA Sports and Konami are pushing the envelope with highly realistic facial expressions and nuances that make their sports titles not a million miles away from watching a match on Sky Sports HD, there is a distinct lack of flair to RWC 2011. The faces look a bit odd and you would struggle to identify most of the players – they look like clones – albeit muscular, well animated clones, and the same goes for the crowds. Whilst we don’t expect several thousand different individuals in the crowd, the rippling sea of humanity looks distinctly unimpressive as it bounces up and down like something from the PS2 era. The lack of flair is also evident in the front end, with boring looking menu screens that could have done with some more bells and whistles.
SOUND: World In Union? Check. Bone crunching sound effects as you spear tackle the pirouetting France fly half? Check. Inconsistent crowd noise that breaks into a polite cacophony when you break the gain line? Check. Uninspiring commentary, which doesn’t always correctly follow the on-screen action, from a selection of rugby pundits, including former mercurial Bath number 10 Stuart Barnes? Check.
GAMEPLAY: With average graphics and sound to contend with, luckily the core gameplay of RWC is fun. The controls are, save for a few glaring errors, well put together and about as good as one could wish from a rugby title.
When attacking, you control your player with the left stick, with passing controlled by the L1 and R1 buttons, depending on whether you are flinging the ball left or right. There is an option to sprint or take evasive action to avoid tackles, and a variety of different kicking options are mapped to the face buttons. If you are tackled or end up in a rucking or mauling situation, you are required to tap the X button to fill a meter and take control of the situation. Go overboard with the button mashing, and you can lose the ball in a turnover or end up offside. It requires a bit of restraint – which is a decent way of representing how a rucking, mauling pack need to keep their heads and ensure that the ball is retained for the next phase of play.
Kicking is straightforward enough from open play. You are given the option of hoofing to touch, executing a grubber kick, or the crowd pleasing up ‘n’ under, as well as attempting to emulate Jonny Wilkinson with a well-placed drop-goal between the uprights. Taking conversions and penalties is also easy to pick up, with all the usual bits and bobs you would expect; direction arrow, wind direction indicator, golf game-style power meter.
You can also map predetermined set plays to the right analog stick and have a go at some outlandish dummies, pivots and whatnot, however, it isn’t exactly difficult to just blaze a trail through your opposite number with a speedy winger, without having to resort to tactical trickery. When not in possession of the ball, you can take down your opponents with some excellent tackles, and on the whole the AI of your chasing pack means that you can give good defence against the marauding foe.
We know full well that Rugby is always going to be tricky to emulate. Where an NFL game is punctuated by breaks inbetween plays, Rugby generally flows along and given the button hammering controls when play breaks down there are going to be times where your overzealous efforts end up losing you the ball, or you end up accidentally throwing the ball away. Set plays are a lottery; lineouts give you the option of jumping at the front, centre or back end of the line but the end results seem to be a bit random. Scrummaging is poorly executed; there is no way of knowing when is the right time to attempt to hook the ball, and it seemed to me that nine times out of ten I was losing the ball during the scrum down, something which is not a fair representation of what would happen in a real Rugby match. Driving the scrum on towards the opposition try line also seemed near impossible, therefore a combination of all of these factors means that a crucial scrum given deep within enemy territory is a complete waste of time, even a disadvantage.
So the controls are a mixed bag for sure, and the single player mode is ridiculously easy. Even on the most difficult settings the opponent AI makes it very easy to cut through defences like a knife through hot butter. Within twenty minutes of booting the game up, and on the hardest possible difficulty, I had nailed the Trophy awarded for scoring a counter-attacking try running from one end of the pitch to the other. This isn’t mere braggadoccio about how good I am at sports games – God knows, I am usually dreadful – but more an indication of how one-sided things become and how limited the single player mode is as a result.
But the game is fun in its own way. Multiplayer mode is where the game comes into its own, and with a mate on or offline you will rack up huge scores, given the ease in doing so, meaning it almost becomes a rugby version of NBA Jam as you reply to each others scores one after the other.
LONGEVITY: Once you win the World Cup, there is very little to make you want to return for more in single player. There is a penalty shootout style placekicking mode which is a diversion for a few minutes, but other than that there are no extra modes, something that Rugby 08 had in abundance. You can play multiplayer with up to four players offline and two online, and this is where you are likely to obtain the bulk of your enjoyment if you have buddies with a similar interest in the sport.
The biggest disappointment with the whole package is the meagre selection of teams available. Just the 20 sides who will be stepping out onto the New Zealand turf this autumn are included, and that is it. A large proportion of these players are unlicensed, most unforgivably the All Blacks and Australia sides (the two major powerhouses of the game) due to the rival title endorsed by Jonah Lomu holding the official licenses for the National and domestic sides down under.
VERDICT: A game based on a major sporting tournament does not have to be as limited in its scope as this one, as EA showed us with their excellent South Africa 2010 title. With a new annual FIFA just around the corner and a new Madden already showing us just how comprehensively ace sports games can be, RWC 2011 is slight disappointment. With a lack of polish, overly easy single player mode and paucity of options, it doesn’t represent great value for money, though as a multiplayer title it is a decent laugh, but it’s hard to reccommend on that alone. Lets hope that Jonno and the lads fare better in the actual World Cup, eh?