|We all know who’s going to win this year|
Interesting truth: Rugby is a big, global sport. As big as soccer (as we call it in our little corner of the world)? No. But big enough that some 3.5 billion people tuned into the last world cup.
And yet, unlike the yearly NHL, NBL, FIFA and Madden games, Rugby isn’t a sport that gets that many video games made on it. There’s some, sure, but yearly editions? Not likely.
So the good news for Rugby fans is that the World Cup is a glorious time to release a tie-in videogame. Though it’s not quite the product of a FIFA soccer game, Rugby World Cup 2011’s faults are ultimately forgivable, as it’s a very playable game of footy.
The game will be confusing at first to the uninitiated. Though Rugby isn’t as abstract as Gridiron, it still has rules wholly unique to it, and if you’ve never seen or played Rugby before, you’re not going to make sense of what’s going on here at first either. Downloading it from the PSN/ XBLA means you go without a manual, and the game does a poor job of walking people through the sport. If you haven’t been involved in the sport before and for some reason pick this up, you’ll do well to watch a few games of the World Cup first to get a feel for the rules and the strategies at play in this surprisingly complex sport.
It’s clear from the outset that the game doesn’t have the same production budget of a mainstream sports release. Character models are good, but nowhere near as detailed as an EA sports game, And the 2D crowd with canned animation is straight out of a PS2 game. Also compared to those games by EA, there are so few gameplay modes and options that it almost feels like a demo game. There’s a one-off exhibition, a World Cup, a warm up competition, and the ability to play online. There’s no player manager mode, which means the more sim-minded people will likely be put off.
Controls are similarly simplified. There’s the basics of passing, kicking and tackling, and some rudimentary ability to sidestep and push through a tackle, but the complex maneuvering of a FIFA or NHL game that takes hours of play just to remember the button combinations isn’t present here. In many ways this is a game that feels half a decade old, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. EA has had to include “old school” control systems for its sports games for the same reason that Rugby remains fun to play; sometimes it’s nice to kick back, relax, and just enjoy your favourite sports, rather than struggle with a dual stick controller.
Of course, the flip side to that coin is that longer term Rugby hits a plateau where it stops rewarding the player. There’s a point where there’s no more room to get better at this game, and while there is the online play and some easy ways to up the difficulty ante (see below), there is a defined time limit to how long this game is enjoyable.
It’s officially licensed, though, and as any good sport game goes, it’s a reasonable approximation of the abilities of their real-life counterparts. The depth in which this game goes there is truly impressive; you would naturally expect Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to be in a Rugby game, but extending the license to relative minnows Namibia, Japan and the USA is a boost to the credibility of the game.
The downside there is that the statistics rule the game. Even on the easy difficulty level, playing as Japan against England is a tough ask. England’s increased statistics means it wins most of the physical confrontations regardless of player skill, and this is a sport based entirely around physical confrontation.
It’s good to see that the teams are so accurately represented, but it’s also nice to know in a game like NHL 2012, if I’m in the mood for a laugh I can set the difficulty to easy and roll the USA 10-0 with Kazakhstan. A gentler approach to the statistics would have been welcome on the easy difficulty levels.
Overall though, it’s really hard to criticise the soul of this game. It was never going to reach the heights of a good FIFA game, because its target market is substantially smaller. What it does is play a very smooth, very clean, and very entertaining game of footy, right when people’s interest in Rugby is peaking.
I like to think of it like games around Cricket or AFL (Australian Football, for the uninitiated). There are some good renditions of both sports out there on the market. Limited and not presented as well, but still good fun. And like Cricket and AFL fans can get a lot out of those games, Rugby fans should consider Rugby World Cup a safe purchase.