Unlike football supporters, rugby fans have been starved of virtual versions of the oval-ball game in recent years. In fact, not since the heady days of Jonah Lomu Rugby on the good ship PSOne have rugby aficionados had a game to rival the FIFA and PES titles of this world, so the prospect of rugby making its debut on the next gen. consoles was one to whet the appetite of sports fans and gamers alike. Unfortunately, the end result feels like a half-finished attempt at creating a sports game, hurried out in time for the real life event in September, rather than a lovingly created simulation capable of keeping armchair athletes out of the pub.
It’s not all bad: there is something gratifying about seeing Brian O’Driscoll lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy, particularly after the Irish team’s recent run of form.
The graphics are OK in-game, although the close-ups aren’t exactly jaw-dropping, and the sound is passable, with pretty decent commentary. All this could be forgiven, however, if the gameplay was out of this world. Unfortunately, it’s not. The pass, using the shoulder buttons, is pretty intuitive (especially for those used to the aforementioned Lomu), although the ability to fire a missed-pass, changing the line of attack, would have been welcome. That said, at the easy and medium settings, you won’t really need to skip any passes – once you get the ball to one of your centres or wings, a burst of speed should take you clear of the entire opposition’s team, with a clear run to their try-line. And at the hard setting, getting your hands on the ball in the first place could be a problem – winning the ball at rucks (by button-mashing) seems arbitrary at best, despite how many men you commit, while your players seem to wander offside at will. The addition of a couple of tutorials would have been very welcome on this score.
Indeed, aside from the pass, the controls feel clunky (although, watching my house-mate continually punt the ball when he’s within site of my line is almost worth it), while licensing issues mean that some of the biggest names in world rugby are missing. Allied to the lack of playing options (no Six Nations, Tri-Nations etc), you can’t shake the feeling that gamers are being sold a little short. While it’s fun to play with your mates in a head-to-head capacity or online, the single player game falls far shy of the standards set by other sporting titles. The end result is that what should have been a cracking sports game, and possibly the beginning of a new dynasty to rival soccer sims, is a frustrating, disappointing affair.