Rugby fans have had to suffer through quite a long drought since the last rugby video game was released. This may be down to the fact that the free-flowing, tackle-heavy game for hooligans played by gentlemen is tricky for developers to adapt to the medium, and it might be that it isn’t as popular as, say, football or golf.
Whatever the case, the last prominent rugby title was, prosaically enough, released to tie in with the last Rugby World Cup and was published by EA Sports, the leading buyer of sports licenses in the games industry.
We only mention that last point because 505 Games, the publisher behind Rugby World Cup 2011, probably doesn’t have the huge funds available to EA Sports. This may explain why only 10 of the teams in Rugby World Cup 2011 are officially licensed – and New Zealand and Australia aren’t among them.
This isn’t exactly a reason not to buy the game – after all, the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise has always lacked the official licenses of EA’s Fifa, but this didn’t stop it producing some of the best football games available (at least, up until recently).
However, it does speak to the sense that Rugby World Cup 2011 feels like a largely rushed affair and this is backed up by the fact that there’s very little depth on offer here.
Team licenses aside, this is a game with no tutorial mode, no teams outside those in the current Rugby World Cup and only a couple of modes of play outside the bog-standard head-to-head.
There is no scenario mode – which proved the lifeblood of 2010 Fifa World Cup – no challenge mode, and online matches are limited to one-off contests. The game offers the tournament, international tests, warm-up tours and a place-kicking mini-game – and that’s it. There’s no Six Nations, no Super 15, no Tri-Nations and no domestic leagues. Its content isn’t so much thin as it is anorexic.
It also has to be said that Rugby World Cup 2011 isn’t exactly the prettiest game on the market. While the graphics are fine at a distance, in close-up for instant replays, penalties or conversions, players tend to look like they’ve been moulded out of cheap plastic.
In spite of all this, there’s a rather fun rugby sim at the heart of the game, which is to be expected; while 505 might not be able to buy all of the official team licenses for its game, it apparently can afford to engage the services of HB Studios, the developer behind the last four rugby sims that EA Sports released.
Despite the game’s lack of tutorial, the controls are easy enough to master. The shoulder buttons pass the ball left and right down the line, the face buttons give players an array of kicks and the right trigger activates sprint.
On defence, charging into a player initiates an auto-tackle, and the A-button can be used for a diving tackle. When the ball goes into a ruck, tapping the A-button will keep control of the ball or win it back.
Players need to temper their button-bashing, however, because if they tap too much, their team will be penalised for having hands in the ruck. Scrums and mauls are played out using the analogue stick while tapping the A-button to maintain control of the ball.
Even thought the audience most likely to buy this game consists of dyed-in-the-wool rugby fans, Rugby World Cup 2011 can, on its easiest setting, act as a decent gateway into the sport for the uninitiated.
The game is easy to pick up and play, and once players familiarise themselves with the rules and mechanics, they’ll begin to breeze past the AI, so long as they’re using one of the stronger teams. Things get tricky when the difficulty setting is nudged up a notch and the game moves from rather enjoyable to horrendously frustrating.
There is a fun, if lightweight, rugby sim contained in Rugby World Cup 2011 and for post-pub gaming, it should suit a lot of rugby fans right down to the ground. But for anyone in search of something deeper than a knock-around arcade-style rugby game, Rugby World Cup 2011 comes up woefully short.
If this was a DLC release on XBLA or PSN or Steam for the equivalent of 10 or so quid, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. As it stands there’s just too little on offer here to justify the cost for a full-priced, boxed retail release.
Ultimately it all depends on how desperate one is to own a rugby video game. And whether one can wait until the jury is in on Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge…
Source: The Guardian