Rugby League has finally burst its way onto the Playstation 3 and the XBOX 360 as Big Ant Studios bring Rugby League Live to the UK.
Published by Alternative Software, who are this year celebrating their 25th anniversary, Rugby League Live will be released to the waiting Rugby League public on 2nd November. Following on from Rugby League 3, which was a Wii exclusive earlier this year, I am pleased to report that this is the best rugby league title yet.
The word to describe this title is “immersive.” I have, thanks to an impatient friend, played around 15-20 games of the game to date and I can see nothing other than long nights being spent challenging opponents from around the rugby league globe. To be honest, we’ve all been chasing the same dream since the recent versions of FIFA – why can’t we play online but with rugby?
Well now you can, and with RLL, you can play it seamlessly. One of my biggest reservations was the online play, but with the games I played, it was absolutely flawless, and a lot of credit has to go out for that. Online play is now one of the most scrutinised areas of any game, and RLL comes up trumps with this. The only bit of slowdown is intentional, a short period of time when your online opponent is making their last tackle choice of kick, but if they are going for the powerplay and chancing their arm, there’s reward to be had, and no slowdown. It’s not really noticeable; it’s just a way to show you that your opponent is making their kick.
Speaking of kicking, the kicking game has improved a great deal for RLL. There is now a variety of kicking options that give you, and also your opponents, a devastating arsenal. Kicks are obviously there predominantly for the last tackle options, but in the right hands at the right time, a kick can be a game changer on any tackle. You have your standard kick downfield, which is to gain territory and attempt to turn the full back/winger around, there’s a grubber kick, probably best used on the last tackle to try and create a try, and the revitalised bomb. Big Ant have, very rightfully, returned the jump button to the game after SIDHE’S head-scratching decision to remove it. We all love the ball coming down with snow on it, and a carefully placed bomb to the corner will cause havoc. Wingers and full backs beware! You’ll be able to stick a huge kick up and compete for the bomb by pressing the jump button at the right time. What happens after that is down to you and your competitor!
However, my favourite addition to the kicking game has to be the chip kick. By pressing the Y button, you can do a chip and gather and this works beautifully. I have scored a number of tries by doing this, but it’s because it was good play by me – you wouldn’t be able to do this all the time. It needs the full back to be either out of position or, if they’ve made the previous tackle, out of the question. In the hands of a scrum half, such as Thurston, this is a deadly weapon that is waiting to be used at the right time. Absolutely lethal and perfect looking if it comes off. My favourite try so far, when I was the world champions New Zealand against Australia. At 0-0 Benji Marshall chipped over the top, regathered and passed right to the surging support player, who crashed in under the sticks. Rewarding, rewarding stuff.
The support players are one of the many facets of this game that lend to a realistic rugby league experience. The casual gamer is going to suffer from a whole host of interceptions, knock ons and sound beatings if they try to play this like an arcade game. This is easily the most realistic rugby league game that has ever been made. You need to play the game as if it were real, you need to build pressure, look for gaps, muscle up in defence, make sure your markers don’t switch off and if you go for the big hit, make sure you get it right, otherwise you’re going to be marched downfield.
Even with the AI difficulty switched to “medium” every game feels like an arm wrestle. Inevitably, as you learn the nuances of the game and get used to finding gaps, you’ll wear down opposition. Medium difficulty is very much a challenge, perhaps too much so almost. Easy is just that, whereas Medium is a hard way to learn your lesson. But I would still advise you start off on medium, learn the hard way and take on hard. It all just feels very realistic – the opposition squeezes the life out of you when you’re in your own 10, when you make a break support players appear in their droves, there are different types of grounding for tries, video referees make frequent appearances… it’s a massively enjoyable experience.
The “hit up” (or drive, in English rugby league speak!) feature is back – hammer the A button on the 360 pad to charge up the field and feel the wrath of your opposition. There are different types of player again, as with Rugby League 3, with enforcers, speedsters and creative players. Time a hand-off right with an enforcer and you’re going through the would be tackler. Go through a gap with a speedster and it’s unlikely you’ll be caught. Kick through with a play maker and you have a great chance of regaining the ball.
Without the ball, RLL is impressive also. You feel like you have total control of your players, a big criticism directed at SIDHE’s games, which they had rectified for RL3. You need to ensure you’re careful and square at the markers, you need to make sure your chosen player is back 10. Got someone lined up? Press Y on the 360 controller and you can blam someone with a huge hit. Time it right and you get a cut-scene (not on the online games) and achievements are at stake. There are occasional issues with switching players and the game makes some odd selections sometimes, but mostly you feel well equipped to deal with a break.
It’s all just very impressive. It feels like everything Rugby League 2 should have been 5 years ago. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have flaws, as it does. Graphically, it has hardly improved since RL2, but it does look better. That’s not especially important, as I’d take a game with Spectrum graphics for top gameplay, which RLL delivers. The menu interface is clunky, and could/should be a lot better than it is. It’s clumsy and you’ll often find yourself returning the previous screen as the wrong settings were selected. Again, only a minor irritance.
There are also some glaring errors with regards to player statistics. St Helens’ Ade Gardener for example, wouldn’t consider himself a speedster, so why do Big Ant? Why is Leon Pryce white? These minor oversights appear frequently throughout the British side of the game and with a bit more care and research this could have been avoided totally.
Those are niggly things. One thing that is more than a minor fault is the lack of a franchise system. This could be tempered if you could transfer players between teams, but you can’t. I certainly hope that a patch is going to be sent our way early next year, as I am rather keen to see Josh Perry play for St Helens, as I’m sure Wigan fans are their Melbourne Storm trio and New South Wales fans will be desperate to see the back of Big Iz! There is a league season, for both competitions as well, but the lack of a franchise mode holds this game back.
However, it’s still getting my seal of approval, very much so. It is the premiere rugby league experience out there right now, it has built on from the improvements in Rugby League 3 and taken the series onto a new level. It’s not perfect, but being a graphical snob at this stage is foolhardy. It’s all about the gameplay for me, and this is as close as you’ll get to real rugby league. Try throwing stupid passes, you’ll knock on/be intercepted. Try aiming with a kick for too long, you’ll get your teeth chattering in an instant with a big hit.
I personally reckon that with a patch, this game would set the standard for all rugby games of either code. It is by far and away the best game when it comes to Rugby League. Get yourselves down to your local game stockists and enquire about this title, because if it’s Rugby League you want, it’s Rugby League you’ll get.