Right as some of you may know I was lucky enough to be given the chance to play Rugby Challenge, also it was a stroke of luck that I was up in London the night before to play Rugby World Cup 2011 with a few guys from staff. I was planning to compare these two games, but feel there is no need to compare them, as this review will explain.
I have been a strong believer that 2 games coming out this year is to the benefit of Rugby as a sport and as a viable genre in the gaming market, we all know why 2 games are aiming to be released this year, as it is the biggest event in the Rugby Calendar and brings Rugby to the world stage, one specifically targeting that area and the other going for the club and a couple of big International licences. So I will start off with the easy stuff, when I got in the room and met up with Billy from HES, he asked what console do you want to see this on, so to be fair I decided to go for the Xbox 360 rather than the PS3, the first loading screens are Jonah Lomu motion captured, these start off as Lomu as default against a random team, this was England in this instance, we then went into the settings and modified this background to show London Irish against another Random Team, these are usually another opposing club side from the same tournament, I believe this was still using the motion capture from Lomu, showing some big hits and hand-offs, very nice to look at graphically straight away, not much difference between PS3 and Xbox 360 tho.
Billy then went on to showing me the features of the game, we all know that these are the tournaments, online play, Team/Player Editor, Tutorials, Individual Match and Season mode. So straight away a lot of features to get to grips with, we started off looking at the Tutorials Section, where there is basics to pro tutorials to teach you everything about the game that a beginner would want to know, there is even a 2 minute video explaining the rules of the game of rugby, and finally a free play section, which allows you to run round with your players pass and practice the stuff you just learnt in the tutorials. I quite like the free play section but after the first play of the game this won't get used much after, as there is a free play mode whilst the game starts up. The next area we looked at was the player editor, this is something I liked quite a bit, the ability to create your own team will allow you to replicate the teams which are licensed or even your mates in your local team, the facial editor is superb, lots of detail has gone in to this, I would happily say this is better than the Fifa editor. Just to cover the other areas off obviously we are all aware of the the following teams/competition are Licenced: Aviva Premiership, Magners League (Rabodirect thingy), Top 14, New Zealand, Australia, ITM Cup and the NZ/Aus teams in SupeRugby, these are selectable in the Tournament Mode and Season Mode. The Season Mode is spread over 13 seasons, which covers both Club and International, within the season mode you can select to follow either a Club or an International team or both.
Now onto the bit you have all been waiting for, how does the gameplay, what are the features in there and what are the positives and what are the negatives...
First game I played, I choose my Favourite team Bath Rugby and after some gentle persuasion Billy suggested I played against New Zealand on very easy to get a feel of the game, so at the start of the game, we get to see a visually stunning Haka, which is really realistic, this is obviously only if you play as New Zealand. Once the game got underway, I slowly picked up the controls, there are a few differences to RWC 2011 but this was soon ironed out. The first thing I noticed was the passing the majority of the time it was quite smooth, however there was the occasional stray pass, but that's to be expected tho, this didn't just happen just to the player it happens to the AI as well, however I noticed this continues right the way through the skill levels of the game as well. Next was the defence this is something that I found difficult to get to grips with especially with the switching of active players, I found the B button being rather annoying, would of potentially liked a trigger, but this is by the by, the next thing with this is the fact the player selected is usually not the closest player to the ball, this may just be my experience of it, but I found this rather annoying as it made it awkward to defend against.
Now to start talking about the breakdown, there has been a lot of talk about the rucking system, and how it is not a button bashing system, I discovered otherwise, I found the harder and faster that you pressed the button, the more likely you are to win the ruck, I think there are some attribute based advantages in this, but I managed to turn over a ball when it was the opposition looked like they would win the ball. You have 2 options, one being going in Hard and one Normal. As far as I could see there was no way to change the method of play at the Breakdown, which means there is no pick and drive, no quick ball if you get isolated, also I noticed there was no way of causing an infringement either in the ruck. The method that has been put into this could of worked but I think the balance is biased towards button bashing.
The next area was the set plays, when I first saw the gameplay video, I really liked the look of the scrums as it looked like they had done something very special with them, however I don't think they have gone far enough with this feature, they have created a contest with the Scrum, using the 2 analogue sticks, however this requires you to push them at the same time in the radar, this is skill based, however you have no control of when the ball is put in and hooking the ball. I may have missed it but I also found it very difficult to wheel the scrum and collapse the scrum, which is now quite a big part of the modern game. All in All I think they have made a good addition to this but feel it could of gone further. Staying on the set plays, I really liked the lineouts in the game, the ability to move the line back and forth and the throwing direction have revolutionised the Lineouts in my opinion, it adds another aspect of the game, and doesn't slow the game down a bit, they have however missed a trick with the lineouts by not including the a quick lineout option, this is going and does slow down the pace of the game.
Looking at Mauls, I found it difficult to form a Maul in the game, this may be down to the fact of the opportunities arising in the game, but when I did I found the method to be rather clunky, having to press A to add players to the maul and X to drive the maul, this made them very rigid, I was unable to work out whether you could direct the maul, or even collapse the Maul. I would need to play more before I could make a judgement on them in the context of the game.
Kicking... Well now this was something I was unsure from the start if I am honest not sure I liked the fact that it slowed the play down, so you could concentrate on a kick, thought this would make it very easy to judge kicks and take some of the skill and speed away, to start off with I thought I was right but the more I played the better it got, I wouldn't suggest it is the best method, but the ability to take some time to place the kick is great, however this is likely to de-skill people when they start playing the game online, if the slow down feature is disabled. There are two methods of taking a kick a quick button press and a press and hold method, I found the quick button press didn't really work well for me, the kicks weren't directed in anyway which becomes annoying however the press and hold method did work for me, the animations around the kicking are superb and its obviously an area they have taken a lot of time in. In terms of styles of kicks you have punt, drop, grubber, chip and Up and Under, these are now apparent to be standard kicks in all rugby games. When you do slow the kick down, press and hold, this shows the wind conditions in front of you allowing you to adjust your kick for your needs, this is handy, when kicking for touch or a drop goal. As for the place kicking you have the ability to place the kick wherever you like, but in terms of aiming your kick, thats all your doing your not deciding the length, this is done using the A button with the similar kind of system used for the Scrum, this is rather annoying in my opinion.
The only other things that it leaves me to talk about is the camera angles, I played around with them a bit to try and find the one which suited me best, there is a lot to choose from but the best for me was the end on vision, this was quite a high view which game you good spacial awareness of the pitch, however the downside with this view is when you make a break, you get an almost Be A Pro style camera angle, which is cool, but just not practical for Rugby in my opinion, you do have the ability to turn this off if you want to. Having tried playing with the side on camera, I found this very hard to get on with, it was extremely difficult to judge kicks and also the running play of the game, it was almost quite a rigid and shallow angle, but like I said above the end on works really well, enabling you to see the entire screen. Semi-Related to the camera angles is the fact that when you do get a player sin-binned there is no indication you or the opposition have a player in the bin, this is something small but I would of liked, it would enable you to tell you have the advantage, and potentially look for the exploit in the defence.
Now to talk about one of my favourite bits, the ability to hold up a try, this is something which is currently missing in RWC 2011, and we noticed several times when playing it yesterday, however Rugby Challenge have got this right, they allow the players to tackle in the in goal area and make that try saving tackle. I know this is only a small part of the game, but I think it does make it very realistic.
I think I have covered the majority of things, but feel free to ask questions on this. I have written this as a completely unbiased opinion, and with its faults there are some very strong positives, we have to remember this is SIDHE's first Rugby Union game they have made and I think that is very important, this game will create a good platform for them to build on, they have some of the basics working well but they also lack some of the fundamentals of the game working. I really enjoyed playing the game, and will be buying it, purely for the season mode and the licences, but then I will also be getting RWC 2011 for the gameplay and the core game. As I keep saying these two games are going to help each other and develop both games and the genre of Rugby Gaming, I think we have an exciting couple of years ahead.
Just a massive Thank You to Mario, Sebastian and Billy for arranging today, it was great to be able to play the game, and I hope you find this review informative, and be able to build on the foundation you are currently laying.
There is currently no release date for Rugby Challenge, but it will be available on Xbox360 and PS3 as well several other formats, I also think its worthwhile noting this was not played on the final build of the game, the version I played is about a week out of date...