Guys I've found another preview article - I think this is taken from quite an early version of the game. Closing sentence is a bit worrying! Anyway enjoy.... Rugby 06 - Hands On Preview TVG takes to the pitch in EA's latest attempt to bring the world of Rugby Football to gamers... Author: Jon Wilcox With the 2006 Six Nations Championship just weeks away (Go Wales!), Electronic Arts is putting the finishing touches to this year's oval ball update Rugby 06, which is set for release on Xbox, PlayStation2 and PC on February 10th. Adapting the sport for a videogame has been a bit hit and miss over the years, but the improvements added in this latest iteration could certainly help dispel the notion that bringing the essence of rugby union to a videogame is impossible. Of course Electronic Arts will have competition in the rugby adaptation stakes this year with an Easter release of Rugby Challenge 2006 vying for supremacy, with the impending competition between the two franchises benefiting the gamer. Bringing the game of rugby to consoles has never been easy, in fact there's only one title that's been held in high regard: Jonah Lomu Rugby, which was released over ten years ago. Incidentally the team behind that showcase of rugby is the same team currently putting the finishing touches to Rugby Challenge 2006 - hence the pressure on Rugby 06. One of the key reasons for rugby-based videogames failing to reach that potential is the videogame adaptations lack of fluidity found in the real game (believe it or not it does exist), though EA has introduced several new gameplay features aimed at changing all that. Following a brief tutorial for those unaccustomed to either rugby union or the rugby franchise, explaining the basics such as passing, tackling, rucking, mauling, and scoring those all important tries, gamers then get to choose which tournament they want to play through. Securing the licenses for several of the key Union tournaments including the English Guinness Premiership, the Tri-Nations, and the RBS Six Nations, as well the names and likenesses to many of the top rugby players from around the world, EA has once again brought validity to their rugby franchise. Added to that a range of tournaments including an unofficial 'World Championship' and 'European Trophy', and every key establishment in the rugby world makes an appearance in one capacity or another. It may not have the official licences from some countries including the Welsh regional teams, but stand-in Llanellis and Cardiffs do at least make it into the game. From the tutorial it's plain to see that the control system is largely the same from Rugby 2005, so what are the key features introduced by EA for this year's iteration? First and by far the most important is the ability to off-load the ball in the tackle, which even during the preview build, makes Rugby 06 immediately more fluid over its predecessors. Whereas previous iterations have seen the action breakdown following a tackle into the boggy mess that are rucks and mauls, the implementation of the off-load retains the flow of the game. Coupled with that the ability to execute Quick Penalties and Quick Line-Outs, and the game certainly moves a lot quicker than in Rugby 2005. The ability to execute four of up to twenty-five set plays by mapping them to the d-pad further adds to the flow of the game this year. Selecting them during a ruck, plays such as looping balls and miss players offer a level of strategy and openly played rugby that once again evolves the franchise closer to the real world game. Thankfully players wouldn't have to experiment with various set plays on match day thanks to the Training Mode, enabling gamers to practice and select which set pieces are best to use against their next opponents. Elsewhere in the game, rucks continue to be a bit hit and miss, despite the desperate button bashing, and therefore does get a little disappointing after the first dozen or so turnovers by the opposition; hopefully that'll be one area that gets worked before release. So far at least the 'all new' commentary confirmed by EA doesn't seem to have developed too far, and like some of the other non-US sports games, doesn't (at this stage at least) live up to expectations. Neither Ian Robertson or Grant Fox sound particularly comfortable in their roles, sounding quite wooden and at time, more artificial than the virtual players themselves. Hopefully a bug in the preview build, the crowd volume and balance sounds all over the place at times, with bursts of cheers popping in and out of the screen as different camera angles are taken. It's also worth noting EA for future reference, that crowds at rugby matches sound different to crowds at football matches, and implementing that fact into future rugby titles would go a long way to bringing a sense of realism to audio experience. With the recent influx of next-gen sports titles from EA, going back to play a current-gen title such as Rugby 06 is a bit of a shock to the system, specifically in the graphics department. But like so many other aspects of the title, the visuals have been improved, and at least now the players in the game do have a passing resemblance to their real world equivalents. Stadia including Twickenham and of course the Millennium Stadium are featured in the game with a high level of visual accuracy. But in honesty the Rugby franchise is way behind the likes of FIFA in the visual department; is the series popular enough to warrant being brought onto the next-generation consoles? There also seemed to be a few glitches at times during the course of the match, something that we're sure will be ironed out before the release date; players on occasion would freeze after they'd passed the ball for a few seconds and not show the sort of reactions that a real world player would make. Though they may only seem like superficial changes, the inclusion of off-loads, quick penalties, and quick line-outs finally seems to add a level of fluidity not seen in previous rugby titles. It's plain to see even by playing the preview version of Rugby 06 that Electronic Arts have made strides in the refinement of the franchise, and whilst the control system may seem a little complicated at first, it soon becomes second nature. There's a depth to the tournaments available, including unofficial versions of teams from Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, though there is a danger that the gameplay can get quite samey.