Rugby fans have been extremely patient, but after four years are they being 'rewarded' with a new video game version of the sport, or is it a missed opportunity?
Every four years, millions of rugby fans around the world come together to celebrate a historic occasion – I am, of course, referring to the release of a new rugby video game.
Despite being one of the world’s biggest sports, digital scrums and player-controlled Brian O’Driscolls are extremely rare in video games, with many fans of the sport placing the blame on the fact that the rough and tumble action, coupled with the multitude of sometimes indiscernible referee whistle-blowing, render rugby a less than accessible gamer sports title. At least compared to the ‘pick up and play’ aspects of football or basketball rivals, that is.
As such, the first rugby video game title of the current console generation (which began over six and a half years ago, let’s not forget), Rugby World Cup 2011 doesn’t really have a lot to live up to – its fans have been chomping at the bit since the last rugger game four years ago.
That game was the 2007 World Cup release, under the EA brand, from the 2011 version’s developers HB Games. Four years on, have they learnt any new tricks?
Now under the guiding hand of publishers 505 Games, HB have forgotten nothing of the presentation level and polish that is typical of EA titles. Menus are easily understandable, official likenesses and licenses are all present and correct and the pomp that emphasises one of the world’s biggest sporting events heightens the feeling of immersion throughout.
If we were reviewing the game purely on a visual level, in terms of graphics and presentation, Rugby World Cup 2011 would pass with flying colours. Obviously though, there are much bigger issues to address and a few aspects in which the tournament tie-in falls short.
Yes, the Aviva Stadium appears, only it's a little unrealistic to see it completely full for a change
As rugby union gameplay takes on so many forms (scrums, line-outs, mauls, drop-kicks, rucks), there was a huge challenge for HB Games to conquer. Get just one aspect of the actual sport's gameplay wrong and the game itself suffers, becoming unwieldy for free-flowing play and casual users. In this sense, it's a mixed bag.
Passing is controlled via the shoulder buttons throughout, while the left trigger or right trigger is utilised depending on which respective side you’re looking to choose. When in full flight, the system becomes second nature, as the right trigger, when held, becomes a sprint option, with a variety of kicks available through the face buttons. Similarly, drop-kicks are extremely accurate, while adverse weather conditions will affect your trajectory.
Rucks have been given a new lease of life in the game, with each presenting a small bar for each player that is controlled by hammering the A or X button. There’s a real risk-or-reward system at play here but personally we felt that the 'hammer the button' gameplay was antiquated and didn't feel life-like.
Diving for a try was another bone of contention as there never seemed a wholly accurate system for doing so, while we even pelted over the 5m line and overshot our dive on a few occasions. Similarly, getting involved in a maul is unlike its real-life counterpart as the maul only extends a certain distance before you're forced to throw wide.
Modes on offer
The main game modes of Rugby World Cup 2011 range from a Full Tournament, International Tests, Warm-up Tour, Place-Kick Shootout, a player v player online mode and four-player local multiplayer. Sadly, that just isn’t enough.
In a world in which FIFA 2010 World Cup was criticised for a paucity of content despite fully replicating tournament qualifying, historical scenarios and daily updated scenarios and over 150 countries, HB’s efforts shouldn’t be excused simply because there is less worldwide participation in the sport of rugby.
Any full-price release, particularly sports, has to up its game to justify gamers shelling out the cash and in the case of Rugby World Cup 2011, there are no more than 20 countries to play. Sure, you can have a World Cup, try some exhibition games or have a Test series Down Under but you’ll grow tired of the same teams pretty quickly.
Teams that failed the qualification process, Magners League teams or even invitational teams would have been extremely welcome and are very noticeable by their absence. Even Jonah Lomu Rugby on the Sega Megadrive in 1997 had the Barbarians, for example.
If it sounds as though we’re being overly harsh then it’s only because the potential for Rugby World Cup 2011 was huge and remains untapped. Any rugby fan looking to sate their gamer needs, especially after a four-year wait won’t need much convincing and indeed casual sports fans will love four-player multiplayer ties. Though unspectacular, the basic gameplay is solid, yet things have moved on in the past four years too.
Held against its fully-featured sports rivals that are jostling for position on game shelves, we can’t help but feel that Rugby World Cup 2011 is a fun title but is a luxury rather than an essential purchase.
Format: Xbox 360, Playstation 3; Developer: HB Games; Publisher: 505 Games