All Blacks Rugby Challenge

Much has been made in the media of the particular kind of rugby that wins knockout competitions like the Rugby World Cup. While New Zealand’s style — running rugby and an emphasis on tries — might be easy on the eye, we fear that the All Blacks lack the ability to ‘win ugly’.

The first time I played Sidhe’s All Blacks Rugby Challenge, a couple of weeks back, it felt like New Zealand and Australia at Eden Park this year: big game atmosphere, attacking flair, exciting battles all around the park... and afterwards it looked like there was daylight between this kiwi outfit and the competition. Coming back to the finished game, though, I’d had time to digest things a little more, and I wanted to look beyond the flash and pomp and hype. Is everything really as immaculate as it seems, or does the first play through airbrush over some imperfections? Does the flashy experience hold up game after game? And does Rugby Challenge’s wealth of features really deliver what rugby fans will be anxious for?

 
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For the first few games, it’s all upside. As expected, given the series of sliders employed to control team tactics and dynamics, different teams play differently. It’s not something you’re likely to notice too much when the Hurricanes take on the Blues, but playing South Africa and then the Wallabies... wow! After grinding out a kick-fest against some carefully renamed Boks (contrary to earlier reports, Sidhe have used fictionalised versions of real players — although the fake names at least sound plausible), Quade Cooper and Co. completely tore my All Black defense apart with some lightning-quick passes and offloads that even had Sonny Bill Williams impressed. Australian glee at scoring and the dismayed body language of the defenders were captured brilliantly. I’m happy to say that ‘Normal’ difficulty still poses plenty of challenge — so hopefully the two harder levels will prove satisfying even over a longer period of time.

Even working together in co-op, Aaron and I were struggling with the pace at times. But that’s not to impugn Rugby Challenge’s two-player experience — indeed, this is one area where I think it clearly rises above many rugby games of the past. Whether competitive or cooperative, the feel of multiplayer is great, and maybe of the game’s little touches really come into their own when there are mates around to get into the spirit of things. While in single-player, the pretty lens flares will go unnoticed, and the Haka will probably get skipped after the first time, these peripheral things definitely add a touch of spice to a real in-the-room rivalry. The TMO is particularly cool in these circumstances, giving you moments of real tension in close matches (and it seems to be invoked at sensible times, which is a pleasant surprise).

Under the crisp surface, though, after the flash of such things starts to wear off, I can start to see the game’s issues breaking through the defensive line. It started with the graphical glitches: the occasional ball bouncing weirdly and then popping to where it should be — nothing that seems to seriously affect the game, but enough to make you go ‘huh?’. Then it’s the defender bouncing off a try-scorer’s diving animation, or a rampaging scrum that looks like it might actually be on wheels... The next thing you know, the opposing James O’Connor has literally walked right through one of your defenders on his way to the try-line.

And, as with O’Connor in the past week, the cracks start to appear off-field, too. The squad management interface is really clunky to use, with options available inconsistently depending on if you are accessing it during a match or not. Headshots of your players update very slowly, too (so if you put Thomson in at Blindside, he’ll sit there looking like Jerome Kaino for a few seconds before the screen updates). Other little things grate as well. The ITM Cup announces that it has two divisions, even though it’s actually the 2010 model of the competition that Sidhe have implemented. Despite having selected only one human-controlled team in a competition, your controller will inexplicably default to the opposition just because they are the home team. And for all the head-distorting options you can bring to bear in player creation, there’s a sadly small selection of hair-styles to choose from.

As for the commentary team... well, it’s commentary in a sports video game. It doesn’t matter how appropriate their comments are to the state of the game (pretty accurate for the most part, actually — except for a few howlers about the possibility of a drop goal being on the cards when the wrong team has the ball), you’re always going to be able to tell where the team or player name has been uncomfortably tacked onto the end of a classic rugby cliché. At least the music is good.

As these disappointments sink in, Rugby Challenge starts to feel less like the stunning Eden Park performance and more like the recent back-up brigade’s trip to Port Elizabeth: some brilliant moments, but marred by a few too many errors.

But is this too harsh? Maybe everything isn’t perfect underneath the slick exterior, but that doesn’t mean Rugby Challenge doesn’t play well overall. The running rugby is free-flowing, and even when passing breaks down, it is usually in a fairly realistic way. Kicking benefits greatly from the slow-motion feature, allowing the player that little extra bit of time needed to effectively aim. Not that this makes kicking too easy — there’s still a lot of challenge even just in kicking for territory. But it does mean that there’s room to move the slider towards ‘ugly’ rugby rather than flashy backline moves. And ironically, given the effort that has clearly gone into the surface appeal of the game, I think it may be ugliness that gives Rugby Challenge its edge.

While career mode has its own disappointments (particularly in the international arena, where some players seem to have bizarre eligibility for foreign teams), at least there actually is a career mode. Sure FIFA is miles ahead in this department, but what use is that to us fans of the oval ball? For long-term single-player enjoyment, I don’t think I can overstate the importance of the different competitions and modes available here. Rugby Challenge is not just here for the World Cup, it’s in it for the long haul, offering tournaments at various levels from around the globe, even our own ITM Cup.

The lack of licenses for International sides and the South African Super Rugby franchises is unfortunate. But the game’s customisation possibilities mean that if you’re willing to put in the hard yards — by renaming teams and sourcing real players from the licensed clubs — you can pretty much overcome these drawbacks. Even the flag-based faux national kits can be exchanged for an array of custom outfits that are close enough to the real thing (though obviously unbranded).

Rugby Challenge is not without its problems. But there is depth behind its flashy veneer. Perhaps most importantly, there doesn’t seem to be anything that ruins the game by overbalancing it. It embraces different playing styles, and rewards learning the skills associated with each. As I hope the All Blacks will in the coming weeks, Rugby Challenge plays with passion and does its best to impress with slick moves — but it also isn’t afraid to ‘win ugly’.


All Blacks Rugby Challenge
"The best rugby game available."
- All Blacks Rugby Challenge
8.2
Great
 
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


 

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Comments Comments (21)

 
Deanology NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Deanology
On Saturday 27 Aug 2011 11:11 AM
5
Good review, and spot on with the issues also.
I find there to be far too much ball lost due to knock-ons and passes flung at ridiculous angles, mind you.
 
 
 
Deanology NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Deanology
On Saturday 27 Aug 2011 11:12 AM
3
27 August 2011, 11:11 AM Reply to Deanology
Good review, and spot on with the issues also.
I find there to be far too much ball lost due to knock-ons and passes flung at ridiculous angles, mind you.
Damn, and i forgot..
There is far too much fancy offloading. Far too much.
And the turnovers are also an issue.
 
 
 
fifamessi NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by fifamessi
On Saturday 27 Aug 2011 11:22 AM
-
27 August 2011, 11:12 AM Reply to Deanology
Damn, and i forgot..
There is far too much fancy offloading. Far too much.
And the turnovers are also an issue.
yep, i agree. the review is spot on imo.
 
 
 
Slide
Posted by Slide
On Saturday 27 Aug 2011 1:49 PM
3
Up the difficulty and the turnovers disappear gradually. But yes. lots of glitches but still heaps of fun!!
 
 
 
Deanology NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Deanology
On Saturday 27 Aug 2011 6:03 PM
-
27 August 2011, 01:49 PM Reply to Slide
Up the difficulty and the turnovers disappear gradually. But yes. lots of glitches but still heaps of fun!!
Fully agree.
 
 
 
ironfist92 NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
Posted by ironfist92
On Sunday 28 Aug 2011 1:14 AM
5
Could we expect to see a patch to fix these issues up, or am I already asking too much from, like, the ONLY NZ Game developer?
 
 
 
Jogga
Posted by Jogga
On Sunday 28 Aug 2011 4:27 PM
-7
-sigh- Another inflated score. I expect better of you guys. Starting to wonder why that is though.
 
This comment has been down-voted by the community.  
 
hudiscapidicus
Posted by hudiscapidicus
On Monday 29 Aug 2011 2:51 PM
-
I enjoy this game, but agree, lots of glitches (possibly the cost of pushing forward the release date?).

My biggest hates are:
crashing over the line, only to break tackle after tackle, right over the dead-ball line, and;
the half-back refusing to pass the ball (usually after a scrum), or only running to the left of a ruck/scrum.


Hopefully nothing a simple update can't fix
 
 
 
hudiscapidicus
Posted by hudiscapidicus
On Monday 29 Aug 2011 3:00 PM
-
Oh, and what is with the teams? I played the ITM Cup as Wellington, and Alby Mathewson is halfback? Even stranger, Rodney So'oialo is the captain? I was half expecting David Holwell and Jerry Collins to run onto the field...

It's not even that it's using last years team, it's like they just made up a squad of past and present players.
 
 
 
Camilla
Posted by Camilla
On Monday 29 Aug 2011 5:24 PM
1
28 August 2011, 01:14 AM Reply to ironfist92
Could we expect to see a patch to fix these issues up, or am I already asking too much from, like, the ONLY NZ Game developer?
There's a patch in the pipe.
 
 
 
Gravelle
Posted by Gravelle
On Monday 29 Aug 2011 11:08 PM
-
29 August 2011, 05:24 PM Reply to Camilla
There's a patch in the pipe.
Good to see you're listening to the feedback and fixing the issues, hope it continues throughout the year.
 
 
 
SolomonLaw NZGamer.com VIP VIP
Posted by SolomonLaw
On Tuesday 30 Aug 2011 5:09 PM
-
29 August 2011, 05:24 PM Reply to Camilla
There's a patch in the pipe.
Great stuff, the amount of knock ons under no pressure(some with no graphical representation)are doing my head in. Also the amount of passing to no one 10 miles behind you is sullying what is otherwise a good game.
 
 
 
Moneyshot
Posted by Moneyshot
On Tuesday 30 Aug 2011 11:54 PM
1
Whats up with the props being as fast as the wingers ?
 
 
 
Ron NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
Posted by Ron
On Wednesday 31 Aug 2011 9:26 AM
2
30 August 2011, 11:54 PM Reply to Moneyshot
Whats up with the props being as fast as the wingers ?
I'd have to agree with that, you can move the sliders per team, but stuff updating every team in the game to make the forwards slower than the backs. Though again we did see Samo bust it up the middle for a breakaway try against the ABs.
 
 
 
jonahlomu
Posted by jonahlomu
On Wednesday 31 Aug 2011 8:30 PM
2
First time poster; long time listener.
Seriously an 8.2/10? What are you on?
There are so many problems with this game its not even playable! Give me Rugby 06 any day! Have the developers even played a rugby game or watched a rugby game??? They obviously didn't play Jonah Lomu Rugby!
Issues:
Where the bloody hell is my backline? Its all forwards and if there are backs they are all bunched up. There is no option to run a back line move, or a button to get them into formation. Huge let down. Take a look at Rugby 06 at what options you can run. Carter in the AB's is often found on the wing...
Rucks: The rucks take far to long to get the ball back and the half back has to pick the ball up before he even thinks about passing (slower than Piri Wepu on the weekend!)
Knock ons: have already been discussed
Offloading: Far to much
Passing: far to many passes that go way behind the players. This is caused by not having the structure in the backline. The first five should always be trying to get into the first five position, not a hooker!
Scoring tries: where is the dive? In Lomu/06 you can dive from 5M out and slide in if you are sprinting, where is this? You get over the line and cant put the ball down in time before you run dead.
I hope these are able to be fixed/updated.
Avoid this game!! EA please just update rugby 06!!!
 
 
 
zav
Posted by zav
On Thursday 1 Sep 2011 2:19 PM
1
i agree with most of the comments here, but another one that hasn't been mentioned is that the scrums take far too long to complete and it is all luck / timing based. The team feeding should have at least a minor advantage.

I played this at work on the PS3 and was expecting a lot more polish, but unfortunately i'm rather disappointed as I was really looking forward to this game. So much so, that I have cancelled my PC preorder and will wait till it comes down in price. In my opinion, I don't feel I am getting value for money at the full purchase price.
 
 
 
SolomonLaw NZGamer.com VIP VIP
Posted by SolomonLaw
On Monday 5 Sep 2011 10:08 AM
-
After a few days i have got the handle onit. Mostly by sitting closer to my tv to see what numbers the players have on their backs. This way i can be more selective with my passing and use more of a pick and go style if too many backs are commited to ruck.This has greatly reduced my error count as well. My main gripe is no tournament mode in online play (which i am really enjoying) Also its too easy for players to drop out without penalty. In my second online game i was playing NEORI and with a few minutes to go (real time)scored to extend to a 17 point lead. He then quit the game (or turned off his internet connection). Later that day i saw on the leader board he was top ranked with 110+ wins and only 4 losses. This would have been a great scalp and i was pretty annoyed that he dropped out. has this happened to anyone else. Half the games im leading in people seem to quit. I have had to quit just once to a game malfunction when the camera got stuck in the crowd?!?!
 
 
 
Jonah_Nonu
Posted by Jonah_Nonu
On Thursday 8 Sep 2011 12:44 PM
-
What a joke, I'd give it a 6 at the very most. Disgusting frame rate, plays nothing like rugby just tap r1 till u get a try and the biggest insult is the 130 dollar price tag the only other game I payed, got a full refund the next day. A bit of bias in this review aye?
 
 
 
Sammael
Posted by Sammael
On Friday 9 Sep 2011 9:10 AM
1
29 August 2011, 03:00 PM Reply to hudiscapidicus
Oh, and what is with the teams? I played the ITM Cup as Wellington, and Alby Mathewson is halfback? Even stranger, Rodney So'oialo is the captain? I was half expecting David Holwell and Jerry Collins to run onto the field...

It's not even that it's using last years team, it's like they just made up a squad of past and present players.
I believe it's the 2010 ITM Cup (hence no promotion/relegation stuff either). 2010 was the year Mathewson first went to the Blues, but he still played for Wellington in the provincial comp that year.
 
 
 
Jogga
Posted by Jogga
On Tuesday 13 Sep 2011 6:17 AM
-3
Hahahaha, -6 for stating a fact. Come at me haters. This review is not written as an 8.2. Problem?
 
 
 
Britworth
Posted by Britworth
On Sunday 18 Sep 2011 11:07 AM
-
The offloads are the stupidest thing in this game. What were they thinking.You cant make a tackle stick because every player can offload it in ridiculous situations. Its painful, the game is unplayable. Why did they even bother.