Itâs hard to be a fan of a niche sport, sometimes. Yes, rugby is a niche sport, at least so far as videogames go. After four years without a rugby game, weâve suddenly got two to choose from: Sidheâs Rugby Challenge (reviewed here by rugby guru Sam Waldron) and HB Studiosâ Rugby World Cup 2011, a direct successor to their own Rugby 08.
So has it been worth the wait? Unfortunately, not really. This is essentially Rugby 08 in high definition, with only a handful of gameplay enhancements to try and justify the long wait. But it gets worse: unlike last time, there are many missing licenses, tournaments, and game modes. Weâre left with something thatâs a mere shadow of a game thatâs half a decade old.
Itâs not all bad: Rugby 08 was, after all, a competent and often fun take on rugby. That fun is still present here, and old fans will be able to pick up the controls in a flash, as they havenât changed one bit. In fact, everything feels almost 100% the same: passing, kicking, throw-ins and so on are identical, right down to the animations used.
One new feature can be found at the breakdown: you can now mash a button to send people in to try and secure the ball. As you do, a meter fills up; if it goes to far, youâre likely to concede a penalty. Itâs a neat little mechanic that successfully abstracts the breakdown into something fun.
Iâd love to say the game has many such improvements, but it simply isnât true. While the official World Cup branding is present, and premier teams such as South Africa and England are fully included, thereâs a big gaping hole where the All Blacks, Wallabies, and so much more should be. Instead, we get to play as a generic, fictional âNew Zealandâ team, which just doesnât do it for me. Names can be changed if youâre very patient, but thereâs no full player editor â or a team editor of any kind â so youâre never going to have a real team on hand.
Much worse, though, is the lack of tournaments and extended game modes. You can play a quick match, or run through the World Cup, orâŚ no, wait, thatâs about it. Thereâs no Tri-Nations, no Six-Nations, no ITM Cup, no Super Rugby. The World Cup mode does let you play a series of international matches as a lead-up to the tournament itself, but itâs nothing special and doesnât really warrant a second play-through.
The tournament is fun, for what itâs worth: taking Argentina (with real player names!!) from start to finish and nearly winning was a good experience. But in the end, itâs still just a string of matches with a surprising lack of incentive. Itâs the lack of a career or manager mode thatâs the real killer; thereâs just no reason or desire to return to the World Cup once youâve gone through it once or twice. Rugby 08, for all its faults, at least had a healthy number of competitions, and a World League mode spanning multiple seasons to lose yourself in. Here, youâve got nothing.
More annoying things from Rugby 08 that should have been fixed are still present. AI idiocy still rears its ugly head: a grubber kick, for example, will still cause the opposing AI to just stand there rather than going for the ball. And while player movement feels a little tighter, itâs still far too easy to drastically switch directions while maintaining speed, resulting in some pretty frustrating and unrealistic weaving amongst the competition.
Thereâs new commentary, including an Aus/NZ combo that features Sean Fitzpatrick. He doesnât do too badly, but all the commentators suffer from stilted, dry delivery. Worse, however, is the implementation: there were a couple of times when the commentators pointed out the level score, and how tight a match it was. Both times, the score was something like 12-0.
Everything about this game screams âminimal effortâ. The graphics are passable but far from extraordinary. Thereâs no licensed music, or even any attempt at variety â instead, you get the same oddly stirring theme song endlessly looping. Gameplay has barely been updated from the previous games that came out on the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox. Tournaments and licenses are so glaring in their absence, itâs a wonder I havenât been blinded. I donât know if all of this is simply due to a lack of funding, but the fact remains that we have a World Cup game that doesnât feature the All Blacks, in a year where New Zealand is the bloody host! Combine that with the numerous other flaws and a narrow feature set, and youâve got a compelling reason to immediately seek out Rugby Challenge instead.