Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge Reader Review
You know what they say, you wait keenly for a bus and two come along at once. Unless you are waiting for the 25 on the Western Road, where my current record is three simultaneous buses after 45 minutes.
But I'm getting distracted. They're here now. And Wallabies Rugby Challenge, as it's known Down Under and on my Oz-sourced copy (no, not the magical one), is the light at the end of the Rugby gamers' tunnel. Finally, more than four years after HB's Rugby '08, we get a new Rugby title, and, more than that, one that's worthy of the great Jonah Lomu himself. Rugby Challenge is not a perfect game - there are flaws with the passing, there are some irritating bugs and the game is perhaps missing the expansiveness of FIFA when it comes to the career mode. But it's impressive for a first shot - mightily impressive - and should placate the Rugby lovers' need for virtual rugby, when they're not running in to other people in real life.
Vitally, the basic gameplay is very solid. Passing is a touch floaty, but with extensive control options (e.g. holding down a trigger and selecting a face button allows you to pass to one of four players), it generally satisfies. Kicking, accompanied by a cool (and essential) slowing-down of time to aim, along with a neat visual indicator for wind, also feels like a step up from the slightly-rushed feel of HB's games. Set pieces are more complex and varied, with rucks and scrums being much more involving than simple button mashing (although the latter are perhaps a touch too easy to win against the feed). Support lines are great, with other players constantly keeping up with the ball carrier to give you a lot more choices over where to go next. If you're not a huge Rugby fan and have lost me in these last sentences, just read that Rugby Challenge has the most solid foundations of any Rugby title thus released. It's rough around the edges, weakness occasionally showing when for example a player receiving a kick catches the ball and steps out of play in the same canned animation, but these disappointments are generally few and far in between, and barely diminish the enjoyment of the game.
Graphically, Rugby Challenge impresses. The players and stadia are well detailed, the overall look-and-feel is excellent, and the framerate slows only in some cutscenes (e.g. setting up a scrum). It's clear that a lot of time and effort went in to making the stadia - such a shame, when the commentary is not up to the same standard. Sadly, Grant Nisbett and Justin Marshall's commentary has been stitched together by somebody not blessed with the gift of hearing, and whilst Marshall's groan of anguish sounds impressively authentic after your first high tackle, it becomes less so when you realise he does it after high tackle. It's perhaps somewhat good to report that the commentary is the glaring weak link in this game, but it's something that Sidhe must improve in a potential sequel.
General presentation is another big plus point. Unfortunately, licensing issues have meant that only the Australian, New Zealand and American (?!) international teams are fully licensed, as well as the South African Super Rugby teams being faked as well (although the rest of them, along with the English, French, Celtic and NZ leagues are present and correct, and an extensive 13-year career beckons with any of them). Fortunately, Sidhe have included an impressive editor that allows you to extensively customise almost every aspect of the game, from creating and editing players names' to their noses. And, one positive about the game releasing first in the Southern Hemisphere, is that some people from the Sidhe forums have already edited the faked squads, so you don't have to. The menus are slick and smooth, there's a handy tutorial, online for up to 4v4, and unlocks such as a team entirely comprised of Jonah Lomu, which is basically worth a point out of ten in itself!
But, as the opening line alluded to, there are two Rugby games released around the time of this years' World Cup, the other being the official World Cup game, made by the same people that made Rugby '08. For the first time, there is a choice for Rugby gamers everywhere (except the UK, Europe and the USA, where HES hasn't bothered to release this yet). So which should the recession-shackled sports gamer pick up? Undoubtedly, in my opinion, it should be this. RWC 2011 is no doubt an entertaining game, especially online, but it can't compete with Rugby Challenge in gameplay, expansiveness, and ambition, and ultimately doesn't make the big step up to the next generation that Sidhe has.
As I play Rugby Challenge, I've noted many things that Sidhe can work on for the next instalment - a slightly more engaging Career mode, mauls from lineouts, creating a pocket for your flyhalf, fewer bugs, the lot. But this is largely due to my excitement about this game, and the potential of this series. Sidhe have forged from the prolonged anguish of Rugby gamers everywhere what is by far the most complete, fluid, realistic and downright enjoyable Rugby game ever made, and have made a solid platform from which to improve upon. But don't let that come between you and a purchase - even in it's present state, Rugby Challenge is an entertaining and enthralling game that anyone with an interest in sports games should take time to check out.