Someone, somewhere, is probably ecstatic right now. Not because they've won the lottery. Not even because they've just woken up next to Lucy Pinder. But because they're happy just to know that Super Rugby League 2 even exists. Suffice to say, it's taken its time reaching these fair shores. But is it worth the wait?
Sidhe Interactive's game does its best to follow the Rugby League format as closely as possible. That is, running towards the opposition's try line - leather peanut stowed safely beneath armpit - stopping to let a burley defender tackle/stove your face in, and then repeating until five tackles' worth of play have occurred, at which point things change over and you become the defender while the other team attacks.
Needless to say, it's a game of brute force and aggression. Most of the time you're looking to literally steamroll your way through your opponent's defensive line. And when you're not busy stamping all over your opponents, you're looking to mix things up with a deft spot of passing play, hoping to fool the defence into chasing the wrong man with a clever fake or hand-off.
If Super Rugby League 2 is ever going to work as a convincing game of the sport it has to make you feel like you're out there on the pitch, involved in the action. And that's the problem, because despite looking and moving like the sport it's based on (courtesy of the WETA effects shop motion-capturing) you never, ever feel like you're a six-foot-four, twenty-stone lump of angry flesh charging across a muddy field.
The controls certainly aren't the issue. When attacking you can run, dodge, feed the ball out to the wings or hand off to your playmaker, while defenders simply look to batter the ball carrier and strip the ball away; pretty standard rugby game stuff. It's the whole execution that lacks here.
For example: we get the ball and run headlong up the field, struggle to dodge a tackle, and then pray we've got high enough strength stats to keep going. We haven't. We try again, this time feeding the ball to the right, vainly hoping the wingers to our left might have drawn some of the defence away to open a gap. They haven't. We get tackled, start again, run, ride one tackle and then bizarrely get clattered by another when we've clearly built up enough momentum to keep on going. Do we feel fast and powerful? No. Do we feel like when stuff does happen it usually has nothing to do with us? Yes.
There's just no sense of involvement here. Clearly a contest of raw, physical strength is going to be hard to recreate using a joypad, but Rugby League 2's approach seems to simply rely on running at defenders with your fingers crossed. If there was a clever system of set plays you could execute, whereby your team-mates moved to open up gaps for you to exploit then things wouldn't seem so basic, but there's nothing like that here. Much like riding tackles, you need to keep your fingers crossed that there's a receiver in a sensible position, ready to receive a pass.
Then there are the scrums, or 'non-interactive cut-scenes' as we prefer to call them. If ever there was proof of your non-involvement in Super Rugby League 2, surely it's the fact that you have to sit and watch scrums, fingers crossed that ball eventually rolls out your side.
Putting the 'technicalities' of the gameplay aside, Super Rugby League 2 might have saved itself with slick presentation and a barrage of different gameplay options. Sadly, that isn't the case, and if playing the game feels like a frustrating experience, then trying to get any kind of long-term enjoyment out of the game is going to be harder still.
Teams-wise you've got the British Super League and Southern hemisphere NRL squads, which is a sparse but fairly acceptable collection. But in what can only be put down to a fit of utter madness on the part of the developer, international teams only appear after 11 (11!) full hours play have been clocked. While we appreciate the club side of Rugby League gets plenty of coverage, people will definitely buy a game like this in order to put one past the Kiwis the second they start playing the game. To deny that is plain daft.
But then that's just one of several bizarre design decisions running through Sidhe Interactive's game. Why, for instance, does the game not feature any kind of training or tutorial mode (surely a must have for any sports game these days), instead simply dishing up the bland and limited selection of Quick Match, Tournament and Career? And why does designing a tournament involve having to physically allocate every single team in it instead of simply pressing a (suspiciously absent) random team selection button?
Okay, so that last one's hardly important, but it just goes to show the general lack or thought and amount of effort that's gone into the game beneath the game. The career mode, which should be the highlight of Rugby League 2, feels meagre and under developed. Players can be bought, sold and have their training regimes tinkered with, but it all feels so perfunctory; there's never any real sense you're making a tangible difference to your squad. And with presentation consisting of basic menu screens of text and numbers throughout, it's hardly the most thrilling of gaming prospects.
Even the presence of an online mode isn't enough to save it. It just feels inadequate, requiring you - in all practicality - to keep ungodly hours just to play the Aussies and Kiwis that inevitably make up the bulk of the game's Xbox Live crowd. Surely a much better plan would be to make Super Rugby League a separate mode in a more fully featured rugby game, maybe one featuring the number 2007 in its title (hint, hint EA)? That way everybody's happy.
Ultimately there's just not enough here, be it in terms of content or depth of play, to make Super Rugby League 2 a worthwhile sporting title in its own right. Those looking for a decent Rugby title are better off sticking with EA's effort for now. Like the gristle in a half-time pie, this is more chewy than satisfying.