With the Rugby World Cup climaxing in New Zealand, 505's officially licensed game faces competition from a new challenger this week: Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge from talented Kiwi studio Sidhe (Gripshift, Shatter). Find out which one deserves your hard-earned in our head-to-head review.
Rugby World Cup 2011
When a sports tournament begins to wind down, fans of every team that's out of the running turn to video games to set the world to rights. Last year's Madden entry must have provided heaven-sent relief to Chicago Bears supporters, while this year, Arsenal fans are probably using FIFA 12 to begin their fantasy football title run early.
The rugby faithful have had to spend quite a few years in the wilderness in this regard. The last rugby video game came courtesy of EA Sports and was tied to the last Rugby World Cup tournament. That was four years ago, on the last generation of consoles. No other publisher has taken a stab at constructing a decent rugby sim - until now.
The developer of 505 Games' Rugby World Cup 2011, which holds the official license for the tournament and several of the competing teams, is HB Studios. These are the same folk EA Sports tapped up for their last rugby outing, which explains why RWC 2011 looks and plays a lot like Rugby 08.
Passing is mapped to the shoulder buttons while kicking and tackling are on the face buttons. Right trigger activates sprint and rucks are won or lost depending on the speed with which the player hammers the A button. Mauls are handled by tapping the A button and pushing the analogue stick in the direction of the opposing team's try-line. Scrums are played out in a similar fashion, although the timing on when to hook the ball is something of a mystery.
The on-pitch action is a little arcade-like, but manages to capture the free-flowing movement of the back line and the frantic scrabble for possession once the ball goes to ground. The ball physics are more than a little questionable, with passes flying to their intended recipients with laser-guided accuracy. Winning the ball on the ground seems to hinge on something of an internal coin-toss; if you tap the A button too frantically, your team risks being penalised for having hands in the ruck.
It's a flawed but enjoyable experience on the easiest difficulty, although beating the AI becomes laughably simple after a while. Ramp up the difficulty setting, however, and RWC2011 can be more than a little frustrating, particularly when trying to co-ordinate defence. That's when the random nature of winning turn-overs begins to grate, and the way the AI controlling your own defence falls to pieces can cause moments of hair-pulling fury.
Where RWC2011 really falls down, though, is in its paucity of content. While 505 has splurged enough cash to snap up 11 official team licenses, they would have done better to invest that money in filling out the rest of the game. Beyond the World Cup tournament mode (which is customisable, to a degree), there's an online one-on-one mode, a warm-up tour mode, exhibition matches and a goal-kicking mini-game. That's it. There are no club leagues, no other international tournaments, no scenarios and no creative tools to speak of. To make matters worse, there aren't even any tutorials; players are forced to learn the controls during loading times when a picture of the control layout appears on the screen.
It may be grossly unfair to criticise RWC2011 for not offering the sort of package that football fans enjoyed with 2010 FIFA World Cup. After all, 505 probably doesn't have the funds available to the EA Sports developers, or their yearly polishing process. It's not a terrible game and in brief spurts it can be highly entertaining, but ultimately there's too little on offer here to justify recommending a full price purchase.
As it stands, it's difficult to work out who this game is aimed at. The absence of any tutorial mode makes it an uphill battle for newcomers, while committed rugby fans will probably be put off by its lack of depth. New Zealand games don't even begin with the Haka, and where's the fun in that?