“Crouch, Touch, Set!” – A Preview of Rugby Challenge 2: The Lions Tour Edition
On Tuesday, I was invited to go to London for a preview session of the new Rugby Challenge game. Following the success of the first release in this series, which saw it receive both better sales and better reviews than the Official Rugby World Cup game which was released alongside it, I was keen to see how this new game had seen the series progress. On my arrival I was invited into possibly the greatest room a gamer could hope to find themselves in, complete with a television which practically took up a wall, all of your current generation consoles, an arcade machine, an arcade gaming table and a very expensive collection of seating. I was pretty impressed and I hadn’t even looked at the game yet, and that is what came next.
I was told from the off of the high hopes which surrounded this game, which it was hoped would become “the FIFA (game) of Rugby”. After a quick run through of the new features of the game and the improvements which had been made to the systems of its predecessor, I was left to have some fun and explore what it had to offer for myself. A few things were very clear very quickly, mainly the fact that it was very easy to pick up the controls and get into the game as if you had been playing it all day. I won my first match, which I had honestly not expected, and won my second (just about) before losing to one of the staff in a PVP game, even after he had broken his glasses… Despite the upset of this finale however, the game as a whole impressed me, and I could honestly have sat for a few more hours and enjoyed it. So here is a rundown of some of the features you can expect to enjoy!
Before you get onto the pitch you will notice quickly that the players for which the game has a licence to use the likenesses of look pretty damn accurate, and it is nice to see some solid effort has gone into this. Even the players which have been created to fill spaces where licences could not be obtained look like they could realistically be rugby players and their appearances are varied, so the game is by no means generic. It was also pointed out to me that the crowds on game were “better than FIFA”, which while it is not a significant factor which really makes the game whole is a nice, visually pleasing effort to fix the basic, polygon crowds which gamers really have hated for years. There are also several licensed stadiums in game now which look surprisingly accurate, in some cases more so than some if those in the mainstream FIFA games. Rugby fans will certainly be pleased to be able to play in some of these famous arenas.
Once you get past these aesthetic elements of the game, you will realise that you actually need to learn how to play. this is surprisingly easy and you have a number of options for going about this. There are tutorials available to you if you wish to play them, however these are not essential for success in the game. Personally I did not play them and managed to play along just fine, though I was given some personal instruction before I started. Even so, during gameplay you will find that instructions are shown on-screen during the key game-changing situations so that you have every chance of succeeding at these even when challenging more experienced players. This means that you are able to jump in with minimal knowledge of the controls and still stand a fighting chance of victory. You may want to read up on the key controls before you play, or you might find it easier to try and learn them yourself during some of the open practice loading screens before each game. These allow you to practice the controls as well as your techniques for passing, moving and scoring. A particularly friendly feature of these, which again was pointed out as being “better than FIFA”, is that if you are playing a multiplayer match then more than just the first player is involved in this warm up. This means that if you need to teach a friend who is new to the game how to play it is very easy to do so, and that nobody gets any sort of advantage by controlling this warm up stage.
Aside from the fact that you have many options for doing so, learning to play is very quick and easy. The controller layout is very player-friendly and smooth to navigate, which makes it all the easier to just jump in and, to an extent, play on instinct should you wish to. Once you know how to play the game, you will then have to decide in which of its various game modes to do so. The options available are pretty standard for a sports game. There is the simple option of an exhibition-style match, you cases up your own tournament with your own selection of teams, or you can play through a career mode as a team of your choosing. This career mode takes a much more clear focus on tactical decision making, squad selection and gameplay than it does on wider features of play such as training players or scouting. For some players this may be seen as a good thing as you can dive into many more games and get on with things. For others it may feel like something is missing, although in the end it is going to be a case of personal preference. Your aim in the career mode is simple; to help your chosen team to win their games and progress through the various tournaments and leagues which they are a part of. This second instalment in the Rugby Challenge series features more league and tournament licences than its predecessor, which is surely going to be a welcome improvement for at least the bigger fans of the sport.
Whichever game mode you choose to play, the most important feature of the game of course is going to be the nature of gameplay. When you buy a sports game there are a few things you are absolutely going to want from gameplay. To name just a few, you are going to want accuracy, fluidity, and variety in order to create challenge. This game seems to cover all of these bases quite nicely. Accuracy has been carefully considered. Perhaps the best example of this is the wind, which plays a major role in the game in terms of kicking the ball. Whether you are on the move or stationary, the direction and the strength of the wind are incredibly important to how you play and the ease of the kick which you take. This also adds to the all important variety and challenge factors which make a successful sports game. Accuracy has clearly been considered throughout all of the elements of the game, but there is one area where I was a little disappointed, and that is when scoring a try. When you score there does not appear to be any problem, but when you get your fancy, cinematic replay in which you can boast to your friend who you have just spectacularly beaten, it does not always appear that the ball touches the ground. Some people might not see this as an issue, however it is a crucial factor in the game of rugby and so it is a little disappointing to see this error. These replays can also identify a few graphical cutting errors too, with players occasionally merging into each other or into the ground, which is a monitor problem but one worth pointing out.
Another element which factors nicely into the reality side of things is the commentary of the game. While this is a welcome part of the game, it is not necessarily up to the greatest of standards. The voice of the commentator can seem a bit too generic at times, and the phrases which the game is loaded with seem to be a bit too limited. It cannot be expected that there would be unique commentary for every single game, but the same phrase used two or three times in exactly the same way in a single match can be a bit too much. On a more positive note however, fluidity and variety in gameplay are areas in which the game shines. Even when specific in-game events are taking place, such as scrums, line-outs or kicks, the game feels as flowing as a real match would, with minimal spacing between these events and the natural playing of the game. All of these events have been improved upon the previous game too, giving the player more control over them. Line-outs now can be followed by a full on push forwards which is a nice, new, realistic feature as well.
There is the opportunity to make tactical changes to the team during play. The d-pad can be used to instruct the directions and positioning of players in a similar way to FIFA games, and substitutions are also an option. The substitution system could maybe be simplified in order to make it faster and easier to carry these out, but it works and is not intrinsically bad as it is. Injuries can occur in game as well, which will force the player to make tactical decisions on the fly. Perhaps the most aggravating and abuse-invoking realistic factor of the game however is TMO situations. As in the real game, a controversial or questionable try can be reviewed by officials by “watching replays” in order to make a decision of course this is not actually happening in the game; its code already knows what decision will be made. For the sake of reality and the feelings and mentalities of the players however, tis feature is naturally very welcome indeed. Naturally however it will come with a clear rage warning for when things don’t go your way (I was quite upset when a decision went against me, it was clearly a try…).
The most satisfying feature of all however is the genuinely challenging AI system which is in place. Even playing on easy difficult as I was, the computer-controlled team was not in any way an unworthy or just plain stupid opponent. Fair enough, this may have been because I had not played before, but even so I did not feel that even if I really knew everything I was doing that I would be able to go ahead and simply dominate to get a wholly unrealistic score line in every game. My scores for example were 3-0 and 17-15, which clearly shows that the games were in no way a breeze. Equally, in a PVP situation where I, apparently, was the lesser player, the score only turned out to be 20-7, which while it is a clear victory to my opponent is not an unrealistic rugby score line, and I was very pleased to see this.
There are just one or two negatives which should be mentioned at the close of this preview. Neither of these are critical or kill the game so to speak, but they are imperfections which should be noted. Firstly, the game is not as clean looking as FIFA is. There is a lot more which happens on screen, such as the appearance of control options at certain times or the wind animations, which take away from the reality of the game. The reasons behind these less tidy elements are obvious however and arguably necessary; they add to the game in a very positive way it is worth mentioning however that the game does not look so clean to people who early care about the realistic, television-style appearance of sports games. Personally, the look of this game was just fine by me. Secondly there is the issue of licensing, which through no fault of the game’s creators is not 100% complete. This is probably due to the relatively new nature of the Rugby Challenge series which is still trying to truly make its mark on the gaming community. However, some rugby fans will be left disappointed that they cannot play as all of their favourite teams or players in the game. This, at present, is the sacrifice which must be made on the road to finally achieving a great rugby presence in the gaming world.
As a whole, Rugby Challenge 2 seems to be a fantastic development and I look forwards to playing the final product on its release. There are a range of new and improved features on top of its predecessor which push it closer to its ultimate goal of becoming the rugby equivalent of the FIFA gaming franchise. It will be interesting to see just how well the game does well on its release. Rugby is by no means as popular a game as football and the developers do not expect this game to sell quite as widely to many millions of gamers as the FIFA games do. It is for this reason maybe that EA have not already attempted to push games surrounding this sport with their extreme sales figures and targets which they may be concerned a rugby game cannot, at present, achieve. It is perhaps the perfect opportunity for these smaller developers to push their franchise and still achieve their lower aims at the same time as doing so. In any case, those who do choose to buy Rugby Challenge 2 should not find themselves disappointed. Rugby fans will be very happy indeed to have a game on the market which meets their needs and desires, and the game should be expected to do well in its relatively niche market.
A note to Premier Promotions:
Thank you very much for the invitation and opportunity to come and preview Rugby Challenge 2 at your very impressive offices. I certainly hope that I may be able to visit and work with you again in the future!
A note to Invision Admin:
Thanks again for a fantastic opportunity both for experience and some fun along the way, your hard work is, as always, very much appreciated!
Disclaimer:All Previews given are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.