IF we can’t go to the rugby, then bring the rugby to us!
The nation’s current predicament, which has forced us into lockdown, means many of us are staring at the walls wondering what to do with ourselves.
I spend most of my days ‘working’ in the house anyway, but at least I’d have sport to catch up on. Not now. By day four, I’d gotten the juicer out of the cupboard and dusted it off for the first time in three years. The grape and pear juice was lovely, by the way. Day five saw me rewatch the remaining matches I still had saved on my TV box.
By day six I considered alphabetising the CD collection. Unprecedented times.
Desperately seeking a rugby fix, I downloaded the latest attempt at console rugby for my PlayStation 4: Rugby 20, brought to you by Bigben Interactive and Eko software.
Whilst the FIFA and the infinitely superior Pro Evolution soccer games have kept the football market happy with their yearly iterations, the options for the rugby fan have been sparse or flat-out rubbish, so let’s see how this goes.
You wouldn’t exactly describe it as a bonny looking game. I wasn’t expecting anything as sumptuous as Red Dead Redemption 2, but I’ve genuinely seen better looking sports games on the previous generation of consoles from ten years ago.
Menu title screens are sparse, and although mainly easy to understand, a little explanation as to what you can find in each section wouldn’t have gone amiss. All the competitions, including the one cup mode that they have, are in the “League” section, but I’ll go into the game modes later.
I’m not necessarily one for all the bells and whistles. For example, I’ve always preferred the Pro Evolution games because of their superior gameplay to FIFA, despite it not having all the official team names, but given there are no other contenders, you would have hoped that they could secure all naming rights. Even Pro Evo has all the real player names.
None of the SANZAR teams are accurate and although you could play as Maro Itoje or George Ford for their club sides, they are replaced by fictional counterparts in the England national unit.
What’s also disappointing is that even if they do have the player rights you might not even get a squad photo or anything like a realistic representation of them in the game. Matt Scott looks more like a large Nick Grigg on the playing field, and I’ve yet to come across a single left-footed kicker.
The players’ motioned captured in-game movements do add some realism, but a limited number of arenas – none of which are real – and condition settings, plus some of the very worst, glitchy commentary you’ll ever hear, means Rugby 20 does not score highly in this regard, but it certainly isn’t the be all and end all.
Limited for one-player offline fans. There’s an unofficial World Cup you can play in or full Gallagher Premiership, Pro 14, Top 14 and D2 (France) seasons. Lack of a European campaign or even a custom mode seems a blatant miss here, given that they have all the teams, but you can arrange cross competition one off games versus computer or a friend.
Tutorial mode covers the more intricate parts of the gameplay well, without showing you some of the basics. Tackling, you need plenty of that, is thoroughly covered but kicking from hand isn’t at all. With a digital copy, I had to go into the options menu to learn my grubbers from my punts, and there’s no free play mode to hone your skills on, so be prepared to learn on the job.
Online mode will be familiar to those who have played other recent sports games. Matches you play earn you coins and XP, you win you get more coins which you spend on packs.
For those not familiar, it’s a bit like a sticker album. The packs contain players with which you make up a team to play with online, either against other folk or the computer.
Nothing particularly ground-breaking here, but the league seasons will take some completing, and online career mode seems quite in-depth. I’m halfway through my second season just now, and there’s at least another five championships to complete, and I’m involved in an invitational tournament playing against national teams.
As my club side is multi-national, this could mean I come up against one of my own players, but perhaps even more strangely, you can draw a player’s ‘card’ more than once from the packs. I have two Tommy Seymours, so I could play him on both wings. That’s daft.
The most important part. Overall, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
The breakdown system they’ve got in place is quite clever. Once you get to grips with the timing, you can turnover at will on the easiest setting, which means you can practice on your attack.
The passing system can be a bit flaky in truth. It doesn’t really allow you to angle your passes, particularly from the base of a ruck, so weight of pass is all important, especially if throwing it towards one of your pods of forwards. Given how closely together the players are in the pods it will sometimes aim your pass toward an unintended player, or the first man will get in the way and knock it on, which can prove quite irritating.
However, if you get your basics right, the chances will soon come and when it does click and you’re racing away down the wing it is quite satisfying.
Equally satisfying is figuring out how to get the best out of your set-piece. The scrum in particular requires a fair bit of manual dexterity and is a mini-game in itself, just like the real thing. It’s well covered in the tutorial, but the line-out could have done with some extra guidance. For example, the tutorial doesn’t tell you how to challenge for the ball if players from opposing sides have jumped at the same time. (You have to hammer one of the three advised buttons repeatedly.)
For those with a clear idea of how they want their teams to play, there’s a fair amount of tinkering you can do on the strategic side, and there are attacking set plays you can pick which act like boxing combos as you seek to slice through the opposition defence. So far, these have provided limited effect, but a couple have come off and seen territory made.
The AI is absolutely mental. On amateur, the easiest setting, it’s a murderous yellow-card machine who wants to turn the field red with your blood. In my opening match, four players were sent to the bin for a litany of spear and high tackles, and on the medium setting it seems to enjoy backward kick passes, but will test your defence out if it reins in its crazier impulses.
I have tried the hardest setting but found the computer too strong for me at the breakdown almost every time.
The AI is also prone to bizarre substitutions at all difficulty levels. An 1872 Cup match I partook in saw Schoeman and Nel both leave the pitch within five minutes of simulated match time, and it was neither due to injury or me crushing them at the scrum.
It’s proven to be quite good fun, but it seems a bit rushed despite some nice gameplay ideas which try to combine the speed and tactical intricacy of rugby with some success.
There’s a few little glitches and minor irritations that quickly add up, however. One not already mentioned is that once you’ve chosen your kit at the start of one of the league competitions you can’t change it, so kit clashes are inevitable. Things like that could probably be fixed with a downloadable patch.
Unless you can get a decent deal on it, I don’t think it’s worth the original retail price of £49.99, even if you could afford such frippery in the first instance. Give it a try though, because if you get the chance you may be converted.