Publisher: Tru Blu Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Genre: Sports/Rugby Union
Mode: Single-player, Multiplayer
After the dust settled on a successful Lions tour, what could be better than grinding Australia’s lack of sporting prowess in both Rugby and Cricket by destroying them over and over again in Sidhe’s sequel to the popular Rugby Challenge? Well it certainly isn’t all roses and ‘ruggers’ let me tell you.
Having grown up on a diet or ‘proper rugby’ otherwise known as Rugby league, this was at first a tough oval-shaped pill to swallow sideways. But just maybe the kick based technical side of Rugby Union would lend itself better to a video game format, rather than having to endure it on TV. In some regards this is correct, the games set pieces have allowed the producers to combine live action mini-games whilst not breaking the game up like an American Football game would.
Although as much as the set pieces make the game playable, they are not as fluid as you would hope. Scrums work around a timing of pressing the two thumb sticks upwards at the right point in order to push your pack harder than the opposition, no other interaction can happen until this mini-game ends. Considering the amount of penalties that were given/conceded in the Lions Tour around scrums, surely this should have been factored in? Collapsing scrums and so forth. Line outs work better, giving you the option of how many players join the line-out, moving them around to confuse the opposition, then being able to decide on either passing the ball down to your scrum-half, creating a maul to drive up the pitch, or just catching and opening the play. There is also the option, if you have ever been lucky enough, to take a quick line out if you receive the ball out of play. Thankfully all of these set pieces can be practised in the tutorial. Formations are another lottery, you may think setting your team to wide will either give you cover defensively or wider options in attack? Nope, some teammates think this means you need to stand off the pitch, which is a serious error on the design front. Other formations are pretty useless and have no noticeable effect on the play.
Where the overall action is concerned, the game becomes a little ropey and confused. Sometimes several presses of the pass button are needed to initiate a pass, there is the option to hold down the pass button and then select a number of recipients with any of the four main buttons. This is made redundant by the fact that the only playable game camera cannot fit all of the options in. So you need to rely on short or long pass. Some of the kicking elements work well, of which there are four options; punt, bomb, drop-goal and grubber kick. They can either be used quickly or with the hold of the button, used in a bullet-time style aiming system with a wind guide. The punt works well to clear you from danger, plus the addition of certain players having better kicking attributes than others makes for some hilarious clearances from your props. The grubber kick is pretty useless, although the quick bomb is pretty handy to kick and run onto. You can also position your best kicker to receive the ball from the ruck in order to fashion your best chance of success.
Defending is pretty much a blind lottery, I found the best way was to leave your computer assisted teammates to the close quarter work, where it is nigh on impossible to differentiate players, then just act as cover and mop everything up that they cannot. The option of the hard tackle leaves you open to mistimed WWE style close lines from hell, partially removing the oppositions head from their shoulders. Although there is a great feeling when a bulldozer tackle renders the onrushing winger obsolete. The ruck is your main ally for retention and turnovers in the game, which also comes with a mini game but can also lead to frustration, one option lets you fill the ruck with your lumbering props, another fills it with the nearest available player. You can also contest the ball, but even if you stop contesting you can get penalised for either holding onto or stealing the ball, even when you have stopped. This certainly culminates in a mixed bag of unpredictable nonsense.
Where licensing is concerned there are over a hundred official teams and over fifty stadia. Other than the official British and Irish Lions tour the other licenses mainly consists of club sides. Most of the club competitions are official with the Aviva Premiership Rugby, TOP 14 Orange, Pro D2, RaboDirect PRO12, ITM Cup, and Ranfurly Shield. The only official National sides are Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and USA. So other than the Lions, that really only leaves you with two other competitive teams, unless you’re feeling sadistic. There is the option to edit many of the unlicensed teams and create and edit competitions, but that is a pretty vapid affair, unless you are currently sat at home with pot noodle encrusted joggers with a lot of time on your hands, then hey by all means go right ahead.
The commentary audio is instantly forgettable, as well as the option to play the game online, neither really works well. For a game that is retailing at a head stamping fifty English pounds (still close to forty five pounds online) both aspects should really be nailed down. I guess the cynical reason for the inflated price is the game publisher’s confidence in the hard-core fans picking this up regardless. This is by no means an excuse and by the lack of updates/improvements from the last out almost eighteen months ago, pretty shameless. This is pretty frustrating from a product that offers so much promise and easily has the largest licensing over any other rugby game on the market.
There are certainly satisfying elements of Rugby Challenge 2; dispatching a kick with your fly half perfectly into touch from 60 yards, knocking the wind out of an opponent with a pelvis shattering heavy tackle, or creating a multi-pass move to bamboozle the defence. All of these instances are few and far between; it becomes a war of attrition with the game rather than the challenge of the neatly constructed AI. It is more a case of learning where the game falls down and exploiting it rather than expressing the creative elements that are available. There is half a good game in here, which is where most of the frustration lies, shoddy and lazy animations, very ‘interesting’ skin shading and the odd glitch only add to this. The only hope is that in another eighteen months’ time sidhe can build on what should have been an improvement from the original in the first place.