The system/developer/publisher bit: PS3 (Also available on Xbox 360), published by 505 Games, developed by HB Studios
The ten-word synopsis: A virtual version of Rugby Union’s quad-annual showpiece.
The essential way to start this article is by noting that the writer is a big rugby fan. As such, even if the game emitted deadly radiation that turned your hands into goats hooves after 20 minutes of play and then subsequently filled you with uncontrollable desires to eat your own family, I’d force myself to like it. And not just to like it, but to play it a lot. This happened with Rugby 04- then virtually the only Rugby game on the market for the owner of a PC that vomited every time a copy of Jonah Lomu Rugby was inserted.
While the official tie-in to last years’ World Cup might not be Jonah Lomu, it’s certainly a good effort- Let’s call it Joe Rokocoko and review the game through the method of metaphor. It has the fundamental aspects nailed down to a tee. In Rokocokos’ case, this is speed and the ability to finish, or in the games’, the core gameplay. RWC11 (As I shall call it for the sake of this reviews’ length) is fun. Really, this is the most important ingredient. Passing feels tight enough once you get the hang of it, even if offloading is a problem and there’s a kicking system that allows you to vary your game. Personally, I’m one of the minority who mirror the likes of Scotland and South Africa in relying on the boot when viable, and this game gives you far more reason and ability to use it. With different sorts of kick mapped to the face buttons, it’s easy to spring a surprise grubber into play after the opposition sees you drop back for a garryowen, or to put in a touchfinder that bounces perfectly before the line.However, charge downs, whilst existant in the game, are usually replaced by diving wildly at the kicker, and usually causing them to knock the ball on. What? When have you ever seen that happen? Very occasionally an unskilfull winger attempting a grubber or chip might be shoved out before they can get boot to ball, but it’s a frustrating and unrealistic system, espechially as it makes timing a chip kick over the last man realistically (You should leave it until they’re close, then as they step towards you, make the kick, as it’s harder for them to turn) next to impossible, as they dispossess you every time you try launch it at the right second.
Speaking of dispossession, the addition of a jackle (The tackler going back in after bringing the play to ground and stealing the ball) feature is very welcome, but it is awfully implemented. Whereas it should be used for expert pilferers, such as Richie McCaw or David Pocock, to nab the ball when the opposition players go in without support, it is instead used to mean that whenever you make a break, the opposition fullback will just nab the ball from you, meaning that making clean linebreaks is actually counter-productive to your cause if you don’t finish them off. This is extremely annoying and almost game-breakin. It certainly feels that way when you make a break up the touchline, behind by a point in the last minute, find yourself stopped a metre short, and just as the cavalries about to arrive, and you’re about to ship the ball over the to the other wing for the match-winning score, Stuart Hogg (Or a similarly weedy number 15) leans over, picks the ball up, and hoofs it into touch.
The Stuart Hogg point is actually leads me neatly and coincidentally on to the games’ other real problem: The lack of content. Only half the teams are licensed, and even then those who have actual players are now out-of-date. (In fact, most were on day of release, with most based on the Six Nations squads, rather than World Cup line-ups) However, this isn’y a big issue, as those dedicated to the game, such as myself, can easily edit the non-existent/retired/dropped players using the handy in-game editor. It’s nowhere near as deep as rival game Rugby Challenge, but it lets you change the name, dimensions and stats of each player in the game. As such, all 20 teams now have correct rosters on my copy, but it is a time-consuming process, and not everybody has my extensive knowledge of the Japanese side. Oh yeah, and there’s only the 20 teams that qualified for the World Cup. So yeah.
That said, the 20 teams do feel different- Backline moves are tighter and more satisfying with France or New Zealand than Italy or Scotland, whereas the likes of Wales and Argentina have a balance to them in style that South Africa’s solid-but-unspectacular midfield doesn’t give you. Different teams also seem to play differently against you, with most playing to their typical strengths and gameplans. While there’s a huge class divide between New Zealand and Namibia, (The highest and lowest rated teams respectively) that also exists in real life, even if it doesn’t feel necessary for Namibia’s winger to be so slow to prevent their rating rising to anything resembling decent. There’s also only really four modes, a standard quick play mode, the expected World Cup tournament, a warm-up tour mode (With four tours to select from) and then an interesting penalty shoot-out mode, that you’ll play once then never touch again. Winning the World Cup takes about an hour or two first time through on easy, but ramp up the difficulty and it may take you a while to conquer it. However, once you get the hang of it, there’s nothing stopping you crushing the All Blacks on the way to an emphatic 42-6 final victory as Wales. With just the three difficulty levels, the curve between them is pretty steep, but once you get to the top there’s no obstacles in your way. I won the World Cup as Namibia on Hard, although admittedly it was through a very tight kicking game, and basically scraped through every game with a couple of drop goals and some solid defence and kicking.
There are plenty of other gripes I have with the game, (Wingers have a habit of shooting up for intercepts after the pass has already reached its receiver, despite you trying to hold them back a bit more) but fundentally, it’s fun. Somebody who knows nothing about the sport could potentially enjoy the game for a while, but probably wouldn’t get £30s worth out of it. However, those like me who get excited at the prospect of being able to alter your defensive structure to accommodate the opposition gameplan (I usually drop my wingers back, for example, giving me extra defence behind when the opposition breaks my line and also allowing me to cover kicks better) or change your teams’ rucking strategy with no doubt find a way to stretch the game out. Personally, I found this in multi-player. I’ve spent more time than I dare imagine since the game shipped last August playing against either my brother or other friends who have an inkling as to what the truck and trailer rule is. And no matter how much I play, slotting a last-minute drop goal doesn’t get any less satisfying.
Perhaps it’s not an all-time great like Lomu, but in the style of Rokocoko, it’s more than capable of filling the berth of ‘Current rugby game/All Blacks left winger’ until the next big thing comes along. That said, even with it’s many flaws, RWC11 is unlikely to sign for Bayonne, have a shocker week-in-week-out, not score a single try all season and yet continue to play because they’re trying to justify the money they spent on him.
5 Edit Play Menus out of 10