If you love sports videogames as much as I do, then you'll probably agree that when it comes to interactive sports software, EA Sports is King. Now I know what some of you may be thinking. There has been the occasional 'stinker'? that has made its way to our collective unsuspecting hands. And we've all played some truly great sport games made by other developers. But let's face it folks, with its top-selling titles and franchises including John Madden Football, FIFA Soccer, NHL Hockey, NBA Live Basketball, Triple Play Baseball, and NASCAR Racing, no other sports developer has been as dominant as EA.
But my respect and admiration for EA Sports goes far beyond the expected graphical and gameplay realism that they bring to the table with each and every one of their games. I have grown to appreciate their willingness to break new ground and try things that other developers wouldn't dare -- even when a huge financial return is not guaranteed. It happened several years ago on the Sega Genesis and it's happening again. I'm referring to the latest entry into their PS2 sports lineup -- the game of rugby. Yes, remember it or not, rugby appeared on the Sega Genesis, in all of its passing, kicking, and tackling glory. Well, I did not play that version. Didn't want to; didn't need to. But now we meet again, only this time on Sony's next-generation hardware. Now, I'll be the first to admit that before I heaved this scrummer into my PS2, I didn't know squat about rugby. But after playing it for the better part of four days... well, er, now I do know squat about rugby.
Among other things, EA Sports' Rugby (for one or two players) includes over 600 players from 20 international teams, 23 stadiums, realistic weather effects, and play-by-play commentary. Hey, didja really expect anything else? But will its unfamiliar gameplay be enough to convince North Americans to take a look? Well, listen up all you Wallabies and Springboks... it's time to line-out and kick-out onto the pitch!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Whether you're a veteran or newbie to EA Sports games, you'll find the menu system to be uncluttered and easy to navigate. At the main menu, you'll be able to choose from several different games modes in which to play. These include: Quick Start, Friendly, Tournament, and Training. The Friendly mode allows you to play an exhibition match between any two teams of your choice. In Tournament play, you'll be able to participate in three different international competitions. The World Championship pits you and the nation of your choice against all the rugby-playing nations around the world, or choose one of the other two tournaments to play against a select group of countries. Before you play an actual game, however, I strongly recommend that you check out the Training mode. Here you'll find a completely interactive tutorial, where you can learn and practice controlling the basic skills of rugby. It's a welcome addition and dare I say, a prerequisite to playing the other game modes -- especially for all you rugby-ignorant gamers (like me).
On the other hand, for all you rugby aficionados (Hello, I know you're out there!), you'll find the game includes an extremely impressive feature set. Twenty international teams, including the New Zealand All Blacks, the Australian Wallabies, the South African Springboks, England, Scotland, and France are all 'in the game.'? Altogether there are over 600 players to choose from. Form your own squad from up to 40 players from each team. Each player comes complete with detailed statistical information, including height, weight, speed, tackling strength, stamina, kicking and much more. Furthermore, the game features full licenses from the RFU, ARU, NZRU, SARFU, FFR, SRU, Bledisloe Cup, and the Tri Nations (now if I only knew what those meant!). Lastly, the developers modeled 23 stadiums from all over the world for you to compete in.
Rugby can be best described as a hybrid mix of American football and soccer. Two teams of fifteen players take the pitch (field) for an all-out battle to outscore their opponent. The game is divided up into two halves, which are governed by a predetermined time period. Before each game, you'll have the ability to visit the options menu to customize, among other things, the length of each half, auto replays, injuries (on or off), as well as several different sound options. The object of the game is to carry the ball over the opposition's goal line and ground it to score a 'try.'? The scoring team then has the chance to kick a conversion. A team can also score by kicking drop-goals and penalty kicks. Moving the ball is accomplished by passing and kicking the ball to either a teammate or to a strategic section of the field. Like football, establishing good field position becomes paramount to your success. And like both soccer and football, you'll be greeted by a host of rules and penalties to govern the on-field action.
If all this makes Rugby sound like a simple game (well, it might be for those with a good amount of experience), a quick look at the game manual suggests otherwise. You see, to move the ball effectively means learning and properly executing several different methods of passing and kicking the ball. Thankfully, the manual lists and describes each maneuver (along with the corresponding control scheme) to near perfection. You'll soon become familiar with terms such as: punts, drop-kicks, up-and-unders, dummies, put-ins, rakes, scrums, rucks, binds, and mauls (Rugby 101).
Initially, this gamer found himself completely overwhelmed by the complex nature of the sport itself. After a day or two, however, things began to ease up. If you find yourself harboring similar feelings, stick with it and don't give up my friends -- before too long, you'll get the hang of it (I promise). For the most part, I found the control of my players to be quite intuitive. Alas, there were some occasions where control did become an issue. For example, despite several visits to the tutorial and manual, I consistently had difficulty gaining control of the ball during scrums. And when I did gain control, I was never quite sure that my button mashing had anything to do with it. In addition, getting the ball to my player during line-outs seemed to be a random venture at best. Sure, you can highlight the player of your choice to receive the ball, but who should I choose and why? To say the least, I found this procedure to be a pure guessing game. Furthermore, as previously stated, several different methods of advancing the ball are at your disposal. However, I never felt quite comfortable determining which move works best under the given circumstance. I don't know if it's me or what, but I found one method to be more effective than any other -- just gimme the damn ball and run like hell! Despite these issues, the AI in the game seems to be fairly challenging and (like all EA Sports games) levels of difficulty vary, depending upon the overall ability level of your team and your opponent.
While Rugby's graphical merits are far from being dreadful, as compared to the likes of PS2's Madden and NCAA Football franchises, there's no question -- they do come up a bit short. Player models are somewhat blocky and lack the overall detail that you'll find in the aforementioned titles -- bodily textures are bland and appendages have that all-too-familiar pointed appearance manifested during the good ol' PlayStation days. On the whole, animations, clocking in at 50 frames per second, are fairly smooth, with minimal slowdown. With barren sidelines and generic-looking fans in the stands, field and stadium graphics are adequate at best. Weather effects, however, are nicely done. Severe rainstorms, lightning and mud are depicted quite realistically and go a long way in spicing up the otherwise dreary visuals. Fortunately, there are a huge variety of camera angles to choose from, including a fully positional replay camera. While you may not be smitten with the overall aesthetics that the game has to offer, you'll never find yourself too far from the action.
The game features an original musical sound track and many realistic sound effects. Player calls, grunts, tackles and crowd noises -- all captured from real games -- add a nice touch.And while this reviewer's obvious lack of exposure to televised rugby make it nearly impossible to assess their overall efforts, the English team of Bill McLaren and Jamie Salmon (who?) seem to handle the play-by-play commentary in a rather respectable fashion. Well, their English accents were a constant reminder that I was playing a foreign game, at any rate.
A quick note to my fellow sport gamers: the experiences and rewards that we come away with in any game we play are often determined by our prior expectations and knowledge of the sport. In my case, Rugby was, and still is, a curious yet foreign game. In other words, I offer the following review as a guideline only. Your experiences and enjoyment with this game may differ. That being said, Rugby will most likely appeal to those who have either previously played or watched the sport with any degree of frequency. I had a fair amount of fun with it and I certainly learned a lot about the game itself. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to everyone, those of you who have even a passing interest, owe it to yourself to give it a play. I salute EA Sports for at least attempting to bring this one-of-a-kind game to next-generational status.