As with every other major sporting tournament, the Rugby World Cup has brought on a slew of merchandise. From grossly overpriced polo shirts and baseball caps, to key rings, magnets and other tat, the IRB, just like every other sports governing body, uses the opportunity of a World Cup to sell all sorts of merchandise to people looking for memorabilia of the event.
When you think of it this way, World Cup-related video games are no different. They’re not for the hard-core sports game fans, who undoubtedly buy all the yearly rehashes without question. World Cup games are generally for the casuals, who become fans of the sport for six weeks (or however long their team is in the tournament) because it’s a big event. So when creating a merchandise game for such events, these people should be considered the primary audience before the core fans.
It’s on this understanding that sports game fans avoid the World Cup games every four years, and instead play the yearly releases. These games often enjoy a much larger development budget, yearly improvements to the mechanics (bringing the game ever closer to real life), and a vast array of clubs and international sides which should last any anyone until next year’s mechanic and roster update shakes things up again.
However, rugby hasn’t enjoyed yearly game releases like other sports, so fans who’ve long wished for a game to play have been left in the lurch. In fact, there hasn’t been a rugby game since 2007 (EA’s Rugby 08), and even that game was only released on PC and PlayStation 2, the latter of which had already been made obsolete by its successor. So Rugby World Cup 2011, developed by HB Studios, is the first rugby game ever released in this console generation, and as a result walks a fine line between appeasing the hard-core rugby fans who will be expecting to play it for many months to come, and the casual gamers who only have a passing interest in the sport.
Unfortunately, it’s not very successful on either front.
For starters, the game is hard. Really hard. And I don’t necessarily mean in a challenging and rewarding sense (though persistence does make this game more enjoyable), but in the way that the game simply throws you into a match and expects you to know all the controls, having obviously read the instruction booklet from cover to cover, and remembered the six or seven different (and largely incoherent) control schemes for different states of play.
The fact that there’s no training mode to learn these controls — an essential feature in every sports game, especially one that hasn’t had a release in four years — is downright shameful, and players with little patience will put the game down before they’ve even finished their first match. Having a mode which eases players into the controls and how the game plays is essential, and is sorely missed from Rugby World Cup 2011.
That said, the game is rewarding once you’ve learned the controls, and is scalable depending on how much of a challenge you want. In the normal and hard difficulty, turning over the ball is as difficult as it seems in real life, your CPU opponents are good at attack and defence, and the strategic options, whilst limited to four per match (out of a selection of eight in the whole game), bring some challenge in the harder difficulties.
The easy mode, in contrast, is good for those who just want to win without too much difficulty, which is great for younger players and casuals. Though they’ll still need to learn the controls before they see success.
As for the actual game content, the success of the online mode will determine how long you’ll be playing the game. I can’t stress enough how important online play is to this game’s longevity, and whilst I’ve hardly been able to play online due to the fact that barely any other games journalists were around in the pre-release stage, I’ve managed to play two full online matches with someone who got the game early, and it was by far the most challenging, fair and rewarding part of the game. Dare I say it, but I might return to play more matches in the near future, should anyone be there.
As for offline, I’d normally say that mode would be enough to keep most players happy, but within two and a half hours I’d already given every mode a try, and within four or five I’d gained a comprehensive understanding of every mode the game had to offer: a warm-up tour (consisting of a few short tours of both the southern and northern hemisphere sides with the team of your choice), international tests (a one-off match between two sides), a place-kick shootout (as described — really, it’s just a tacked on feature that no-one’s ever going to play) and, of course, the World Cup tournament itself. Quite frankly, it’s simply not enough for a £45 game, and unless you take it online you won’t be getting your money’s worth.
Outside of the matches, Rugby World Cup 2011 gives you a selection of options expected from any modern sports game. Rules can be adjusted to suit the player’s tastes, and various visual cues (such as a yellow line indicating the offside position) can be toggled on or off too. Added to this, players can also be renamed, which is a godsend considering the dire state of team licensing in this game.
Of the twenty nations competing in the tournament, only ten actually have licensed kits and real player names. Sides like the All Blacks and the Wallabies as we know them are missing from the game, replaced with generic New Zealand and Australia, whilst their squads consist of randomly named players. For people who will be putting a lot of time into the game, going through the effort of renaming each and every unlicensed team’s line-up shouldn’t be too bothersome, but would be heart-breaking for the casual out to seek glory as their national team.
Lastly, the other major complaint is the graphics. The game looks like something from 2006, back when the Xbox 360 was barely a year old and the PlayStation 3 hadn’t even been released. Player faces look a little cartoony, whilst the rest of their model looks more like geometry than an actual person. Meanwhile, the stadia look like they were ported straight from the sub-HD PS2 game Rugby 08, complete with low-res blurry crowd and all. A few years ago, this would’ve been acceptable, but this is 2011 — we’re coming up to the end of the console generation — and it’s really underwhelming.
All told, Rugby World Cup 2011 is a mixed bag for both its audiences. The thrill-seeking casuals will be baffled by the game’s controls, quickly lose patience with the amateurish presentation, and won’t really get the experience they’re after. Those who’ve been yearning for a rugby game for a long time will get more out of the game, since they’ll have the patience to learn the controls and insert the proper roster for their national team, should it not already be there. However, even they’ll feel a little short changed by this game; the lack of modes gives you three to six hours of gameplay at most before you’re simply going through the motions, whilst the only truly engaging mode relies entirely on how many people will actually bother playing online.
Whilst there’s been a substantial number of people asking for a new rugby game these last four years, Rugby World Cup 2011 is not the game they were asking for. It’s decidedly mediocre, and with this in mind, I find it hard to recommend the game to all but the most hard-core rugby fans. But even they should download the demo from Xbox LIVE or PlayStation Network first, just to be sure that this is the right game for them.
– Rewarding once you learn the controls and crank up the difficulty.
– A decent approximation of the sport in video game form.
– Squad editing is welcome, due to the lack of licensed content.
– At least there’s an online mode which has the potential to flesh this game out.
– Not having all the official teams and kits is really disappointing.
– A chronic lack of content is not worth the £45 price tag.
– Pretty rubbish graphics for a 2011 game.
– Lack of training mode is this game’s biggest sin. Without it, many players will give up before they’ve even had a chance to complain about the rest of it.
Publisher provided a copy of the game for reviewing purposes. Rugby World Cup 2011 will be available from August 26th 2011 with the RRP of £44.99 on PlayStation 3 (version tested) and Xbox 360.