stealthoneill's Rugby World Cup 2011 (Xbox 360) review

Rugby, just not right.

I’m a fan of the sport of Rugby. I believe, as something I like to invest my time in, it gives great returns. Unlike other sports - Say Football (Soccer) or Cricket - the return is often immediate and consistent. I’m not the hardcore fan that follows every single match nor do I have a team I claim to love. I love the Rugby when nations collide as a matter of pride, fighting with every bone in their body for the honour of lifting the World Cup trophy at the end of a long fought battle. To say that I was extremely excited about this product prior to its release would be an understatement. We’ve waited years for a Rugby game on the market that rivals that of the FIFA’s and Maddens of the world and yet, unfortunately, I feel like we’re still waiting.

Rugby World Cup 2011 picks a very specific market to target. The chosen focus on the international game rather than any domestic championships allows a wider audience spread and shifts focus from local competition to a national stage. The roster is filled with all the team you might expect to find in an international sports game and the team rating system comes across as accurate and effects game play drastically when the settings are at their highest.

The game has multiple options when first going in, offering a full World Cup experience which follows the schedule of the upcoming event. This is a nice touch and allows fans to follow their teams through an accurate representation of the table of play. There is also a North and South Hemisphere tour mode which is a wider opportunity for teams to face off against others. Also included is a Place-Kick Tournament which pits different teams against each other to in a penalty shootout scenario. The most shocking upset of the mode select is the omission of a training mode, isolating the crowd of players which may wish to jump in. There is no explanation as to the rules or a a guide for new players looking to try a new sports experience.

Taking shape on the field is an easy thing. Once teams are selected you’re treated to a clumsy cut scene of players standing around and a quick overview of teams. Standard fair for sports games. The game itself plays much like expected and although the controls are a tough sell at first they quickly become intuitive and are simple to master. The quick control you have over set-pieces, a flick of the right analogue stick while stuck in a maul, offers flexibility without pausing the action for very long. These same four set pieces are great but stale as you progress through the game and put a few more hours in. There isn’t a selectable number for each team, just four set plays you can choose to use; it would have been nice to have a pool of plays you could select from and only take four in to each game, adding a hint of variety to the game. I often found myself exploiting teams weak spots over and over with the same set play, running the same line and hitting the same players, in essence, gaming the experience.

The AI is about as useless as I’ve seen in any sports games. There is no learning with them and often they’ll follow the same patterns time and again. The game follows the same patterns time and again and almost makes it impossible to come back too after a few controller-threatening moments where the AI rubber banding made winning a game impossible. You’ll be up by thirty points at the half, then return to a team who can’t put a play together, fumbling pass after pass until the AI controlled team comes back and, almost visibly, things return to the normal pace from the first half. It’s a frustrating mechanic that hasn’t been shrouded well and hence leaves players feeling frustrated with the experience. The rubber banding attempts to cover poor AI that can’t learn and offers the opposite to what this type of game should - A constant challenge that matches your skill level.

Unfortunately, even basic gameplay elements - Like the rules of Rugby - are flexible when you’re AI controlled. I’ve had a number of games where I’d go to take a quick tap and a player rising from the ground who is offside has grabbed my passed ball. A frustrating error that leaves you screaming at the screen. But, by the end, unfortunately such errors are so plentiful that you raise your hand sin defeat, void of emotion. AI team members will make extremely long tackles that have their players diving towards your ball carrier from nearly ten yards to take down your breakaway.

The options surrounding the game are minimal, at best, and although there are a healthy selection of stadiums, about half offer no weather selection process pointing to a problem with the licensing. This is a minor annoyance to most, but to someone who wants to play at Wales’ Millenium stadium with heavy rain and a strong wind because that’s how I remember it, it becomes a huge disappointment.

The game holds licences for half of the teams but the engine they use isn’t powerful enough to drive the game and power the players likeness to anything close to recognisable. It’s a nice touch to have players names but a shame the models all look similar. Aesthetically this game is a let down. During a match it’s often confusing where the ball is because of the spattering of shirts that clump together, the commentary is dry and bland, pushing the same lines of dialogue together often enough that you’ll hear the same string three or four times through a half. Names are called sporadically but with no emotion it’s often a draw from the experience.

Developed by HB studios, who have previously developed sports games - including Rugby - for EA, you’d expect a certain pedigree to the experience. This game largely feels like a first attempt at a touchy source material that others have failed at time and again. If this come from a fresh studio I would end this review with something resembling “First attempt, though a great platform to build on.” But due to the history of the developers I’m left a little stumped as to the basic in-game issues that exist. Rugby World Cup 2011 is by no means an awful product. The game has its issues and perhaps a second game will largely improve such bugs but locking yourself in to a World Cup game means the next iteration is years away. Perhaps with a redesign and a different focus with, perhaps, a season mode that offers players replayability the game will be more sustainable but, right now, I can’t say it’s worth a purchase. The short shelf life of the World Cup tournament and the hemisphere leagues will leaves players with online play to contend with (Which I struggled to play due to the apparent lack of player base) and nothing more than a side project with the penalty shoot out.

For better or worse, this is still the best Rugby game on the market and I applaud the try, I just wished we could see a more polished finished product like we’ve seen with most other big sports. Stepping away from the EA publishing rules offers HB studios some freedom going forward and I hope their next iteration corrects the problems and we see a Rugby game that the fans can be proud of.

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