Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: March 8, 2005
Ruck you, scrum bag!
I can't play rugby. I've racked up nine concussions from hockey, lacrosse and football, which pretty much rules me out for rugby. On top of that, I knew next to nothing about rugby until about a month or so ago when I started playing this title. Sure, I knew who the New Zealand All Blacks were only because they do that cool Haka chant before every match, and they're called the All Blacks, how cool is that? So cool that I bought an authentic All Blacks jersey without even knowing a single player on the squad. American of me, I know. Anyhow, after having played Rugby 2005, I still don't know their names, but I certainly have a heartfelt appreciation for their game and this game as well.
EA Sports is known primarily as a purveyor of sports games. Indeed I was raised more on EA Sports than I was ESPN. Rugby has been a long-running franchise for EA which, until two years ago, had not been introduced to our humble shores. EA's Rugby had a somewhat rough welcoming, as the game had some flaws and a dated look, but this year's iteration is hoping to overcome these initial growing pains.
To help Rugby along, the game ships with a full suite of tutorials and training sessions, as well as a very flexible practice mode to allow newbies a chance to learn the game in a controlled and focused manner. I am sure that the narrator of the training sessions is someone famous in the rugby world; however I have no idea who the guy is.
What's important is that the training sessions go to great lengths to explain the game's nuances and help you understand how to play the game. I am one who normally skips the training and practice modes of sports games and just fiddle my way into understanding the controls. I must say that Rugby would have been beyond my grasp had I not gone through the full course of training sessions. The walk-throughs are easy, the controls are explained and you can look at the replay to see what you're to do.
There is a gentle learning curve built into the logically structured training sessions that brings you into the game. What you learn in the first two sessions is pertinent and usable in the third session. In no time, you'll find yourself rucking the ball to your Number 8, dummying to your Center and then going the other way to your Wing and taking her in for a Try. It's all very satisfying, especially a good diving tackle.
When you get into a real game, you'll find out just how important those training sessions were. I sauntered through them leisurely enough and then got into my first game: All Blacks (rated 91) versus the formidable Japanese National Rugby Team (rated 42), and at the ending whistle, Japan had triumphed 34-3. Yeah. Practice hard.
Here's the thing: Rugby's control setup is totally logical; it's just that the controls are completely different from anything you are probably used to. You see, it's all based in rugby mechanics. You cannot pass the ball forward; you can only pass the ball behind you to your left or right. So, while you're using the analog stick to move your little dude, you looking for which way is the best way to dish the ball for a good pass which keeps your team moving fluidly. Right or left. Long or short. So you have your passing buttons laid out on your shoulders; that is L1 and R1. Tap L1 for a short pass to your man on the left, hold and release L1 for a longer pass down the left wing. Sounds easy enough, right? No, try timing your passing with play calling.
You see, if there is one aspect that Rugby 2005 captures very well from the real game, it is the relentless speed at which rugby moves. As a player/coach, you are trying to come up with a game plan as you advance, unlike American Football, where you get a 40-second play clock to decide your next play. In rugby, you are playing as you're figuring out your drive. Add into the mix the strategic aspect of fielding and yardage, and you're facing not only tactical decisions but strategic ones as you can try and batter your way forward one tackle at a time, but if you're inside your own 20, your boys will get tired and disorganized, and then one dropped ball leads to points on the board for the other side. It's all a delicate balance that Rugby 2005 plays out admirably.
Rugby 2005 appears to be built off of a heavily modified FIFA Soccer engine from a year or two ago. Whatever the design choices were for the Rugby 2005 engine, they were good ones, as this is a marked improvement over the last Rugby title released in the US, which was rudimentary in its look and front side polish when compared to other EA games.
This year, the feature suite is more complete, as you have a very comprehensive means of creating your own player who can be put onto a national team and a club team. There is Rugby League and Rugby Union (however, the game lacks the faster Super Sevens tournament which is comprised of sides of seven players rather than 15). All of the major clubs are here, and even my aforementioned All Blacks perform the Haka prior to every match they play.
The player models are certainly not the refined models that are meticulously motion-captured as with current EA Sports titles, but this does not detract from the game as much as it could. Rugby is a game where seeing the pitch is even more important than individual skill. Being able to see your players and where they are allows you to control the field much more efficiently, and for that reason, the best angle to play the game ends up being the one where the players are pretty small, and thus, their blocky models and low-res textures don't offend the senses.
Rugby 2005 is at a stage in its franchise where flare and flash are much less important than mechanics. Having a game that looks nice but plays awful would kill this franchise in its earliest stages. To that end, Rugby 2005 delivers a solid experience especially for one who is not familiar with the game. Rugby is a cool sport that requires tactical excellence and strategic brilliance, and if you're unwilling to endure cauliflower ears, then Rugby 2005 would be a wonderful replacement for the real thing.
The tutorials are well worth the investment and the gameplay is solid, although it can still be tightened. The engine might be dated in look, but it runs smoothly, and a great deal of effort has gone into the code to model physics of the egg-shaped rugby ball. For those of you familiar with the game, there is a full suite of teams and leagues that represent the most famous and popular clubs and national teams. If you are interested in learning more about this sport, or if you are looking for a new sport to get into because mainstream sports aren't doing it for you anymore, then I highly recommend Rugby 2005. It's fast, it's fun and it's new, but most importantly, it's a good game.
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