Developer: HB Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
We've always tried to incorporate a perspective that takes the consumer into consideration here at Dealspwn, and indeed value has become a central talking point for the industry. With swathes of content heavy material available on iOS for under a tenner, with reports of on-disc material excised to allow for DLC plans with certain games, chatter of subscriptions abound in the darker corners of the internet and value for money has become a hot topic spouting vast amounts of polemic. Of course, part of the reason for that is we look backwards when approach new things. Things past and present are our only benchmarks when it comes to treading new ground in such territory: if we used to get X for our money, why now do we only get Y?
When HB Studios released Rugby 2008 four years back, that's not a problem they really had. Stuffed with game modes both international and domestic, the game had a career mode of sorts, a vast array of customisation options, from letting you select your 30 man squad at the start of the 2007 World Cup Campaign to putting yourself in as a back row forward who could sidestep and place kick to giving Jonny Wilkinson the tackling prowess of an elderly nun, if that's what you wanted to do. The game had it's faults, sure, but it also provided a fairly enjoyable gaming conversion for the deeply complex sport, and gave those who bought into it about as much rugby as they could possibly handle.
Four years on, with the officially branded Rugby World Cup 2011 game, it's impossible to say the same.
The game plays almost exactly the same brand of rugby that its four year old predecessor did. Controls are pretty much the same and mapped out very nicely indeed, with the option of deploying long or short passes from the breakdown worthy of particular note. It's a control system that excels in giving players choice every time the ball goes to ground, meaning that you can decide to play a running backs' game or keep the ball recycling through the forwards on the fly. The face buttons give the usual variety of kicks, and scrums, rucks, mauls and lineouts have been simplified to offer a relatively smooth passage back to open play. Place kicking is satisfyingly tight and, thankfully, you can change the side-on camera angle to an end-to-end model that opens up the game to tactical kicking as well.
Sadly, though, none of the issues of the previous game have been addressed, which is a shame because...well...it's only been four years! This means that canned animations reign supreme. You can start diving for the try line, for example, only for someone to make a last-ditch tackle, resulting in your player suddenly being on their feet and vertical again and crumpling in completely the opposite direction. Tackles prove to be the animation equivalent of an override button, never really reacting to the situation that presents itself, but rather simply aborting any animation that was going through the motions in favour of a tackle shot. The tackle animations are pleasantly crunchy, but that's not really the point. The sidestep animation comes in a close second.
There are other issues too, such as the continued insistence upon mapping both the 'score try' and 'punt' functions to the same key. Slightly misjudging one's dive distance won't have you skidding a metre short but hoofing the ball into row Z. As someone who's played Rugby 08 I was pretty much expecting this to be the case, but for a newcomer it's a momentary lesson in abject frustration. Having burly prop Dan Cole burst out of a maul, sidestep three players including the full back (a prop?!!), outpace a centre in a sprint for the line and proceed to cap everything off by punting the ball into the crowd just before he touches down is distracting at best and gamebreakingly ridiculous as worst.
The sad thing is that if it weren't for all of the little errors - forgivable four years ago, damnable now - the pitchside aspects to this game would make for a really enjoyable experience and, indeed, if you liked Rugby 08 and don't have your expectations set too high then, at least in terms of core gameplay, this game might be the one for you. It allows you to play expansively, but also on the higher difficulty levels gives you the tools to grind out a result by keeping things tight. Although you can only take four set plays into each game - deployable via the right stick - they do allow you to play a tactical game, offering up an added dimension to backline play. This game still offers the joy of pulling off a dummy switch and sending your full back racing through the resulting gap, even if he then does cycle through a couple of automatic tackle animations before he puts the ball down over the line.
But at least Rugby 08 had all the content that the discerning rugby fan could wish for. Unfortunately for those fans, this game is about as sparse and bland as a stale water biscuit.
Let's start with the licenses. That official RWC 2011 moniker covers the competition only, and the official kits. This means that the squads in there are not the official squads, although most of the names are correct; don't expect to see player likenesses in the game; and, worst of all, don't expect to be able to play as the 'proper' versions of New Zealand or Australia - both of whom were snapped up by Sidhe's rival rugby game - with none of the real-life players represented in any fashion in this game. Sure, you can customise certain aspects of these players, including the name, but you really shouldn't have to. It'd be like turning up to a Metallica gig only to find that not only has the band been replaced by a tribute act, but that they've swapped out James Hetfield for Charlie Simpson.
Then there's the content. Where is it? No, seriously...where is it? You get the World Cup competition, a handful of warm-up tours and a 'Play Now' option and that's it. 20 teams, two of whom aren't even made up of real players, and a handful of modes so meagre and unsubstantial that it makes Oliver Twist look like the luckiest chap in the world. There's just no real incentive to keep playing and even the multiplayer modes are just the most basic versus modes. No leaderboards, no challenges, no rankings, no online competitions. Local multiplayer fares better, but only because you can literally beat the person next to you when you lose.
I still play Rugby 08 to this day because it offers up a banquet of international and domestic play, not to mention a career mode that allows you to put your own dream team together over time. In terms of content, it is more stuffed than a Sunday 'turducken', but this offering will be lucky if it's played beyond even the pool stages of this World Cup. There's just nothing really to keep you playing and that's a real shame. A very functional core template undone by a few disgraceful niggles, a lack of ambition and the inclusion of Stuart Barnes.
- England supporters sing 'Swing Low...' during matches
- Control system allows for tactical gameplay and set-plays
- The core game can be pretty fun...
- ...but canned animation glitches and lag abound
- When will sports developers realise that Sky commentators are actually worse than leaving commentary out completely
- Lack of content
- Seriously...where's the content?
The Short Version: HB Studios have produced a marginally shinier version of a four-year old template, albeit with far less content and the same annoying faults. Rugby World Cup 2011 serves up a functional game of rugby undone by a few disgraceful niggles, a lack of ambition and the inclusion of Stuart Barnes.