The NFL isn't the only sport on the planet to use a pointy ball. Elsewhere we have Rugby, where men or women will wrestle each other to the ground, wear no helmets or shoulder pads and generally get muddy.
There's more to it than that, obviously, but it's a pretty physical sport. It's also very popular in some regions, like parts of Europe, South America, South Africa and the Pacific. Rugby isn't known for being a video game smash hit, though back in 1995 the official game of the World Cup for that year was pretty terrific.
Rugby 18 is the latest attempt and it launches on October 24 in North America and November 3 in the UK for Xbox One and PS4, arriving for PC through Steam on October 27. And while it's pretty well executed, it's unlikely that anyone but big Rugby fans will, or should bother with it.
The glitz and glamour of Rugby. What?
OK, Rugby isn't exactly glamorous, after all, it involves grabbing people and pulling them to the floor. However, Rugby 18 looks really good thanks to official licensing and player likenesses. That means when you're playing as your favorite team, it looks like your favorite team. Official teams from the English Premiership, as well as international clubs, national teams and even the British and Irish Lions, all have a home in Rugby 18.
Better still, the already sharp graphics will be getting a bump soon enough as Rugby 18 is confirmed to be an Xbox One X enhanced game. At that point, it'll probably look better than the real thing.
You don't get a huge amount of teams to play as because there aren't a huge amount of teams to play as in real life. Not at the sort of level you'd be putting in a video game, anyway. But besides quick play modes for online and offline play, you've got a fairly extensive career mode to play through which is what you'd expect from a sports game. Take charge of a team, build a squad, win things. Not mold-breaking, but seemingly extensive enough to keep you playing for many, many hours.
Rugby 18 also has "My Squad," which is best compared to FIFA Ultimate Team. It's a mode where you put together your own dream team to take on the best. If the single player isn't enough to keep you entertained, Rugby fans will have plenty to get stuck into here. What's different, and better than something like FUT, is that there's no upsell on in-app purchases to make your team better.
Crouch, touch, engage
One thing that you will need to do is pay attention to the tutorials. Rugby is a fairly complex game and every button on the Xbox One controller is put into action throughout the course of play. One area that is done particularly well is penalty kicks and conversion kicks. You use a combination of the RS and LS to direct the ball but also correct for the wind. It's really slick and makes attempting even the acutest angles achievable.
If you're a fan of the sport then the gameplay is where Rugby 18 really shines. There's no arcadey feel, with an artificial experience crafted to make for a more exciting game. You'll need tactics, patience, precision, in order to get your team along the pitch and dropping in those tries.
The realistic approach to gameplay is also what will put off anyone who isn't a Rugby fan. There's a lot of grind involved in winning. And during my time with the game, it feels like I've spent most of it in rucks trying to free the ball.
As a sports game to pick up and play, it lacks a spark. While there's great satisfaction in stringing together a run of passes and streaking up the wing, there are as many, maybe more times you'll be grinding a yard or so at a time in permanent gridlock. This could be down to an over-aggressive AI, but more likely it's just how Rugby flows.
There is a real skill to play, though. You'll need to learn when it's best to punt the ball down the field, when it's best to keep plugging away, and when there's just enough space to send your winger screaming through for a try. Unlike something like FIFA, you can't think one, or even two moves in front. The nature of Rugby as a game requires a more thought out strategy, and Rugby 18 captures that.
There are plenty of moves at your disposal, though. Feinting to pass one way then going the other is a good way to get going, and when you're about to be tackled the RS can be used to try and hold them off or sidestep entirely.
Frustrating at times
While the presentation is, on the whole, very good, and the approach to gameplay pretty realistic, as a video game there are moments that make you want to pull your hair out. I've already mentioned the seemingly endless rucks, but it doesn't stop there.
Licensing only covers teams and players, not stadiums. Not a major issue, but instead of coming up with a name for each of them, the developer simply called them "Stadium 2", "Stadium 3" and so on. It doesn't affect the game, but it feels really lazy.
The commentary is also pretty wooden. Real world personalities are brought in for authenticity, and mostly it's decent. However, it's also immensely clear when one pre-recorded phrase stops and another begins because there will be a noticeable pause. Example: "Today's match features ... Newcastle." The commentary is an important part of the experience, and I feel like it should have been better here.
It also seems way too easy to throw an errant pass. To pass left or right you use the bumper buttons, and most of the time you have to move quickly because if you don't, you're on the floor. Passing down a line should just require tapping the ball between players. But all too often it'll just sail past them completely. Interceptions are part of the game, but it's far more annoying when your own pass just sailed straight past your own player.
The bottom line
I'm not exactly what you'd call a Rugby fan, but I am familiar with the game and have been known to enjoy it (especially when it involves England). Even as a casual follower, I can appreciate what is good about Rugby 18.
The presentation is mostly excellent, with a good looking game powered by a solid engine underneath that results in exceptional realism. If you're expecting to pick it up and win right away, forget it, there's a real challenge involved. I'm also delighted that it's coming with Xbox One X enhancements.
- Looks great.
- Xbox One X enhanced.
- Decent single-player experience.
- Realistic game mechanics.
- Winning takes skill.
- Frustrating to play at times.
- Wooden commentary.
- Lazy stadium naming scheme.
- Only really appealing to serious fans.
However, for all the good, there are a number of flaws. The commentary and stadium naming feels lazily done, and while neither affects the core gameplay, they hinder the overall experience. It's also immensely frustrating when you get into a pattern of missed passes and endless rucks.
However, it stays true to the game, and it's one fans of the sport should enjoy. What it won't do is excite anyone who isn't already into Rugby. If you don't even somewhat understand the game, you'll not get along with Rugby 18 very well.
Rugby 18 lands from October 24 for $59.99.
Review conducted on Xbox One using a copy provided by the publisher.
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