"Seven years is a long time to wait .."
Seven years. That's how long fans of the sport of Rugby League have waited for a new game. When it was announced that a little known development company, Sidhe was working on a brand new Rugby League game there was much anticipation. This has easily been the most anticipated game in Australia in 2003 and its finally here, and we can report that its a solid game that should have NRL fans occupied until the new season.
For those of you who don't know the sport, Rugby League is very much like the sport of Rugby minus rucks and mauls. Each team has sets of six tackles to try and score a try worth five points. After six tackles the ball is handed over to the other team and so it goes on. There have been attempts in the past to recreate the sport in a video game by EA Sports and another company (ARL 96 and ET's Rugby League respectively) but never have they had the depth that this new title has.
Rugby League is a fans dream come true. It features all of the official competitions from around the globe such as the National Rugby League Telstra Premiership, Tetley's Super League from the UK, State of Origin, City vs Country and many other international modes. This depth has added quite a bit to the game but right off the bat you will have to choose either NRL 2003 or Super League to play in because the other modes are locked. To unlock the modes you have to win a league. For instance winning the 2003 NRL premiership, unlocks the state of origin and winning the state of origin unlocks international matches. This is an interesting progression but will tempt you to play on the easiest difficulty level just to unlock the representative matches.
As mentioned before Rugby League contains all the official clubs, players and stadiums from both the National Rugby League and Super League. The player likeness is a bit of a letdown, with some players looking no where near their real life counterparts but in other cases its quite impressive. During play only distinct attributes such as a players hairstyle will cast them differently to the rest of the team. The clubs feature both home and away strips and these are accurate right down to the sponsors featured on the players jerseys.
The animation system is quite impressive considering that there was no motion capture involved with the game. Players can break tackles, palm other players off, as well as perform high tackles and spear tackles, which are obviously illegal. Doing so will get you in trouble with the referee and you can and probably will be sent off. The problem is that sometimes the spear tackles seem completely randomised. You do have to be doing an aggressive tackle to perform one, but there are completely legitimate aggressive tackles also in the game.
There are a few niggles to report as well, but most of these can be overlooked because the rest of the game is quite enjoyable. A few times conversion kicks which went through the sticks, were not counted and once the screen went black whilst play continued. This could not be rectified, until changing the camera which was being used. Also for the Rugby League purists, the game relies to much on line breaks and passing. If you can string a set of passes together you're almost guaranteed a four pointer.
Rugby League features all the official NRL stadiums in high detail. Stadiums such as Telstra Stadium, Aussie Stadium, Brookvale oval etc and from the UK such as McAlpine Stadium. These have been crafted together to the nth degree and look incredibly accurate in comparison to the real thing. The only thing missing at Telstra stadium is live video on the big screens.
Rugby League also features a comprehensive player editor, team editor and competition editor. You can mix teams from the NRL and Super League into one competition or put yourself into the game. As well as this there are videos to unlock such as a behind the scenes video, videos of the developers attending actual matches and a season montage. However a quick look at the official site shows that to unlock the season montage an incredible 95 hours of gameplay must be logged by the game. Using this instead of skill to unlock features such as this is a disappointment and will take a huge level of commitment.
Visually Rugby League isn't going to win awards for best graphics on Xbox but gets the job done. Obviously with the game being available across three platforms most Xbox specific features have been left out but as mentioned before the animations are quite impressive as is the high level of detail in the stadiums.
Andrew Voss from Channel 9 does a superb job in the commentary box with repetition kept to a minimum. Obviously after a few hours of play you will start to hear the same thing but there was 5000 lines recorded for the game. The crowd is a little lacklustre in terms of cheering but other then that the sound effects are great, especially the referee who talks a lot and lets players know exactly what is going on. Multiplayer is offered on the same console only.
Rugby League is the game that finally shows ET's Rugby League and ARL 96 the door. Many people have continued to play ARL 96 waiting for the next big Rugby League game, and its finally here. Whilst there are a few issues with Rugby League, the fact that fans have waited seven years, paired with the great gameplay for most of the game makes Rugby League a great title which fans will love. Let's just hope it isn't another seven years until the next NRL game is released.