Rugby isn't a sport which has been emulated in the gaming world as often as some would like in the past few years. In comparison to franchises such as FIFA from EA, the sport has really only had a title come out of the woods every few years. Jonah Lomu Rugby is still seen in some circles as the best rugby game ever so when Swordfish announced they were going to do another Rugby game, many people would have been excited. Recently we sat down with an early build of the game, put it through its paces and came away quite impressed.
World Championship Rugby is the unofficial successor to Jonah Lomu Rugby. It hopes to become the defining moment of the sport in video game history and having played some early code it just may do that. The game is going to offer a bevy of options and features to quench the thirst of almost every rugby fan on the planet. Whilst they aren't officially licensed you will find tournaments which are like the World Cup, Tri-Nations and Six Nations competitions. You will also be able to choose two teams and take them for a bash around the park in a one off exhibition match and of course the classic matches and from a quick look it appears the World Cup final from last year between Australia and England has been replicated as well as numerous other matches.
The game will also offer some management options during the games. Whilst between matches you won't be doing things, in the middle of a match your decisions can turn the tide in your favour. You can adjust players on the field via substitutions, change who is taking the goal kicking, adjust the way line outs are going to be played and the number of players in them which can give you the advantage over the opposition team. The gameplay is already feeling great however it does appear to move towards the arcade spectrum of gaming in some facets of the game. That's not to say its just a button mash fest sprint to the tryline because its not, but it definitely lends itself to some pickup and play gameplay.
This shines through the most in the way lineouts and kicks will be taken. When a lineout occurs, the game will give you three options on the screen to determine how far you want to throw it or guess where the other team is going to throw it. Then if it's your throw a meter comes up, where ever you push the meter to stop, is where it will be thrown. It's an easy system to use and doesn't give a huge advantage to any one side or more experienced players of the game. The other interesting facet is the way kicks are taken in the current code. Before a kick off you are asked if you want to do a manual kick or automatic kick. Automatic kick seems to come up with a decent lofted boot, so most of the time that will probably be the best option, but for the purest's the extra control is there. Finally, after a try is scored, you can place the kick as far away from the goals as you want to improve the angle. This can be useful when a try has been scored right in the corner of the goal zone.
Even at this early stage the players look great in animations and in terms of likeness in comparison to their real life counterparts. The England licence and official team are already in the game but unfortunately the final version will only have official licences from the English and Welsh teams. Having played through a few matches as both Australia and England the only difference in terms of player likeness appeared to be the names. Looking at the Australian team you can pick out character models that look like the actual players quite easily and it really is a shame that Acclaim haven't managed to get more official licences for the teams.
As mentioned before the animations are already looking great and there doesn't appear to be a time when the game will come to a grinding halt except for the end of the half/match or the ball being kicked out. When rucks and mauls are created, you can hammer the A button to get more players in and perhaps steal the ball but rather then having the referee call a foul almost every play, it will collapse and the team closest to the ball will gain or retain possession. This system seems to work incredibly well and allows for some extremely flowing gameplay. No longer do you have to fear losing the ball in a ruck or maul because of a referees call that the play was going no where.
One interesting tidbit we found with the current code is the way players sprint. They can sprint for a short distance (currently done by clicking in the left thumbstick) and then will need recharging, which doesn't take long at all. So if you're on a long run, you will have to click in the thumbstick numerous times, but even so it appears to work really well and players will have to work for a length of the field try. The tackling system is already looking great as well. A few times we put a big hit on an opposing player just before the line which forced them to lose the ball. Nine times out of ten if you get a big hit on an individual player they will drop the ball and you will have the chance to play on. The hits already look bone crushingly painful which is something they promised and have delivered in spades.
Having played a preview build of the Xbox version (the game is also in development for PC and PS2 systems) it was no surprise that the graphics are already quite impressive. Besides the aforementioned animations and players in the current build Twickenham stadium, often referred to as the home of rugby is also included. The other stadiums featured thus far appear to be fictional but the fact they have the licence for Twickenham is quite a boost to the game and the appeal to fans, especially fans of the English team. Commentary will be provided by Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes from Sky Sports in the UK and the ambient sound appears already in place with crowds reacting to the play on the field. One interesting touch is if a team is completely dominating the match, you will see fans of the winning team beating down on fans of the losing team, showing what the team means to them. You will always see the crowd reaction after a try.
Jonah Lomu Rugby may still be seen as the best rugby game to be developed thus far but Swordfish are again throwing the hat into the ring, trying to beat their own game. Big tackles, great graphics, lots of tournaments and pick up and play gameplay just may see World Championship Rugby eclipse its unofficial prequel upon its release in April. Get ready rugby fans, because the game you have wanted for such a long time is coming soon.
For more information on this title check out our previous interview with Ian Flatt from Swordfish about the game here.