The World Cup of 2003 may have come and gone, but Swordfish have remained toiling over what they hope will become the premiere Rugby game for fans around the globe on both consoles and PC. World Championship Rugby is here and ready to stamp its authority on the sports genre. Rugby games are few and far between unlike other sports so thankfully World Championship Rugby delivers fantastic gameplay in spades.
World Championship Rugby allows you to play many different modes which mimic various famous competitions from around the world. Modes such as World Championship (World Cup), Euro Nations (Six Nations) Three Nations (Tri Nations) and a foreign tour. All are fairly self explanatory and are structured the same way as the real world competitions. No domestic competitions such as the Super 12 are featured but there is options to create a league and cup with the international teams.
The foreign tour allows you to choose a team and then have them visit a zone of the world. For instance if you select England and choose Oceania, you will be pitted against Australia, New Zealand and some of the island nations. For a quick bash, an exhibition game mode is also available.
One of the more interesting game modes is the one revolving around classic matches. The developers have reproduced some of the most famous moments in world rugby such as a world record breaking forty five points scored in a match by a single player. The classic matches are tough, and to progress further on, the previous matches tasks must be completed. Other modes include the game challenging you to beat an all star team with all twenty teams and a survival mode. The survival mode works somewhat like a fighting game. If you beat a team but have three points scored against you, the next team will have a three point head start. The aim is to get through as many matches as you can.
They say rugby is the running game and this has never been more true then in World Championship Rugby. Whilst the game does let you kick the ball, most of the time you will find yourself galloping up the field passing the ball to great effect. This gameplay is really what makes World Championship Rugby one of the better sports games released recently. That's not to say kicking doesn't play any part in the game because it does, but its not a crucial factor in winning or keeping the other team from scoring. However, the AI is prepared to get in a forcings back duel with you which can be quite enjoyable. The pick up and play nature of the title also helps in this aspect with players being able to learn and use the controls in around ten minutes.
World Championship Rugby is the official game of the England rugby team and thus contains all the team members, their likeness and even unique traits such as the way Jonny Wilkinson lines up to take a place kick. Unfortunately however the developers have not been able to acquire licenses for other teams such as Australia and New Zealand, the Welsh team is licensed however. The teams uniform colours remains the same but changes have had to be made. For instance with Australia, a boomerang is used with the national logo instead of the traditional Wallaby. This also applies to stadiums featured. Twickenham, often referred to as the home of rugby appears, but other then that the other stadiums are fictional which may again come as a disappointment.
Two interesting aspects of the game are the way lineouts and place kicks are taken. Before each lineout for your team, you can select how many team members you want to commit and then select where the ball is thrown. This system works well and a winning a lineout does not assure either yourself or the AI possession as it is quite easy to pinch the ball should you or the AI manage to guess the correct zone. The other interesting aspect, and possibly one of the most frustrating is place kicks. After each try, the game allows you to place how far back from the posts you wish to kick it from but the annoyance comes after this. An arrow appears on the screen and it is a complete guess as to where you should be placing it, although we did find the most successful way to be aiming for the farthest post, but even then you can miss a kick.
The focus for Swordfish when developing the game was definitely gameplay over a large amount of realism. The game does offer realistic aspects such as players having individual attributes (wingers can run a lot faster and longer then front row forwards) which will please most fans but there are some irregularities that keep it towards the arcade spectrum of gaming. Some huge tackles are featured and this is where one of the main problems with the game creeps up. You can almost guarantee that getting a huge hit on a player will cause them to drop the ball which makes it easy to regain possession after losing it. Whilst this would be realistic for hitting a winger, it happens with all players and this reduces the challenge of the game because you know you can regain possession relatively easily. You do take a risk going for the big hit though because if you mistime the hit, you may hit a player without the ball and end up giving a penalty away. Also when a ruck is formed, if the two teams can't get the ball out, rather then a penalty the team with the most momentum collapses the ruck and gains the ball. This keeps the play flowing, much better then having a penalty every five or so seconds.
Visually the game isn't going to win any awards but the graphics do the job well and again gameplay over graphics comes to the fore. The England players look great as does Twickenham in comparison to the real life counterparts but overall all the stadiums and players look great and animate well. After a big hit, some players will take time to get up showing signs of pain or injury. One aspect of the graphics that looks fantastic is the crowd when a try is scored. Watching on replay (which is only featured after tries) you will see the crowd rise up and cheer at the exact moment is scored. The crowd also chime in again with the sound effects, playing as England will see you being encouraged by a rendition of what appears to be Sweet Chariot.
World Championship Rugby is a great title which should give Rugby fans what they want from a game. The lack of licensing doesn't harm the gameplay at all and if you can look past the fact with some teams you won't be playing with real names or logos, then you will find a quality rugby game with great pick up and play gameplay for both fans of the sport and casual gamers.