Soccer management games have grown in popularity at an exponential rate since the introduction of games such as championship manager. Sports Interactive really created a niche market all to itself and a game where there was no interaction between the actual players on the pitch and the gamer began to become more and more popular and accepted. Cyanide have tried to continue this success to a lesser followed sport than soccer and have come up with an accessible game that any one who enjoys the sport of rugby will enjoy.
Like most management games the gameplay revolves around managing a professional team to numerous trophies and along the way overcoming problems such as slumps and player injuries. However Pro Rugby Manager has a different take on how to achieve this than most management games. You start off by taking control of one of the professional teams in the game and when you are good enough, your local national association will call you up to coach the national side in a variety of competitions. If you just want to get straight into the national teams you can do so with the exhibition mode for one off matches.
The gameplay in pro rugby manager can be divided into three categories; management, the matches themselves or simulation. Simulation basically uses an algorithm to determine who wins and is much quicker to determine the match outcome. The problem here is you have no control over what happens in the game. Where Pro Rugby Manager differs to most management games is the way the non-interactivity of the gameplay is handed when simulation is not used. While you don't have individual controls over the players besides substitutions you can give commands on the fly via the games interface. On screen there is a variety of buttons which change depending on whether you're attacking or defending. These buttons represent different areas of the field and using these you can give commands such as wide which will either spread the ball wide for an attack or defend wide. This means that rather then watch players run about on screen which is akin to watching paint dry, you actually have to keep an eye on the proceedings and make split second decisions which can turn a match your way.
This is what makes the game so accessible. Although the training and management you perform throughout the week does affect the way the players play on the weekend, it does not have the overall effect and you can interact with the game yourself to help them along. The rest of the game is spent managing budgets, transferring and buying new players for your squad as well as managing the youth squad and preparing for the upcoming matches. The interface used for the game helps in this regard as the menu system is quite user friendly and uses three main icons to delegate the different aspects. The shirt icon for instance shows menus associated with the playing squad and youth squads etc.
The game contains numerous competitions to play in, both licensed and unlicensed as well as player names again both licensed and unlicensed. While not all competitions are licensed most of the famous ones from the world of rugby are featured in some manner such as the top 12 (super 12). Licensed tournaments include the Zurich premiership from England and along with that license, all the teams such as London Wasps and NEC Harlequins featured real player names and club names. The same applies for the stadiums featured throughout, some are licensed and some are not licensed however they all look like their real life counterparts to some degree. This level of depth adds to the game in a way not seen in most other management games due to their lack of true 3D engine.
One of the strongest features of the game is the engine in which the matches are played out. It is in complete 3D with a high level of detail for both the players and the stadiums and a moveable camera system. You can zoom in and out of the action to play but unfortunately the game does not allow you to view the action from side on. However this isn't an issue as the game in its structure with the various moves that can be designated on the fly, would not work in a side on view. Players have detail such as getting dirty during the progression of a match and individual animations for separate moves. It really has the same level of detail that a interactive rugby game would have at the basic level. One thing which is a down side to the presentation is the commentary which comes across as bland and uninspiring. It appears that it is a co-coach who gives comments on how the game is progressing rather then a commentator which is a nice, unique touch but in comparison to commentary from games such as FIFA football then it just doesn't add up.
Another of the more unique features of the game is the inclusion of multiplayer and not only that, the game is online. In the multiplayer component of the game you play a one off match against each other preparing the teams and then playing the match itself giving commands. This is played online via gamecenter which is Cyanides online matchmaking system and will be used for the upcoming Chaos League as well.
Pro Rugby Manager has widen the accessibility of the management genre and introduced some interesting gameplay mechanics to get more gamers interested in the game. The fact that the game allows you to have a small amount of control over the on field action is a bonus and it's in some ways a shame that one of the best rugby games on the PC is a management game. The soccer games could learn a thing or two from this game and if you have any interest in the sport of rugby then this game deserves a look.