While the sport of rugby itself is flourishing in the professional world as shown by the Rugby World Cup in 2003, it has never really managed to take off in the video game sector. There could be a few reasons for this, such as the quality of the games that have been produced in the past due to a lower budget when compared to, say, FIFA but also perhaps because the game is not as accessible as soccer. After Rugby 2004, EA have made some significant changes and recently Andrew Wilson demonstrated an early build and videos of the game in action, showing what is looking to be the best rugby game ever made.
As mentioned EA have made some big changes after the 2004 title with by far the biggest being the fact the game franchise will now be developed in Canada at a much larger studio than Queensland where 2004 was produced. This has allowed the developers to get their hands on the latest development tools, and from what we have seen it really shows. Many people were disappointed with Rugby 2004 and perhaps rightly so but Rugby 2005 is already looking fantastic and its still five months from being finished.
The first thing that they have really gone after with the new game is a simulation aspect. Where as in some games based on the ball running sports in the past have allowed you to run the length of the field and score a magnificent try, odds are you won't be able to do that in rugby. The developers really want to capture the atmosphere and brutality of the real world sport and have made a few changes to make this happen. Rugby is going down the same path as FIFA in terms of moving from an arcade style of play to what most fans seem to want; a simulation style where you really have to fight for points. With this in mind it should come as no surprise that Rugby 2005 is being built on the latest FIFA engine.
As with FIFA, EA have put a huge focus on retaining and obtaining more licenses to use in the next game because as Andrew explained this is what gamers want. They will retain all the international licenses including the Wallabies and All Blacks as well as the Super 12 licenses from the Southern Hemisphere club competition but along with this they have obtained the license for the European Cup which is basically the Rugby version of the UEFA Champions League/Cup and license for the European clubs as well as the British Lions. Thirty eight real world stadiums will be featured in the final game but no examples were given during the presentation.
To go with this avalanche of licenses is new player models. The characters are now built around the FIFA skeleton which is used to create the superstars of soccer and when Andrew showed us a comparison between the old game and new in terms of detail, the difference was literally light years, one looked like a game character, the other a photo. We then saw a video of where the faces currently are at and without Andrew telling us, we could name most of them quickly showing just how authentic they look in comparison to their real world counterparts. The motion capture for the game was done by the New Zealand Maori team and a quick video of gameplay demonstrates the work done in this department.
EA also wanted to improve the artificial intelligence of the game. Again using the FIFA engine they have been able to improve this aspect of the title and along with this, have given gamers the option to smash opponents up even more to the point where you can even get into a fight. Something they really wanted to put into the game was huge hits and aggression that rugby is known for. When the final game ships, via the right analogue you will be able to put a big hit on a player and we saw some demonstrated in the motion capture video, some of the tackles are brutal and the head high tackles look even more brutal. It seems that rather than just getting tackled and forming a ruck, you will now have to use strategy to avoid the big hit which may cough up the ball or start a fight.
Although we only saw brief glimpses of gameplay in the videos displayed the graphics are already looking like they are on a whole other level and on par with that featured in the FIFA series. As mentioned before they have had to add a whole new level of animations for the big hits and side steps they wanted to feature and the player models look highly authentic.
Rugby 2005 looks like it is definitely on track to finally quell the lack of quality licensed rugby games on the market today. The big changes that EA have made to the franchise look like they are going to pay off and utilizing the FIFA engine and other assets from that franchise, they are on track to create the best rugby game ever made. Look for it in March 2005.