In 2003 the Rugby World Cup was held, and EA released a game side by side with it. It was a game that demonstrated the problems the Rugby franchise has had for so long and that is the lack of cash from EA because, to be honest, it's not as big as their powerhouses in terms of market value and predicted profit. However EA went back to the drawing board completely and are well on the way to constructing a fantastic rugby game for fans of the sport. We recently went hands on with a build that was either very close to final or the final master and came away with positive impressions of the game that will finally give Rugby fans what they want, albeit minus online.
The big change to this year's game is how it has been built. Rather than using its own proprietary engine, the developers have taken the FIFA engine which has been worked on for a long, long time. This is the first change that is apparent when playing the game. The camera angles are basically the same as FIFA, the detail of the players are the same and overall if a character in FIFA picked up the ball and ran with it, you'd have Rugby 2005 - which isn't a bad thing with the FIFA engine being one of Electronic Arts most established products in terms of quality.
The game will offer you a number of game modes to play through such as World Championship (seems EA's world cup license has run out), Six Nations, Super 12 etc from around the globe and also quick match for those who just want to get dirty quickly. One of the big problems that EA is going to have with this game is getting non-rugby fans into it and that is why a tutorial is compulsory.
We played through it and found that even though we are familiar with the sport, there are things in there that will be new to any gamer. The control system for line outs is one such example. The whole control system has been constructed brilliantly by the developers. The triggers will be used to sprint when held down while passing could not be easier. X and B take on this responsibility. X passes left, B passes right (square and circle on PS2), somewhat how the controller is layed out. There is also a variety of passes you can perform such as a quick short pass, or a cut out pass to put a man into space.
With the FIFA engine being used it's not hard to see the extra power being employed for this game. The character models are highly detailed and just like FIFA you can pick players from their looks without names on the screen. Also EA have added 'intermission' style scenes where players line up for line outs or even get into fights with the referee having to step in. Those of you familiar with FIFA 2005 will recognize these. It's not just there that the game has become more impressive though, with some truly brutal animations on display. EA motion captured players for the game and it really shows when the big men hit each other. You can be picked up and driven into the ground, dived out for a try stopping tackle or run into to create a ruck where you can lose the ball quite easily.
The most crucial aspect of course is how the game plays and it passes with flying colours. Rugby is not called the running game for nothing, and you'll be doing a whole lot of that. Possibly something fans may have issue with in the current build is the amount of phases that can be put together, but that really is down to how well you can play the game. If you sprint away and get tackled, you're going to lose the ball quickly. The kicking game has been implemented well and EA realises the focus of this aspect obviously with the ability to pass from the ruck straight to the kicker implemented, great for when you're inside your own 20 metre line.
Visually the game is also looking great with a number of licensed stadiums including Twickenham and of course the detailed player models. Like FIFA they will accumulate dirt as they are tackled etc and react sometimes emotionally to a referee decision. Commentary will be provided by an Australian and UK team, from Sky Sports and seems to flow really well already.
Rugby 2005 will be EA's greatest rugby game ever that's for sure and possibly the best rugby game ever made. EA have really gone the extra mile with this one and all the hard work put into the game should pay off for gamers and the developers when it's released in March this year.