You have to give EA some congratulations on this Rugby game. Not because the game is impressive but because despite the fact that Rugby pales in comparison in market share to Soccer and Basketball, they've thrown huge wads of money at the 2005 iteration. Rugby is finally on the level of FIFA and Madden with EA going all out to create the best simulation of the sport ever and while they have succeeded in destroying their old game, it still has its problems, and there are many things which just could be a terminal problem due to the nature of the sport. We like it but it could have been better.
EA has really put some effort into this title and it does show. The developers who previously worked out of Australia had access to the higher tier sports tools from EA and have made a huge difference to the game; it will definitely appeal to more people. There are a variety of game modes on offer in the game ranging from The World Cup (although unofficially) through to the World League. So the variety and game modes are there but the crucial aspect of the game is lacking.
Rugby is a sport that is extremely hard to make into a virtual sport, this is because it is an ever changing sport and unfortunately EA have not managed this time around to incorporate that unpredictability with most matches ending up either kicking duels or backs running through lines to gain ground. You may ask what's wrong with this and if you've never seen rugby that's a fair question, but the problem with the game is that it is too predictable, you know what's going to happen next and that is not the case in real rugby. It's not all bad news for Rugby 2005 however because at its core it's a very solid game and really, unless your a rugby purist, it is probably going to be enough to keep you going until EA tries yet again to get it completely right.
Although we are a bit critical of the game there are some standout features. The player models are highly detailed and like EA's other titles, you can pick them out from looks rather than numbers. The game plays quite well although it does quickly boil down to passing left and right and running down the wing while kicking the ball occasionally. One area it has managed to get right is the ruck, the longer you hold onto the ball, the more likely you will turn it over so it's not a case of a tackle being the easy way out. The main problem we have with the game is that it seems a bit too much like FIFA. Using the engine was a master stroke due to its powerful capabilities but when you try and take an engine used to pass a ball on the ground with no group tackles you will run into trouble.
As you would expect EA has gone out and signed up all the major tournaments from the world and even created a few fictional options. Tournaments such as the Tri Nations, Super 12, World Cup etc are all included plus a world league which works much like Pro Evolution Soccer's Master League - you start off with a bunch of nobodies in a lower division and have to sign players and be promoted to progress further into the game. This adds a great deal of replay value to the game, but takes a while to get into and the unfamiliarity of fictional names may turn some people off. The other game modes are replicated extremely well with 2005 rosters and schedules on offer, as well as featuring official logos, stadiums etc.
The other thing very obvious about the game is EA are trying to bring a whole new breed of gamer to the sport, perhaps those fans of Madden. This is evident by the compulsory tutorial when you first begin the game. Despite the fact we know the sport, the tutorial was a must as it details the games mechanics and how to play the game really well. There is a further video tutorial explaining the rules of the sport as well. The AI players are fairly brutal and play the sport well but on difficulties other than hard, don't offer much challenge to veteran players. The problem here is the hard difficulty is so much higher in difficulty than the normal setting that you have a situation where you're either winning by a lot, of being creamed on the field making the game quite frustrating to play. One impressive aspect of the AI is the way they replicate the real world teams. Some kick more than others just like in the real sport.
Perhaps the biggest improvement to the series is the visuals. Highly detailed player models, real world stadiums (for some reason they went with Aussie Stadium over Telstra Stadium) and small scenes that add to the atmosphere - players pushing, referees calming things down etc. The players animate well but there seems to be a low number of animations. Players react to heavy hits by getting up slowly which is realistic as well, leaving you a man down or a man up depending on the situation. The crowd reacts dynamically to the action and the soundtrack is built up of real world music, as you would expect from EA.
Rugby 2005 is a stepping stone to a better game and if EA continue to build on this engine and title they could possibly have the definitive Rugby game. As of right now, it's one of the best sports games out, especially for Rugby but it still doesn't blow the competition away. Perhaps the worst decision they made with the game was leaving online out. The game offers some running Rugby but still needs some improvement.