What is it with publishers and Rugby these days? For so long the big guns of the industry ignored the pleas of fans to come up with a Ruby game for the consoles and for so long they were ignored. EA did have a crack a few years ago and then another last year, but it wasn't until recent times that this attention to Rugby has been the case. This is EA's second try with the new powerhouse engine they built from FIFA and while it improves, it's probably just a little too close to last year's game.
Rugby 06 aims to improve on Rugby 2005 and is more an evolution rather than revolution for the series. Rugby 2005 laid the foundations for a powerhouse franchise to be built and despite the release of 2006, we are still waiting for that elusive must have Rugby game. The game modes remain primarily the same as last year; "play now" for individual exhibition games, as well as tournaments and the training options. That may not seem like much but EA have added a few new options this year.
First of all the meat and potatoes World League has been expanded. EA have taken the popular Master League format from Pro Evolution Soccer and put it in Rugby 06. Basically in this mode you become the manager of a lackluster, poor performing division four Rugby side and are tasked with taking them to the top by wheeling and dealing in the transfer market and just playing well. The difference between this and most rugby management games is that you actually control the players if you choose to do so.
The other tournaments include an unofficial World Cup but considering this the last year before the next world cup, don't be surprised to see France 2007 in Rugby 07. Other tournaments include the famous Tri Nations and Six Nations as well as Zurich Premiership and the Expanded Super 14. For the fans of European Rugby EA is still yet to acquire the license for the Heinekin Cup (basically Rugby's version of the UEFA champions league), possibly because Ubisoft has it in Rugby Challenge, also recently released. As you would expect, situations such as injuries and suspensions do affect the managerial mode and tournament mode and you can actually set the level of injuries and knock ons etc. As expected everything is licensed and the Wallabies are official and exclusive in EA's game.
The other main changes are to do with the actual flow of play. EA has put a huge effort in this year to get Set Plays right and before each stoppage such as a scrum or penalty, you will have the opportunity to select a pre-defined set play and then play it on the field. This really is only for the rugby purists but the other new option makes the game harder for both the AI and the player. Offload passes allows players to pass while being tackled, giving the franchise a huge increase of authenticity as it's one of the most common tactics in the real world game - draw the defender in for the tackle and pass the ball before going down.
The biggest problem Rugby 06 has really should have been fixed. In 2005 we complained that the difference of difficulty level between Club and Pro was ridiculous and made it hard to find a middle ground for gamers. EA has yet again left the difficulty settings alone and with the new options, the gulf between the two has actually grown larger. We can slam a team 75-3 in Club mode but Professional mode sees our team get smacked by about forty points.
One thing EA seems to have really worked on this year however is the visuals of the game, especially on the PS2. The player models look even more life like, the colours seem more vibrant and generally we just feel this game looks about a thousand times better than last year. The animations have of course changed to accommodate the offload pass feature. The commentary is also much better this year with a more ebb and flow and the music is once again some of the most recent and cutting edge tracks EA could get their hands on.
Rugby 06 is a game that's probably best for those that ignored last year's game. Those who own 2005 will find not a whole lot has improved, however the changes have been worth it and the expanded Super 14 gives Southern Hemisphere players one extra reason to upgrade. EA is on the right track with this franchise and we can't wait to see what they pull out for Xbox 360 and PS3 next time around.