Despite the countless games that graced the PS2, Rugby ’08 was in list of my top 5 most games played on the console. I suppose going to a college where rugby was the primary sport, and that my friends and I used to spend every spare moment playing the game had something to do with it. Since then, I have not been able to get back into a rugby game either because publishers have not taken the sport as seriously as the likes of football, basketball or NFL. We’ve had some rugby games come and go, but none that worked for me. Ten years later, with the release of Rugby 18, I was hoping that I could finally find a current generation rugby game that would encourage me to get back into the mood for some heavy hitting tackles and winning drop goals. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried to enjoy Rugby 18, this game falls short of the standards that I hoped for.
There is certainly no denying the authenticity of the game. After all, it comes packaged with a lot of actual rugby licenses, and therefore I didn’t have to plough through teams and players, trying to make sense of who actually represents their real life counterparts. Visually too, some of the players don’t look terrible. The level of detail comes nowhere near the character models that you see in some of EA’s sports titles, but you can still tell apart a lot of the better-known players. I appreciate that the developers of Rugby 18 do not have the budget that EA, 2K or Konami would have with their sports titles, but the problem still remains that the gameplay is just not up to scratch. I know that at any one time, there could be 30 players on the pitch all making independent movements, but some of the AI behaviour is too bizarre and can cost you matches. In addition, matches aren’t fluid enough. Playing rugby games should be fast-paced, but instead Rugby 18 slows things down too much.
The sport of rugby is 100% focused on possession play. Keeping the ball is crucial, probably more so than in any other major sport. Yes, there are moments where you can intercept a pass and be clean through for a try if your winger has the ball, but most of the time you’d expect to score points by ball retention and a piece of magic that breaks open the opponent’s defensive line. It is why the ruck is such an important aspect of the sport, because this is where, after a tackle, you can quickly redistribute the ball, but it is also where opponents can put pressure to win the ball back. There are a lot of rucks in a rugby match, but in Rugby 18, there are simply too many. The opponent AI will almost always tackle you the moment you get the ball, and this will lead to a ruck. You pass the ball out, get tackled again and then the whole process repeats. There is very little opportunity for you to actually play a running game, which is where rugby is at its most exciting. A lot of this is simply down to terrible AI. Considering how strategic this sport is when you attack and defend, there just aren’t many options for you to organize your players in formations that will suit you. Instead, the AI does whatever it wants, often wandering off into gaps that don’t need filling. This alone, is my biggest issue with the game. I want to be able to play a fluid game of rugby, but Rugby 18 provides a very mind-numbing experience that made me sigh more often than not.
The actual passing mechanics however deserve praise. Similar to Rugby 08, you have control over the distance you want to pass, so you can skip the player next to you and pass across him to try and catch the opponent off. In addition, penalty kicks, line outs and scrums have a similar feeling to Rugby 08, and combine skill with the player statistics to ensure that you don’t feel cheated. If you purposefully skew your lineout too far to one side, the referee will blow the whistle and penalize you for it.
I would strongly suggest that you turn off the commentary. The commentators often don’t have anything meaningful to say, and when they do, it’s often much delayed. In fact, at times their voices sounded very robotic, almost as if they are triggered to say multiple phrases that have just been pieced together in completely different tones. I cannot understand how during the testing cycle of this game, nobody picked up on the awful commentary. The developers would have been better off just removing it altogether, because in its current form, the commentary is poor and at times, laughable.
The most unforgiving aspect of the game is that it doesn’t understand all of the rules of the sport. Again, this could just be because of the terrible AI, but when an opponent takes a penalty kick, but doesn’t kick it far enough to reach the goal, they should not be chasing after it. It is after all, a penalty kick in a dead-ball situation, and not a kick-off. Even moments like the AI making substitutions after the final whistle has been blown is just unacceptable.
Due to these issues, matches often end up in very low scores, which is not what rugby is about. Occasionally you may watch matches on TV that have very low scores, but that is often down to the brilliance of both teams’ defences. In Rugby 18, the low scores are due to the poor AI. The career mode had the potential to be the saving grace, until the very end. Here, you start off by actually building your own team of superstars in the world of rugby. However, each player costs in-game currency. The game gives you the option to take them but then pay off your debts in later seasons, but if you don’t manage to gather the funds, you end up losing the players. All of this gives you great incentive to play, and win matches in order to keep hold of your best players. So far, so good. Unfortunately however, this isn’t easy, only because of how hard it is to win by big margins in the matches. Points differences often decide whether you get promoted to the higher divisions, but because all other matches are simulated, they are given realistic points differences whereas your matches don’t end up with those. What happened at the end of my career? I managed to win all of my matches, I got promoted, yet I was still told that I was bankrupt. The career mode was over, and I lost. There is no way to start from a certain point again. At that point I realised that I was done with the career mode, because it was done with me.
Again, I fully appreciate that Rugby 18 is developed with a much lower budget than the sports title. However, I have to question why it costs the same as a normal retail title (around £40 at the time of writing this review) when it clearly doesn’t have the polish that we all deserve in a £40 title. You’ll have the most fun playing this game with another friend, as you can both turn off the commentary and have slightly more control over the players than the AI. If however, you’re a hardcore rugby fan and have been longing for a licensed rugby game on current gen platforms, I’d strongly suggest that you wait for this to drop in price before giving it a purchase.