There was a time when I would rather play sport than watch it. That’s changed as sitting on the sofa with a controller in hand without incurring a hamstring injury, or a split lip is preferable to the real thing. Rugby always appealed to me as a younger person. Despite being a fast runner in my youth, my small frame meant that I’d ricochet around the pitch like a pinball, should one of the larger players jolt me. Well, time to rejoice as Rugby 20, developed by Eko Software, is the closest I’ll get to a scrum without soiling my clothes. From the sliding on the floor, of course.
Rugby doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Apart from the World Cup and Six Nations, the sport doesn’t share the same limelight as football, nor does it have the bling. A sweeping statement, but the bulk of rugby players are hard as nails and get the job done – it’s not about the performance off the pitch with models dangling on each arm or camouflage Bentleys – it’s a pure unadulterated testosterone-infused sport.
Though rugby isn’t as popular as football, basketball, F1 or many others, the transition to consoles has been relatively understated and hardly life-changing. If you played a rugby game, it’s because you sought it out or a family member bought it for Christmas. Well, Rugby 20 changes that up will bells and whistles, and makes for the best rugby game I’ve played (granted, it’s about a dozen or so).
Those familiar with the FIFA title screens will be at ease with Rugby 20. From the outset, you can get straight into a game with quick match, league, and solo play. There are additional options such as online play (not reviewed), challenges and the FIFA inspired My Team, where you grind through to make the perfect team. I did make a start on the campaign, but a quick heads up to say that I’m not so deep into it due to the time factor, but what I can say is the leagues are very thorough and will satisfy rugby fans.
As with similar sports titles, you can choose from a multitude of official teams, each with their ranking stated. Of course, I went with the Saracens – not because I’m a glory supporter, but they had the best stats, and I needed the edge as my rugby playing skills are rusty at best. For the average player, you may not be familiar with all the players, or perhaps you don’t mind so much, but there are some teams with fictitious names.
Once into the game, we get into the action straight away. The screen isn’t cluttered with excessive HUD information, and there will be a legend that appears each time you have an option. Gain possession, and you’ll have the opportunity to pass back to your team or punt it forward and hope for the best. The action is fast, but it doesn’t feel like a QTE when you have to tap a button as fast as you can. If you’re applying any form of strategy, you’ll predict the state of play anyway. You can’t wholly wing it in rugby as it’s not just a case of grabbing the ball and tanking your way through – it’s about build-up and the momentum of your teammates. An alternative comparison would be the heyday of Barcelona and their passing game; beautiful to watch, and effortless for teammates to communicate with one another. It’s a shame that the AI doesn’t always share the same sentiment.
That’s not to say you can’t make crazy runs. Get the correct play and send the equivalent of Jonah Lomu to break their ranks or take cheeky drop kicks when the other team least expects it. Rugby 20 reminds me of the FIFA series some 20 years ago when they started to introduce feints and tricks. Fellow gamers were getting used to these, so they weren’t overused, but it made the game so enjoyable while shoehorning in a reasonable amount of strategy. Rugby 20 reminds me of this; it was a lot of fun to play and felt like you were controlling the team as opposed to the star player who sprints every five seconds.
But of course, there are moments when the game has to have slowdown such as the scrum. I don’t have any expectations of this mechanic as it’s not entirely exciting and hardly commanding a small army of Spartans – it’s just a game of tug of war. However, you can edge back and forth as a unit and multitask where you want the ball to go with a surrounding circle that indicates the proposed direction. There’s just so many elements crammed into the game without it being overwhelming or unnecessarily changing the tempo.
The in-game tactics are subtle and suited to the style of play, but there’s a much more in-depth option from the menu systems. Before a match, you can go through what is effectively a loadout of your players, choosing suitable players for the formation and to counter the other teams preferred style of play. You can adjust what they do when attacking and defending, as well as set the zones they cover, i.e. man-marking and area coverage should a winger come cutting through on the outside.
The control system is a genuine surprise. Considering how many methods of play one can apply and the tactics involved, the game itself is very fluid, and there’s no slowdown or significant breaks for when it’s time to reconsider a suitable strategy. In comparison, even though it’s a visual treat, the Madden line of games suffers slowdown for those not familiar with the sport. Sometimes it’s just a case of cracking on, and with football games such as the FIFA series, nobody wants to pause the game and go through a series on tactics while the other person has to wait patiently. There should be the option to adjust your style of play on the fly and with possible hotkeys. In this case, Rugby 20 does not disappoint, and you can be confident in a fast-flowing game as one would expect with its real-life equivalent. But I will say that set pieces such as the drop kick aren’t great. There’s no gauge to monitor power, so it does take some getting used to.
Finally, the presentation is good. I wasn’t a fan of the default camera angle at first, but it does make sense and gives you the perspective you need to play the game. That said, with the mix of setpieces, the camera jumps in on the action, and it’s probably the closest you’ll get to TV coverage comparison at the moment. While Rugby 20 isn’t cutting edge in terms of graphics, in some ways, it does look a little like the PS3 in places – stadiums being the weakest visual asset.
The commentary is ok, but the names of players and teams are very jagged as the intonation is totally out of place. “He passes the ball, and he really should pass to the wingers… <insert their name in a different tone> has scored”. It’s a little anti-climactic, but I have high standards as no one has filled the void for the best commentary in sport, Murray Walker.
Rugby 20 is an ambassador for the sport, which should rally up more interest. If you’re tired of the same old FIFA or PES releases and want something new, but with the excitement these games offered in the past, give Rugby 20 some love. It’s not just about the action though as you’re likely to go further if you apply sound tactics such as positioning, evasive techniques and offensive runs, and you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t have to consult a manual to figure it out.
Rugby 20 PS4 Review
Overall - Very Good - 7/10
Hard-hitting, familiar territory in terms of flair and playability but with a sport that doesn’t often get the attention it deserves. While it favours the strategist, it doesn’t discriminate against those wanting to cut through the defence all gung-ho. Just be prepared to miss a few of your kicks.
- Fast-paced sports strategy that doesn’t suffer from too many stoppages
- Familiar presentation and UI that is easy to get into
- Fully licensed teams for the leagues represented
- The AI of your teammates is a little unreliable at times
- If you don’t like rugby as a sport, Rugby 20 might not convert you
- Though controls don’t overwhelm, some of the setpieces don’t feel so intuitive
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using PS4 Slim.