Rugby 2005 Review (Xbox)
Last year, EA’s Rugby 2004 was universally panned by most gamers and reviewers. Poor graphics, poor menus and clunky game play were cited by most. There's good news for rugby fans this year, however, because these are no longer issues. Rugby 2005 has made significant strides forward.
It’s readily apparent that this game underwent a major graphic overhaul compared to last year's lackluster predecessor. On the pitch, players move very smoothly; which is even more impressive considering there are 30 players on the field of play. Animations are smooth and quite varied, and the tackle animations especially caught my eye. There are quite a few of them, and you really get the feeling the player you are controlling is making the tackle on the ball carrier. You also can feel it when your ball carrier is on the receiving end of a particularly vicious tackle. The animations and player movement are quite impressive on the whole. Player models are on par with other EA games; they're good with no major deficiencies. My biggest complaints with the graphics are that the colors seem to be a bit washed out. The blacks and dark colors just don’t seem that dark. The green grass of the pitch isn’t very rich, and makes the fields look like they haven’t been watered for weeks. The color palette simply seems to lack richness. There are several camera angles to choose from during play, with the default set as a side view. I stuck with the side view when I played, as it gave me the best picture of the entire field. The behind-the-player Madden type view lacks some depth, and I had a hard time judging where the ball would land when I used that view. All in all though, I'm quite impressed with the graphics engine of Rugby 2005.
The audio package in Rugby 2005 is solid. During a game, the play-by-play commentary is deep, varied and keeps up with the flow of the game. The announcers really seem to give you the impression that you're really watching a match on TV. On top of the play-by-play announcers, there’s a lot of ambient sound, from the refs to the players. Crowd sounds are also authentic, as they cheer when they are supposed to - and there are several team-specific chants.
The first thing I noticed is that you can’t play any modes of the game until you go through a hands-on tutorial that teaches you game control fundamentals. The tutorial is fast paced and allows you to get a good feel for basic game controls. This is a good thing, as the controls can be quite complicated, and aren't covered well in the pamphlet-thin manual. Controls are intuitive, responsive and implemented well. My only complaint is regarding the use of the black and white buttons for certain actions, but you really can’t blame the game for Microsoft’s quirky controller setup. I'm not the fastest or most nimble joystick jockey in the world, but after the tutorial and a few minutes with the manual, I was easily controlling the action and doing the things that I intended to do on the field.
Once you've completed the tutorial, the other game modes open up for you to select. There is the standard “Play Now” mode; which allows you to match up any two teams for an exhibition game. The game also features a "Practice Mode" that is actually quite handy. "Practice" mode allows you to practice both basic and advanced moves in different ways. Within this, there's a "Free Play" mode where you can run around the pitch by yourself to practice your moves. There's also a "Scrimmage" mode, and a mode to practice your critical goal kicks. "Tournament" mode, however, is the bread and butter of the game. In "Tournament" mode there are seven tournaments and one league to choose from.
On the pitch the game plays very smoothly, and transitions from game play to scrums, rucks or free kicks move quite fluidly. The pace is quick and the game flows very well. The CPU opponent seems to play a smart game of rugby and consistently gave me all I could handle. I did find kicks - and especially punts - a little hard to control at times; mainly due to the side camera angle. However, with a little practice, I was able to adjust after a few matches. The tackling is animated so well that I almost like playing better when the other team has possession better than when I do, just so I can enjoy the pure fun of crushing an opposing player in the open field - you can almost feel the impact. When I did have possession of the ball, breaking through and scoring a try is quite gratifying, and you really feel as though you have accomplished something. Playing this game, I really felt as I was in a rugby match - as there really seemed to be a proper ebb and flow to the game.
Unfortunately, there is no online play available whatsoever. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get a 15-on-15 game that has a lot of non-stop game action to work well online, but I have to admit that I’d love to play my friends on Xbox Live with this game. Hopefully, it'll be an option next year.
After playing the awful Rugby 2004, I went into the review with low expectations. I have to say that I was more than pleasantly surprised with this title. This is one of the few games recently released that fed my “just one more game” desire - and I really had a hard time putting it down at times. Rugby 2005 made it out of last year's mud-covered scrum, and this year, EA has planted the ball firmly for a solid "try".