World Cup Rugby 2011 Reviewed

With the Rugby World Cup rumbling along in New Zealand here's a look at whether it's video game counterpart is worth £40 of your hard-earned cash...
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'A watched kettle never boils’, the old wives say. But it does – I’ve carried out the tests and have the graphs to prove it. A better saying would be: ‘A watched rugby match never ends’.

I know this is true from childhood memories of being slumped in front of the telly on dreary Saturday afternoons while waiting for the football scores on Grandstand.

A rugby international would be on – a fumbling, bumbling sprawl of big oafs with chimpanzee ears. One of them would grab the ball and lumber towards the others. They grapple and fall over. Then clamber back up and repeat the process again - and again.

This was accompanied by a hypnotic soundtrack provided by Bill McLaren’s commentary - an endless pious drone. Furniture would start to melt. Fashions would change. Days and weeks and decades would pass as I sat stupefied; just hoping and praying for the start of Final Score.

So I approach this review from the perspective of a North Walian football bigot who has hated rugby from an early age. And that said; I quite enjoyed World Cup Rugby 2011.

But then I didn’t have to fork out £40 for it. And that’s worth mentioning when you consider that this is a rehashed version of a game released four years ago on the PlayStation 2. The graphics have been improved, some tweaks made to the gameplay, but it’s pretty much the same as Rugby 08.

So what are you paying for? The licence?

Nope. They have a licence for the Rugby World Cup but not for half of the teams who are playing in it. The home nations are covered but not big hitters like New Zealand, Australia and…Namibia.

It wasn’t a big issue for me because I don’t know who the hell they are – not until they appear on Question of Sport. And the players generally look like mutated versions of Boris Johnson – which seems accurate to me.

They have a licence for the Rugby World Cup but not for half of the teams who are playing in it.

Another problem with World Cup Rugby 2011 is that for a full price game there isn’t much in the way of a game. You can play through the main tournament or do some friendly tours, but that’s it - no career mode or training levels or challenges.

So it’s all a bit crap really - an opportunist game which uses the hype surrounding the event to rattle a few pennies off rugby fans. But despite these gripes, the rugby itself is decent – at least, for somebody who knows nowt about the game.

It doesn’t come with any instructions so I had to use Wikipedia to work out what this rugby malarkey is all about. And I was surprised to find that beneath rugby’s odious exterior – the officious blazer wearers, the drinking songs, the accountants in jester hats - there is actually a half-decent sport trying to get out.

The basic controls are simple and allow you to start flinging passes around and wellying balls up pitch – which is all you really need to do. And after a few games something horrible happened - I started to ‘get’ rugby, and understand the tactical balance between territory and possession – which is the sort of nonsense Bill McLaren used to rattle on about.

But with two closely matched teams you can have some great tense, nervy battles with the result usually going to the wire. And it does feel ace when you finally break through a defence and have an open field ahead to score a touchdown – sorry…a try.

Defending isn’t half as much fun though and I found the best policy was to keep out of the way and let your team’s AI take the strain. The biggest problem is the baffling way the game chooses which player you control – it’s rarely the one you want and is often a player who isn’t even in view.

Scrums also remained a complete mystery to me. I couldn’t find any way to control them and, as the game refuses to give any guidance, I just accepted that scrums are an elaborate way to give the ball back to your opposition.

The game leans heavily towards the arcade side of things rather than being any kind of a serious simulation. And I’m guessing that if you know your rugby onions, you will find this a pretty dumbed down version of the sport. The AI, in particular, seems incredibly basic with your opponents all chasing the ball in the style of Pacman ghosts.

So as a primer for someone who hates rugby this game could be seen as a qualified success. But as a full price game for anyone who likes the sport; it’s likely to be an expensive disappointment. Especially when there’s an impressive looking rival looming on the horizon in the form of Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge.

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