This is a golden age of sports games. Electronic Arts and 2K, among others, churn out iterative titles every summer, make a quick buck and can get away with it because these titles are really rather good.
Rugby union doesn’t tend to get the same treatment. Since 2007, many fans have been clinging on to EA’s last title, Rugby 08, which was itself no more than a re-skinned Rugby 06. It wasn’t exceptional by any means, but ‘fans’ grew to love its glitches, disrespect for the rules and overpowered Irish centres.
HB Studios, EA’s contracted studio, brought the sport to the next generation in 2011, cashing in on the World Cup hype with, you guessed it, a shinier Rugby 08. Sidhe had a crack with a pair of Rugby Challenge titles which proved scarce and new players found it difficult to adapt to the perplexing controls, yet I found it far superior once you adapted. Still far from perfect, but closer than beforehand.
When news broke early last year that HB would be bringing a new Bigben-published title, Rugby 15, to market, I was tentatively excited. Yes, it would likely be Rugby 06 for the fourth time, but licensed sides and blanket release on major consoles would surely make up for it.
I became highly suspicious the month of release came and, with nary a gameplay video, the game was delayed in the UK (until its release on these shores today). So, like any rational person, I splashed out €45 to get it imported from France a few months ago. All in the name of journalism, of course, my dear reader. I would do anything for you. Even this.
Sadly for my wallet, it’s atrocious. Playing my first game against a longtime nemesis and worthy competitor at rugby games old and new, we both unleashed fits of laughter when the game kicked off.
Animations are deranged and woefully few. Controls are deranged, with the right trigger responsible for passes in all directions. Even the licenses have been mangled, with Irish lynchpin Jonny Sexton carrying a lower overall rating than unknown Harlequins benchwarmers.
Rugby 15’s defining moment came in a clash between Toulon and Clermont Auvergne. Whilst pitying my opponent and clinging onto what little desire I maintained to survive, I crossed the try line and intentionally flicked the ball wide to winger Julien Malzieu, standing off the pitch, who then leapt back across the line, grounding the ball at my command. Correctly, the game awarded Toulon a 22 metre dropout, but not before awarding Malzieu’s Clermont the 5 most invalid points they’ll ever collect, virtual or not.
If you care for the sport of rugby or its video game realisations one iota, please avoid this game. Just pick up a copy of Rugby Challenge 2 and get to grips with its quirks. For now, I’m stuck trying to figure out how to recoup my Euros.
Rugby 15 is released today in the UK. It is awful.