Reviewed: Februrary 14, 2006
Released: March 6, 2006
For many of you this might be your first experience with the primarily European sport of Rugby, while others may be familiar with it. For me, this is my first time ever playing (physically or not) and it happens to be on the Xbox in Rugby 06 by EA Sports.
You might be surprised to learn that approximately 19 Rugby games have been made since Rugby 2002, which was released on the original PlayStation in 2001. Many different well known developers (primarily EA) have produced Rugby titles like Ubisoft (which just released Rugby Challenge 2006), Acclaim, Konami, and a few other lesser-known developers. You know it's a big sport somewhere when this many games have been produced, but you rarely see them in American retail stores.
Rugby is one of those sports (kind of like soccer) that you never really hear about or see on TV. Sure it's around us (mainly at rich schools like Harvard or Princeton), but it's definitely not mainstream in the U.S. In fact, a large portion of us haven't even heard of Rugby, let alone know the rules of this obscure sport which seems like a triple twist between football, soccer, and hockey. It's an extremely fast-paced sport that definitely won't make sense at first, but will over time.
At its core Rugby is most similar to Football (here in the U.S.). It has what is equivalent to a touchdown, field goal, kicking, passing, extra point, tackling, and huge, muscular players who have legs like soccer players. When you look at it that way it doesn't seem all that different, but believe me when I tell you that it in no way feels familiar. The sense you get while playing is that of soccer and the frustration of loosing the ball like in hockey (which would be the puck). And after you score it feels like football with the extra point. Once you get used to it, the formula is refreshingly different and enjoyable, but it'll take some trial and error before you feel comfortable.
If you aren't familiar with the gameplay you'll definitely want to jump straight into the training tutorial. It teaches you the basics such as kicking, player control, passing, tackling, and handing the ball off. After that you should dive into the practice mode which will teach you how to side step, shoulder charge, and more. Unfortunately it's difficult to perform some of the moves (like side stepping) because of the stationary camera angle while others must be timed just right. Thankfully the camera can be adjusted in regular match play, but during the tutorial and practice mode you'll have to suffer.
The suffering doesn't last long and after you're done mastering the basics you should begin a game on the club-level difficulty setting (in other words, easy). The A.I. isn't to difficult on this level and you will have a fun time figuring out how the game is truly played. One of the first things I noticed is that there are no downs like in football and that having position of the ball isn't everything. In fact, kicking the ball to your opponent might give you better field position and that's the most valuable thing in Rugby. Being closer to the goal gives you a greater chance of scoring and since it's so difficult to run (with so many players around) punting the ball is a must.
The most annoying and difficult aspect of punting is the limited amount of time you have to aim your kicks. You may want to kick it short and hard left, but the time allotted to do so isn't enough to effectively do it. Most of the time you're forced to make kicks (punts) as hard as you can in order to give yourself enough time to accurately position where it'll land. It's even more frustrating if you're trying to land a dropkick field goal while in the sideline camera view. You'll want to change this first thing after beginning a game.
Once you've got some matches under your belt you should be able to up the difficulty setting or begin a full fledge career mode. Before doing so you'll probably want to have fun with create-a-player mode. In addition to fine-tuning each of his features you can randomly customize a player's facial appearance until you like it. After that you'll determine his strengths and weaknesses by assigning ratings to attributes such as agility along with allocating him three special abilities. The final stage is to assign a name, alter his height, weight, assign his primary/secondary position, and determine his preferred foot. After that it's only a matter of adding him to your roster by substituting him for another player.
If that's not enough customization you can even set plays and manage your player's salaries in the transfer market. The transfer market allows you to keep tabs on your player's salaries and your bank balance. The bank balance represents the amount of transfer points you'll have to spend on new players. You can earn bonus points by finishing a season as division champs, winning matches in the league or cup games, and the amount of scoring tries.
Needless to say this game can become a really deep and engrossing experience if you are a hardcore Rugby fan, but I'm guessing most everyone will be keeping it simple by playing tournaments for fun and not worrying about the managing aspect. But for those of you who expect something similar to madden football, it's there.
After playing just a few minutes you'll notice that the camera's sideline view just doesn't work when trying to dropkick a field goal. It's all about luck while playing in this camera mode because you can't get a good enough view of the angle on the field goal uprights to even come close. Furthermore, it makes side stepping difficult to execute.
The field of view is so large it makes the player models tiny and thus the players lack a lot of detail. However, that's a trade off because the game always has a smooth frame rate even when a ton of players are tackling each other. Over a period of time the constant tackling caries its toll and players consistently begin to gather dirt on their jerseys.
There were a couple of graphical hiccups like popped animations and I also noticed a few minor clipping issues. However none of the graphical problems detracted from the gameplay/cut-scenes and this is the closest you're going to come to a professional Rugby game.
Recently EA sports titles like NBA Live 06 and the more memorable Need for Speed Most Wanted have featured an excess of rap music. It's annoying in my opinion and thank goodness the 360 has custom soundtracks, however for those of you playing Rugby 06 you're not as lucky. This game doesn't have custom soundtracks, but it does feature a lot of (non-rap) punk rock type music that's closer to what I like. From groups like The Rivers to Mainline the music is unusual and remarkably appealing.
On the commentary side of things Ian Robertson and Grant Fox give an admirable performance calling the games until it beings to get repetitive. Commentator repetition isn't surprising at all and is very common in most sports titles. What is surprising is the excellent crowd that literally draws you into the match. So for those of you (like me) who get tired of the commentary, turn it off and get into the game through the crowd’s roar.
One thing's for sure by now, sports games must be Xbox live compatible to get a high score on value and if they don't the value won't receive anything higher than an 8. Rugby 06 lacks online play and it's the games 9 tournaments that provide most its value. That's a lot of tournaments to play through and there's a lot of variety inside each one. The second largest aspect of this game is in the manager mode in which you're in charge of taking a division 3 team and completing goals such as reaching the semifinals of a tournament.
Although the list of tourneys is impressive and winning them all will take a considerable effort, the lack of online play cannot be ignored. It is all people have once they've completed everything else and it's also a great social event. Hopefully they will include online play next year on a next generation system like the Xbox 360.
Rugby 06 is a surprisingly fast paced hard-hitting sports game that'll catch any unsuspecting sports fan's eye. Even if you aren't a Rugby fan or no nothing of the sport you should definitely try playing Rugby 06. I would only consider purchasing this game if you are a true Rugby fan or if you fall in love with the sport after renting it.