There are very few Rugby games for fans to choose from, and my whole life I’ve rucked my way from one dismal experience to another. There have been some exceptions, with Jonah Lomu Rugby the notable one. Big Ben Interactive and Eko Software have been working to create sporadic Rugby games since 2015, and in Rugby 20, we see the improved fruits of their third labour.
Firstly, it should be said that Rugby 20 is a fairly professional looking game that clearly aims to punch alongside the FIFA’s and Pro Evolution Soccers of the world. It has a partial license that covers most of the included club teams (featuring the top French, English, Irish and a few other leagues) and many international teams.
England, Australia and a few more international teams have falsified names, but the commentary often reflects the real player name — strange and jarring, but probably the better way around to have it. There is the option to play any of these leagues through to completion, as well as key international events such as the World Cup or Six Nations.
There’s also a “My Club” option, which works a lot like a very, very slimmed-down version of an older iteration of FIFA Ultimate Team. You have the option to fully customise a club from the game, or to make your own, choosing team colours, stadia detail, player names and so on. In my case, I built my own local club; Yorkshire Carnegie, simply because the RFU Championship League isn’t included in the game.
The main attraction is, of course, once the match kicks off. On the field, Rugby 20 makes a very convincing job of presenting the game and each of the various elements that make up the game. Open play is, without doubt, my favourite part, and with the shoulder buttons used to control passing left and right, Rugby 20 creates a free-flowing and fast-paced experience.
Kicking during play is also quite intuitive, and players can perform grubber kicks and lobs, whilst opposition players can put the ball carrier under pressure and potentially charge them down. Between passing and kicking, the sequences of play are largely enjoyable when you’re on the offensive, and handoffs work well for larger players, whilst fast players can use their pace to great effect on the wings.
Defending, on the other hand, is more mixed. Something about the camera perspectives makes it hard to choose the right player and have them move in the direction of the opposing ball carrier. This reminds me of some football games where an AI teammate will change direction once you take control of him, rather than continuing to run the same way for a few seconds whilst the player’s brain locks into gear.
Actually entering into tackles can, on the other hand, often feel meaty and exciting. Big hits generally feel just that, whilst smaller players tackling a large prop will often need immediate support. On that note, rucking is smartly handled, with even sides needing to commit a similar number of players to the ruck to succeed, and turnovers about as frequent as they should be given the relatively brief time over which each game takes (in real terms.) This may feel like there are too many turnovers, but in “game time” they happen every ten or twenty minutes which isn’t too bad.
Mauling, scrummaging and performing line outs each comes with a mini-game, as does kicking in its own way. Broadly speaking, the line out is straightforward with the team leading the lineout having the advantage of choosing where the ball will go. Mauls and lineouts are similar, except that the maul is simply about weight and pressing forwards, whilst the scrum comes with several stages that must be performed.
Kicking is something I struggled to get to grips with for a while, but it does eventually become intuitive. This is probably because there are no guidelines and the shooting angle isn’t simplified like it might be if taking a penalty in FIFA, for example. You’ll simply need to learn how to kick by eye, but much as it does for a real player, practice makes perfect.
Visually, the on-field play looks generally good. The players are well modelled and well animated, and there are few issues with clipping, collision detection or otherwise, although you will sometimes notice a player sliding into position before a tackle animation takes place, or somesuch. There’s certainly plenty of individuality on the pitch as well, although the real player likenesses are hit and miss at best.
Overall, Rugby 20 is certainly a yard or two ahead of the last two Big Ben productions and the best Rugby game currently available on modern systems. It’s far from perfect, with its limited leagues and odd licensing, as well as a few on-field issues, but the free-flowing passing and kicking save it from disaster, whilst the kicking, scrummaging and lineouts are dealt with efficiently and in a way that represents their real-life purpose.