Thursday, 13 February 2020

Rugby 20 ★★☆☆☆

As sports games go, Rugby 2020 is nowhere near as unpolished as the likes of Handball 17, while it doesn’t feature cash-grab elements seen in popular franchises like FIFA. However, it does have a variety of flaws which hold it back from achieving a higher final score.

The world is bereft of good, licensed rugby games. Developers Eko Software have also worked on small scale projects like the Handball series in the past, so it’s a question of whether they’ve managed to learn from their past mistakes with their shiny new project. There’s a host of supporters out there who would be more than happy to spend time scoring tries with the best players in the world or the biggest teams. (But not England or New Zealand due to licensing issues with the kits.)

Ads have boasted about new “motion-captured animations and completely redesigned player models”, but it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about when you see the game in motion. The average team looks like a group of Uruk-hai who got lost on their way to Isengard, and there’s no way to understate just how ugly everything is. Think Wayne Rooney in a hall of mirrors, or a dog curling out a steamy oval-shaped turd. You just want to turn away, and you don’t want to look them in the eye during the deed. The menus are no better, blasting sickly colours into your retina, while the commentary is ridiculously stilted. It makes PES read like Shakespeare, and I’d advise muting it as soon as possible unless you want to hear the same player’s name again and again for hours on end. You could probably blast it into another country through speakers and have it considered a war crime.

It would be a slight exaggeration to say that I’ve seen more detail from NPCs from the PS3 era, but everything is relative, and the above could be forgiven as long as the gameplay is passable. After all, you’re not exactly spoiled for choice if you need a quick rugby fix on console. Rugby 18 was produced by the same team, and it’s just bad. The gameplay is where a title like this lives or dies, and it’s not exactly the most fluid experience, but it has improved. Whether attacking or defending, guesswork is the main tactic to employ at the beginning, while the engine has suffered with a number of bugs. They’ve moved to a tactical style which makes it more like a sim, and that does add depth in the long term.

Underneath it all, there’s a decent rugby system which is let down by a severe lack of polish. The lack of a AAA budget is clear to see and impacts on everything from questionable AI to low-quality models, while it’s unlikely to convert many new fans to the sport. Regardless, it’s worth picking up on sale if you are interested in eggball, but it could have been released at a lower price to stimulate sales and interest.

A world away from the popularity of the likes of FIFA, NBA, or almost any other major sporting franchise, Rugby 2020 shows that there’s still a place for B+ sports games. Better ones, that have the ability to make new fans. It’ll do for diehard rugger buggers, but others should probably give it a backwards pass. 

James Millin-Ashmore

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