Rugby games are few and far between these days. And even when they do hit the shelves, it can often be a case of an infuriating and controller-smashing experience that doesn’t do any justice to the beautiful oval-ball game.
HB Studios recent Rugby World Cup 2015 video game arrived last month, and let’s just say that it should be as quickly forgotten as the loss the Springboks suffered against Japan.
So, what’s the other options? Rugby Challenge 3 is a promising looking endeavour from Wicked Witch Software, who took over development duties from New Zealand studio Sidhe, who handled the last two Rugby Challenge games. With that said, the release date is being pushed around like a bag of chips at a braai and rugby gamers are hungry for something substantial.
Enter Rugby League Live 3 – the third-game in the popular Rugby League Live series from Australian developer Big Ant Studios, who handled the impressive Don Bradman Cricket. Now, of course, it’s worth noting that rugby league isn’t the same as rugby union (which we play down here in the Republic), but it’s a faster, skillful, and somewhat more lateral version of the game. While many feel you have to be in either camp of the code, there’s positive to both sides of the game, and league is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
As for the game itself, Rugby League Live 3 is a step forward for the series. The first game was a pretty ambitious mess, while the second game made vast improvements to graphics, gameplay, and modes, and while the third doesn’t perfect that, it does lift the quality to new heights in the genre.
Most noticeably, the presentation is arguably the best of any rugby game. The graphics, particularly on the current-gen consoles, are crisp and vibrant, and there is an incredible amount of detail placed on player likeness, with every face, tattoo and boot colour resembling that of the real-life superstar counterparts. Each player has their own attributes that relate to speed and weight, both of which are taken into account when they collide with defenders.
There are a variety of season and quick-play modes to choose from, and just about every rugby league competition and league under the sun (including the quicker Auckland Nines format), but one of the standout modes is that of an in-depth career mode that allows you to take control of my favourite team and guide them through ten years of success, or take control of a created player (ala Be A Pro mode) and work him up through the grades until he became an international star. These features are well thought out and while they lack some of the bells and whistles that something like NBA 2K features, they are certainly the most entertaining way to play the game.
The gameplay itself has had some nice improvements as well. Kicking has been improved greatly, making it a much more valid tactic rather than a forced formality of the rules. Passing feels similar to past entries but more refined and general player movement is also much more lifelike, as the players carry a sense of weight to them, making a break or crash-ball that much more thrilling.
Fends, sidesteps, goosesteps, chip-kicks and grubbers are all in your arsenal, and have specific situations when they are more effective, but they also have the downside of slowing down forward momentum. Even if you make a break, there’s no radar to indicate what defenders might be ahead of you, so sound knowledge of field positions and fast reactions are recommended to turn a break into a try. On top of this, every camera angle seems to have a distinct downside, with no one camera angle that worked effectively for spotting offensive opportunities or tracking defensive weaknesses.
As for the AI, it can be a mixed experience. The lower difficulty levels can still provide some stiff opposition on attack and defence, but there are moments where the players seem somewhat purposeless in their line-breaks and speed. Putting it on the higher difficulties can see you on the end of a massive defeat, so it’s all about learning and gradually stepping it up.
When the final whistle blows, there’s a lot to love with Rugby League Live 3, and there’s a lot to be weary of. It’s certainly the best rugby game on new and last-gen systems, but its steep learning curve, AI frailties, and returning sins from past games hold it back. That said, it does provide some slick moments when you nail the controls and rules, and string together a glorious play that results in an acrobatic try-scoring moment.