After numerous delays, Rugby Challenge 3 is finally here, offering fans the chance to play a fully-fledged rugby video game – and as simple as that sounds – it’s something that has become increasingly rare these days.
The failures of Rugby 15 and Rugby World Cup 2015 left a massive void in the market, and more importantly, the heats of gamers everywhere, so the last remaining option was Tru Blu and Wicked Witch Software’s Rugby Challenge 3.
Thankfully, Rugby Challenge 3 relies on the foundation built by the first two games in the Rugby Challenge franchise, and refines the experience rather than redesigns it; and while it has some cracks here and there, it’s easily the best rugby game since the holy-grail that was Rugby 08.
We’ve been playing it all weekend long, and as huge rugby video game fans, here are seven new improvements that actually make a difference to Rugby Challenge 3:
First and foremost, the Rugby Challenge games had the bells and whistles in the visuals department, but they always seemed to lack the flow of EA’s rugby games. In Rugby Challenge 3, the speed of the game has been ramped up thanks to quicker animations for the catch-and-pass moments of the game, the set-pieces, and the tackling. The cumbersome and delayed passing has been fixed with more snappy passing mechanics. It essentially looks quite similar, but for those who have played a lot of Rugby Challenge 2, the difference will be noticeable.
Contesting the ball
Another addition to the game (which has been in dire need due to the change of pace of the real-world sport) is the inclusion of the tackler contesting the ball. When defending, if you can isolate the attacking player and tackle him, an opportunity will arise for you to jump to your feet, pilfer, and steal the ball before a ruck is even formed. This has created an urgency around the tackle area, causing quicker turnovers and an opportunity for defending teams to counter-attack more frequently. It’s a great mechanic that has a massive effect on the speed and possession in the game.
In addition to changing your backline depth and width, some new strategies have been implemented into Rugby Challenge 3, such as the ability to cycle through different pod options and alter your fullback’s position. The fullback options were present in RC 2, but this time it really makes a difference. If timed right, your fullback could join your backline at first-receiver, shuffling the rest of the backs over to create an overlap. The tactic helped us score a few extra tries in the tight encounters, but keep in mind that you have to send your fullback back to his original position on defence. It’s a great risk/reward strategy that mimics the real-life scenario and adds an element of unpredictability when playing against friends.
Let’s be frank, the real make-or-break for a sports game is the quality of the artificial intelligence. Past Rugby Challenge games have had decent CPU-based opposition, but their shortcomings become too obvious too quickly, and the fun is sucked right out of the experience. Thankfully, Rugby Challenge 3 changes that, and has evolved the AI opposition to surprise you more often and capitalise on your mistakes. Short a defender on the blindside? The AI will attack there. Fullback out of position? The AI will use tactical kicks to send you running back like you’re late for a job interview. The AI is also much tougher at the breakdown, often commandeering rucks even on the easier difficulty levels, which is great – because it makes the strategic battle that much more relevant.
With the popularity of Sevens growing each year, it’s inevitable that the seven-a-side variant of the game was going to be added, and it’s… OK. Of course, it’s great to take control of the likes of Seabelo Senatla, Cecil Afrika, and Branco du Preez with the Springbok Sevens side (and the kits and layout are all great too), but it lacks the continuity and strategy of the fifteens gameplay. That said, there’s some great fun to be had with the real speedsters of the sport, but the real meat of the game is in its career mode with fifteens.
Be a Pro
Of course, there’s the new Be a Pro mode (which FIFA fans will be familiar with). The new mode allows you to create your own character, join a club as a rookie, and then work your way through different franchises with the hopes of playing international rugby. The real fun comes from taking on certain objectives to improve your value so that clubs will want to headhunt you. They range from scoring tries, making tackles, landing drop goals, racking up kicking metres, and hitting rucks, among other things. Controlling one player in a game is always difficult, as you’re at the mercy of the performance of the rest of your team, but it’s a fair representation of the real thing and a whole lot of fun when invested in.
The finer details
Rugby Challenge 3 isn’t the best-looking game on the market, but it’s by far the best-looking rugby game ever made. The character models haven’t been refurbished and there aren’t too many new animations from RC 2, but the higher-fidelity of visuals gives a much-needed clarity to the action going on. There are some slight graphical glitches when players tackle each other awkwardly, and the crowd and frame-rate could do with some work, but it’s nothing that detracts from the fun to be had with RC 3.
The Player Hub also allows the community to customise and create new players and teams which can be shared and downloaded. So, if you’re looking for the latest squad lineup for the Springboks or that new star player for your favourite domestic side, it’s likely that someone has already whipped that up for you to enjoy.
Rugby Challenge 3 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, and PS3.
Will you be picking up Rugby Challenge 3? Let us know by tweeting@MenStuffZA and commenting below.