Rugby 15 Hands-On Preview (PS4)

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MenStuff gets some hands-on time with HB Studios and Big Ben Interactive’s upcoming rugby experience…

Of all the gamers I know who owned or even played Rugby World Cup 2011, there’s a divide, with some of them who sing its praises or condemn it to the bowels of Hades.

I found myself in the latter group. So when I was presented with the opportunity to play Rugby 15 ahead of its release, I was overly excited but went in with jaded goggles still scarred and haunted by HB’s last outing.

And I can honestly say that my scepticism was both rewarded and squashed.

Rugby 15 has taken bold leaps into unknown areas with regards to its controls and gameplay, but sadly has been relegated to the past when it comes to visuals, continuity (at times), and the age old chestnut of rugby gaming: the set-pieces.

What to be excited about?

Say goodbye to old conventional controls. As soon as I received the ball after kick off and tried to pass it to my right with the usual shoulder button, the player popped the ball with a punt back 15m in the air. I immediately paused and tried to revert back to what I had always thought was the only way to play a rugby game, pass left with the left shoulder button and pass right with, you guessed it, with the right. HB Studios has thrown convention out the window, you now pass the ball with your right trigger and analogue stick.

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A player is selected by the stick and upon releasing the trigger the ball is passed to him. At first this seems clumsy and completely stupid, but after playing for a fair bit of time, I found that the ball was always going where I wanted it to and surprisingly the game flowed better and seemed more responsive, allowing attacking to feel more effective.

Rucks, mauls and the scrum

And this new control philosophy also applies to other areas of the game. Gone are the days of bashing buttons at the ruck, scrum or a maul. You simply push and hold the right stick in the forward direction to try steal and secure the ball.

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General gameplay

The general run of play feels the way it should. The lack of a sprint button makes sense because, let’s be honest, who has ever seen a rugby player taking a jog or brisk walk whilst attacking or trying to chase down the attacker. And the good news is that players respond to this setup efficiently.

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Bryan Habana for example needs at least two metres of clear space to blast off and can be caught and shut down easily if he isn’t given that room to move. Interceptions are also easily achieved and not only by certain players. I took a few balls off the opposition using mostly my front row. In addition to trying to level the playing field, the lack of a floating gold star and super-human like abilities only aide in the over all level of realism.

Place kicking  Finally a kick timer that makes sense. Just flick the right stick back to build up power and then forward to go through the kick, much like you would with a golf swing. It feels very effective and rather satisfying.

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A muddy but lovable experience

I am not a person who seeks out visual splendour in games, however, there were times that I felt that I was playing something that would’ve been more at home on a PS2. Player likenesses were hard to decipher and the finer details of the game’s graphics are lost in the playing perspective. It must be reiterated that this version was unfinished code, and there are still more improvements to be made before the final release.

Whilst all the game modes (except for a comprehensive manager or career mode) are there and the different European leagues all seem to be in place, the lack of the more notable Southern Hemisphere and international licenses is unfortunate. Fortunately, there is hope as licenses are still being negotiated and rumour has it that the IRB might be choosing a preferred partner in the future. Time will tell on that front… 

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With HB Studios aiming to have annual releases and with the world cup around the corner. we can only hope that this is the start of something great. So for fans of the franchise and those hungry for a new type of rugby gaming experience, get your hopes up and get excited, because this is going to be a something unlike anything you’ve played before.

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