Starting off this review with a melancholic look at past rugby games seems like a trope at this point. To put it bluntly, there have been some fantastic games, and some really lacklustre ones, and Rugby 20 aims to be something ‘new’, bringing a different approach to what a rugby game is, and the result is a mixed-bag.
With each rugby release, the elephant in the room seems to be around the licenses. It’s a complicated matter, and most disgruntled fans don’t grasp the intricacies of negotiating such official nods of approval, but Rugby 20 does a good job to include as much licensing as possible. All the big name English and European teams are there, and a handful of the international sides are licensed too, barring some big-names.
On top of that, it’s got all the bells and whistles one would want: a career mode, league mode, league licenses, and everything in between, so the gripes are not really aimed at the intention to include content, but rather the shortcomings of the moment-to-moment gameplay on the field – the real action area most developers struggle to recapture.
And unfortunately, that problem is reproduced here. Rugby 20 delivers some great moments of excitement, and some of pure frustration, and they’re often within a few seconds of each other.
The game flows quite fluidly, but the AI’s behaviour and your actions (even when deep-diving into Rugby 20‘s admittedly-ambitious tactical options) seem at odds with one another.
Defenders don’t fully commit to attackers. You may get a great two-on-one scenario on attack, draw in the defender, throw a perfectly-timed pass to your winger or open player, and that original defender will magnetise immediately to the receiving player. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach to passing. Now, there are moments where the odd tackle is slipped, you’re forced to throw unrealistically wide passes, or a player just squeaks past, but your hard work of drawing-and-passing seems in vain in Rugby 20, just leaving you throwing the ball back and forth until something happens. And while some players might be OK with that, it doesn’t feel right.
On the upside, the kicking is one of the highlights of the game. In-match kicking is operated on a gauge which can be exceeded, so finding the right spot to kick for distance and accuracy is great. The variety of kick depths and grubber options do provide some fun ping-pong-esque back-and-forth that those rugby purists will love, and can result in the odd cross-kick or grubber-through try, although they do still feel like a gamble.
Some of the gameplay systems seem unnecessarily overcomplicated, but there is some fun to be had with the core gameplay in Rugby 20. The grander ideas are admirable and exciting, but the basic fundamentals need a little more tweaking in order for the bigger ideas to take shape. Perhaps a try-before-you-buy approach is best here.