Rugby 22 brings back Rugby 20 developer Eko Software for another shot at the oval-ball game; but while Rugby 20 didn’t blow anyone away, it did improve quite substantially over its lifespan thanks to some beneficial gameplay patches. So, with the lessons learnt from Rugby 20, does Rugby 22 deliver a more comprehensive and polished experience?
Much like a more seasoned rugby player, Rugby 22 has definitely benefited from mistakes in seasons gone by. The general gameplay is much faster, more fluid, and feels more like a rugby game. Whereas previous games looked and sounded like rugby video games, they sure as hell didn’t play like a real match of rugby, leaving players to bend and break the game to their will in order to achieve some sort of a backline movement or defensive strategy. Rugby 22 has changed that, and while there are some blemishes, this latest entry does require you to actually play some rugby.
As a result, this isn’t a snappy pick-up-and-play type of game, ala Rugby 08. This is a different approach to the beloved sport, and will appeal to the more patient and purist rugby fans. The gameplay has therefore been geared towards a more discerning approach, focusing on timing, accuracy, and waiting for your time to pounce and score, rather than trying to exploit using a faster ‘star’ player.
Passing doesn’t feel lofted and floaty like in Rugby 20, and instead feels more direct and realistic, which changes to hit players more accurately depending on their depth (which can be adjusted with the D-pad). Unlike previous games in the franchise, you are actually able to throw some great deep and wide passes to get your players drifting onto the outside of the defenders. The familiar passing mechanic of having a target-like marker on which player you’re passing to, and then requiring you to hold and release to get it as accurate as possible, works well and prevents that frantic twitch passing that can be abused. It’s a more conscious and planned approach to moving the ball around, which works well to capture the technical aspect of the real-life sport. Furthermore, low-skill players will struggle to throw a wide, whereas someone like Romain Ntamack can distribute faster and with greater accuracy, which is great.
Kicking is done well too, and the power-wheel and snappy feeling of the kicking animations give you a lot of choice with how you go about executing your kicks. It’s relatively easy to put deep or shallow kicks in behind the defence, and a new mini-game of which player can time a button-prompt best often wins the aerial battle, which is simple and fun, and does make putting an up-and-under, when you can’t break through the defence, worthwhile.
Rucks are also a lot more competitive, adding in a small meta-game of timing your joining players’ impact. When you call for a player to join the ruck, there’s a short moment where you can time a forward-push of the analogue stick to get your joining player to shunt into the ruck harder, giving you an edge in the battle for the ball. It’s a great addition and makes turnovers a lot more frequent, either putting the game for or against your favour based on your rucking proficiency; and adding a curveball that can balance out overpowered teams was much-needed.
When it comes to set-pieces, the mauls, lineouts, and scrums are all pretty stock standard in terms of function. You’re tasked with a timing or button-mashing segment, which thankfully, have been sped up quite noticeably so that you can suck in a few defenders and get back to throwing the ball around or making tackles.
As for the modes available, you get your standard offline and online matches with a host of game-type adjustments at your fingertips, along with tournaments on offer. Of course, an area most players will sink their teeth in is the Career Mode, which allows you to create a new team from scratch, be allocated a budget, and begin your journey from league to league, recruiting new players as you go. It’s not going to deliver the depth and immersion of something like FIFA has on offer, but it does give you a multi-season thread to dive into, managing injuries, squad lists, and recruitment drives using in-game credit you earn, which is a lot of fun for die-hard rugby fans.
From a presentation perspective, Rugby 22 does look a lot better than its predecessors, but some visual hiccups do rear their ugly heads. That, on top of some weirdly shaped players and unusual animations, are present, however, the overall action, when in motion, looks pretty good and the frame rate remains solid on current-gen consoles, so at least it runs smoothly.
Rugby 22 may not be the definitive rugby game we’ve been waiting for or the spiritual successor to Rugby 08 that so many gamers want, but it’s a different spin on the rugby sim genre, giving you a lot of tools and customisation to play a tactical game of rugby and will scratch that itch of true rugby purists. If you’re willing to give it a try and have some patience with its mechanics, there’s a lot to enjoy with Rugby 22.
Rugby 22 is available on Xbox Series X/S, PS5, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.