While rugby league as a sporting code isn’t a mainline attraction for South Africans by any means, it does share a lot of similarities with our code of preference, rugby union. While the rugby games in recent years have been a mixed bag of quality, the rugby league games have always been pretty good. Rugby League Live 3 was a great title, and now Australian developer Big Ant Studios has unleashed the fourth game in the franchise, but does it live up to the lineage?
From the get-go, it becomes immediately apparent that the Rugby League Live gameplay foundations have undergone a huge change, with players now feeling weighty and powerful, rather than roadrunners who can turn on a dime. It may look like other RLL games, but forget everything you know – this is a whole new experience.
Firstly, the controls have been completely reworked, which will undoubtedly frustrate that small pocket of fans who have mastered the past games’ control layout. There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for the change-up, but thankfully the core passing and kicking does remain remotely similar, however, they’ve had their own share of adjustments.
Passing is incredibly difficult to wrap your head around. The normal shoulder button presses will fling the ball to the closest adjacent player, but while Rugby League Live 3 had quite snappy and direct passing, RLL 4‘s standard passes are lofty and floated. These are easily picked off by defenders who run away for an intercept, or cause your receiving player to slow down in order to catch it. There is the option to double-tap a face-button when holding down a shoulder button to shoot a more direct pass to a specified player, but it results in a frantic and twitchy feeling in your hands when you’re double-tapping everything.
Then there’s the offloads. While they odd one manages to come off, the majority will be forward or be intercepted. Offloading is a huge part of rugby league and having a more streamlined and forgiving system would’ve been appreciated.
On the plus side of things, the game’s new additions include set-plays and dedicated running lines. When your playmaker and midfield is set-up, blue trails (as pictured above) will highlight the respective lines they’re each going to run. This gives you the opportunity to see who is going to move into space or a gap, and direct the ball towards them. It adds a much-needed variety to the normal ‘fingers-crossed’ attacking chances one would take.
Another welcome addition is a jockey movement when defending. Instead of getting turned inside out when trying to line up your defenders with an attacking player, players can now hold the trigger button to face the incoming player and slide left and right. It’s small and nuanced inclusion, but something that goes a very long way to turning defending into an art rather than a lucky draw.
Besides the usual fair of exhibition and tournament modes, there’s a lengthy career mode, allowing you to build up a team from the grass roots or create your own, as well as Be a Pro returning, giving you control over one player on the field ala FIFA‘s similar function.
Rugby League Live 4 is an interesting follow-up to a solid game. It takes a lot of risks that add a wealth of depth to the game and gameplay, but there’s a lot that’s frustrating too. But beneath all it’s difficult controls, inconsistent AI and gameplay shortcomings, it provides the closest and most lifelike recreation of “the greatest game on Earth”. If you’ve got patience to handle a tough learning curve (and craving a rugby-esque experience), it’s worth giving Rugby League Live 4 a try.