The computer is a cheating git. Actually, that’s not quite what we were calling the AI opposition in EA’s latest rugby sim: it was a veritable rainbow of unprintable language, punctuated by the occasional protesting thud of a joypad on our knee.
Let’s see… One of our backs gets tackled, the computer turns the ball over straightaway. One of the computer’s backs goes down, he retains possession. Then that pattern repeats itself.
Never mind drug tests, we want pre-game glue tests, as there’s obviously some cunning palm adhesive the wily CPU coaches have developed. Okay, we’re exaggerating somewhat, but you do get the feeling that the computer bends the rules slightly in its favour. But that doesn’t ruin what’s otherwise a convincing simulation of the not-so beautiful game.
Rugby 06 plays in a realistic manner, with a suitable sense of the ebb and flow of kicking, running and rucking (ooh, that was one key away from a serious typo). More fluidity has been added since last year’s version with the introduction of offload passes. When tackled, you’ll sometimes get the option to offload the ball quickly to a nearby teammate before hitting the turf. This can stop a drive from grinding to a halt, although there’s a risk of interception if used in the thick of the opposition.
The smooth controls help the game flow along, too, providing a host of easily accessible moves. Even with a basic joypad you’ll be jinking left and right, then delivering a crushing shoulder-charge with aplomb. It’s also possible to select tactics with a quick button press. For example, if your opponent has possession in a ruck deep in his own half, a kick defence can be chosen. On the attack, this goes even further, with a range of set plays you can execute on the fly.
There’s definitely a fast paced and enjoyable offensive game here, although defending holds more frustrations. Tackles are sometimes difficult to judge, whether the default side-on camera or the traditional from-behind rugby view is used, and one missed tackle can mean conceding a try. It’s especially annoying when you hit the switch player button and aim a dive tackle at an opponent, only to find the game hasn’t given you control of the player nearest the ball, but someone else who has now thrown themselves uselessly on the floor.
Visually, Rugby 06 is very reminiscent of the FIFA football series. The players are well animated, with added details like their kit getting muddier the more they’re tackled, and the varied range of stadiums and pitch types is impressive. What’s less impressive is the front-end menu system, which appears to have been designed by a close relative of MC Escher. It maximises confusion, with nests of confirmation clicks and obtusely laid-out player statistic screens.
That’s a shame, as this makes the management tasks you have to deal with in the world league mode less pleasurable. Scouring the transfer market is an exercise in pulling teeth, as you’re forced to hunt through multiple screens and scribble stats down on bits of paper.
Despite this, the world league career mode is very appealing, providing the considerable challenge of building up a lower league team, eventually hoping for job offers from the big clubs. There are plenty of other competitions to tackle, such as the Guinness Premiership, World Championship and Six Nations, although online play options are conspicuously absent.
Company: Electronic Arts