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Matt Keller
04 Mar, 2006

Rugby 06 Review

Xbox Review | Ra-ra returns for another year.
Despite not being the most popular sport in Australia (most of the time), let alone the rest of the world, rugby union has very dedicated following – particularly around the time of the World Cup and Tri-nations. As a result, game developers have discovered that there’s a market for the sport and released a glut of rugby games over the past few years. EA have often led the field in sales, but couldn’t knuckle down the indifferent critical reaction. However, with the increase in sales of their rugby games in recent years, EA have upgraded it to annual update status, meaning that we get a rugby game every year – and what better time to release it than for the start of the new and improved Super 14 competition?

It’s no secret that EA takes a rather lax approach to many of its yearly updates, especially for the more Commonwealth oriented sports, but Rugby 06 seems to have received a lot of attention from its developer, HB Studios. While it’s not as much of a change as it was from Rugby 2004 to 2005, Rugby 06 builds upon many of the new features introduced last year, such as expanding the rather lovely World League mode, while adding a lot of (seemingly more important) new bits and bobs to the underlying game of rugby, such as offload passes, the impact players, quick line-outs and penalties and the judiciary’s favourite – the head high tackle. The number of teams in the game has been boosted, and the rosters are up to date as of the start of the season (Wendell “The Drunken” Sailor is on the Waratahs, for example). Competitions have been updated to reflect the recent changes, so the new Super 14 and Guinness Premiership leagues are available.

Wedgie!

Wedgie!
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The common trend across the range of sports games from the Commonwealth seems to be that EA uses its marketing muscle to snap up all of the official licenses, while another company (usually Swordfish Studios) will develop a game that blasts EA’s out of the water, but lacks the official licenses, and as a result, loses in the sales battle.

Not this time.

Rugby 06 defies the trend, and delivers where it matters most; in the actual on-field play. Part of the beauty of Rugby 06 is that the game features very intuitive on-field controls. It takes about 5 minutes to learn the game’s basic controls, but there’s enough depth in the moves and tactics available to separate the new players from the veterans. The flow of the game has been improved in the last year, with the new offload pass and quick lineout option contributing greatly. The offload pass is a risky option, with the pass having the potential to be easily intercepted, go forward or result in a knock-on. Still, when you combine it with the cut-out passes, it makes it easier to get the ball out to the wing to gain some quick ground or clear the ball. The kicking system is as good as ever, but players might want to put the camera into Classic mode for maximum efficiency – the broadcast perspective looks great, but it’s not very functional.

Wilkinson is still a filthy mongrel

Wilkinson is still a filthy mongrel
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It’s not all gravy though, unfortunately, as Rugby 06 still has a number of issues that the developer hasn’t ironed out. The most annoying of these comes in the form of trying to form a bind and retain/capture possession of the ball from the muck – the game seems to ignore the fact that you’ve got several guys waiting in front of the pack, and automatically gives the ball to the AI-controlled side, regardless of your momentum. This extends into the mauls and scrums, where the AI will push your team back and gain possession on your feed, again regardless of the moment. It’s bad enough on the default difficulty setting, but once you raise the bar, the game just becomes outright unfair. Line outs are still a little scrappy in appearance, and the ball will often miss the desired player if you’re a millisecond off on your button press – and 9 times out of 10 the ball will go to the opposition.

Rugby 06’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses though – the enhanced presentation and sheer quality of play do make it easier to forgive the shortcomings experienced in other parts of the game. The World League is a good take on the popular Master League from Pro Evolution Soccer, infused with a rugby flavour, and should give players plenty of long term value. It’s not without its problems though; many player ratings in the game (not just in World League) are baffling. All impact players appear to have ratings of 99 – guys like George Gregan and Matt Giteau are arguably amongst the most talented players in the world, but this implies that they’re near perfect in every attribute in the game. Even worse is the fact that these ratings aren’t properly reflected in the team’s overall rating; the Brumbies have a stack of 90+ rated players yet have an overall rating of 77 - what gives? Still, World League offers a reasonable amount of long term playing value, though it’s not a substitute for online play, which is still missing from the Rugby package.

And yet soccer was the "gay" sport at school. Riiiight...

And yet soccer was the "gay" sport at school. Riiiight...
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Over the years, many gamers have complained about lacking visuals in EA’s second string sports games, but they’ve delivered a very pleasing graphical package in Rugby 06. Thanks largely to EA Canada’s FIFA graphics engine, Rugby 06 is the best looking rugby title to date, easily blowing away the rest of the competition. Players are easily identifiable thanks to the increased level of detail offered by the engine, and the animation is much smoother than in previous years. That’s not to say it’s flawless; there’s still a lot of silly moments, such as players diving 3 feet into the air and about 10 metres to score a try. Tons of stadia from across the world have been recreated for the game, so that players can compete at their favourite ground. Each stadium looks fantastic, though the cardboard cut out crowds are a little disconcerting. Fortunately, when Rugby borrowed FIFA’s graphics engine, it didn’t get the framerate problems that plagued the game; everything runs as smooth as silk. Soundwise, the game offers commentary from Ian Robertson and Grant Fox, who do a solid job of offering their thoughts on the game – it’s just a pity that the pair only really have one set of pre-match comments; a good idea that was poorly executed. The crowds are very much alive, and their roars and groans assist in creating a good atmosphere.

Despite being the best looking and playing rugby game of the year, Rugby 06 still has a little way to come to be considered top shelf material. It’s easy to pick up and play, and there’s plenty here for rugby fans to enjoy, but some annoying residual problems with the ruck, maul, scrum and lineouts serve only to frustrate the majority of players. Some unrealistic player ratings and the lack of online play are a pair of minor problems that we hope to be resolved for the next release of the game. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a solid 15-a-side videogame, then look no further.
The Score
Rugby 06 is the best looking and playing rugby game of the year, but there's still a few things that need tweaking before it's a genuine classic.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Rugby 06 Content

Rugby 06 developer interview
09 Feb, 2006 EA talk about their upcoming Rugby title.
Rugby 06 Preview
26 Jan, 2006 EA offloads their latest Rugby addition.
EA working hard on Rugby 06
06 Dec, 2005 But no release date yet.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  10/02/2006 (Released)
Standard Retail Price:
  $69.95 AU
Publisher:
  Electronic Arts
Genre:
  Sports
Year Made:
  2006

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