In the pantheon of sports games there are few rugby titles, with there only being one notable exception – Jonah Lomu Rugby. Ever since it was released in 1997, no other game has been able to match the fun that it was able to deliver on the original PlayStation.
That’s not to say we’re not open to another title surpassing Jonah Lomu, which is why we were eager to try out Rugby 20. It’s the latest title developed by EKO Software and published Bigben Interactive, and the first rugby game on the PS4 we’ve played in quite some time.
So did it deliver on our hopes? Here’s our thoughts on the new game.
By most sports title standards, the layout and presentation of Rugby 20 is about on par with what’s expected these days.
Some of the nice elements that have been included to the UI is trivia and facts about Rugby itself, along with explaining how different elements of gameplay occur. All of this happens in the loading screens for different game modes.
While this is a handy touch, the larger issue is the length of time it takes to load said modes, with it sometimes taking several minutes.
As such it leaves you thinking that Rugby 20 is not exactly AAA. Added to this is the small file size of the game on PS4, at just under 5GB. We never thought that a small-sized game file would ever be an issue, but it serves as an indication that this game may not give you as much as you may be hoping for. This especially so when you’re paying R929 to play the game.
Some of the other elements we took exception to is the tutorialisation and how to learn the controls of the game.
Instead of a free playing mode, each phase of play is broken up into a separate mode and requires moving back and forth between menu options in order to access. The result is that you can only do one thing at a time and can’t quite get the feel of a fully fledged rugby match in a shadow run kind of format.
Once you’re ready to play, there are things that Rugby 20 excels at, and others that are pretty lacklustre.
What the game has pegged down perfectly is tactics and the more nuanced elements of team management. Here you can setup different team tactics in terms of open play, the split of forwards and backs either side of a breakdown and what kinds of backline moves you want to have on-hand.
We found the gameplay around set pieces really engaging too, with the slow function at lineouts when you’re competing for a contestable ball, as well as the way the different phases of a scrum are handled being great elements of Rugby 20.
Where it struggles is the flow of a game. By this we mean how passes and continuity is facilitated. Most passes are quite flat and don’t have a natural look to them, and there is no variety to the way that tackles are made.
Added to this is the breakdown, rucks in particular, and how possession can be won. Here you can simply spam the circle button (PS4) and flood the ruck with as many players as possible in order to secure or turnover possession. This is simply not how it works in a normal rugby match, and a system that combines speed and who has a player at the breakdown first would have been a better option in our opinion.
Let’s shift to another mixed element of the game – graphics. Don’t let the images in this review of the launch trailer fool, the player designs look far more blocky than what has been shown.
As such anyone wanting something closer to the look and feel of EA Sports’ FIFA or Madden is out of luck.
There are some exceptions though, with players like Irish cover star Johnathan Sexton looking more like the real thing. He is joined by a few Northern hemisphere players in terms of looking like their actual real-world counterparts, but those wanting ones in the Southern hemisphere are out of luck.
If you’re wanting to play as the World Cup winning Springbok side then, you’re not going to see any of the players you know, nor the green and gold uniform you’re familiar with.
This brings us to another important point about Rugby 20 – it heavily favours the Northern hemisphere, featuring tournaments like the Pro 14 and getting all the names of players right for Six Nations (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France) teams.
Those in search of Super Rugby or the Rugby Championship will need to look elsewhere, as there is only so much that has been licensed for this game.
Despite their iterative nature where few changes are made each year, sports titles have come a long way in the past decade. The same cannot be said for Rugby 20, which looks and feels like a game that is better placed for 2010 than 2020.
There are some noteworthy elements though, with a nuanced team management and tactics setup, as well as interesting set piece gameplay and an easy to pick up in-game control system. Unfortunately all of this is marred by a very lacklustre presentation, blocky player design and mechanics which do not feel close enough to the real thing.
If you need a game to pass the time between friends before, during or after a live game, Rugby 20 will get the job done, but there is not enough to keep you coming back for longer periods.