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World Championship Rugby

Although, like most people, I don’t know the full rules of rugby, I’ve seen and played enough in my time to know what it’s all about. Thunderbolt is an international website though, so here’s a quick rundown of what the sport is about for those of you unfamiliar with its basic rules. There’s two teams of 15 men, an egg-shaped ball and a rectangular pitch. At each end of the pitch are rectangular zones and an ‘H’-shaped goal. Each team scores points by placing the ball down in the zone at the end of the pitch or kicking the ball above the bar in the goal. It’s a contact sport (with no girly protection pads) and you can only throw-pass backwards (although kicking forwards is allowed). Right, now we’ve got that sorted, onto the latest game to cover the sport, World Championship Rugby.

As games go, World Championship Rugby (henceforth WCR) is an unassuming one. The packaging is simple yet perfectly satisfactory, making you wonder exactly how good the game will be. For a second, I suspected that it may not turn out to be any good, but that’s probably a result of being brainwashed into the EA Sports snazzy presentation way of doing things. It turns out that WCR‘s humble startup and menu hide what turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable game of rugby.

The first thing that strikes you when you play WCR is just how user friendly it really is. Whenever a set piece occurs the relevant controls are displayed so you don’t need to fumble around looking at the manual. Novices can pick up the game’s controls easily while learning the rules of rugby at the same time. Colourful meters and button symbols above set pieces visualise what is going on, making it straightforward to understand what’s happening.

The nature of the sport means that playing WCR is like playing a side scrolling game. Because you can only throw-pass backwards, the ball is passed sideways left and right while the players run forwards and backwards. Passing left and right and selecting players is therefore assigned to the L1 and R1 buttons, while sprinting, kicking and tackling is handled by the face buttons. The control setup is simple yet effective, making the game a breeze to play.

Even on the easiest difficulty setting (interestingly called ‘Fun’), your opponents are no pushovers. Teams are rated with a star system, marked out of five. The two and three star teams like the U.S.A. and Samoa are easily defeated by the likes of England and New Zealand, but beating a team of an equal star rating is quite an effort, requiring players to think tactically on their feet. Because rugby slows down at some points, it allows you to think out where you are going next and how to get there. Like their real life counterparts, matches frequently become battles to dominate the middle of the field, with occasional pushes towards either end of the pitch. Opponents aren’t are predictable as you might think and can pull a few surprises on you when you’re not expecting it. WCR‘s gameplay enjoyable and challenging, easy to get the hang of yet hard to master.

Whether the game is completely true to its real counterpart I couldn’t say, but WCR certainly gives the impression of being authentic. Matches never become complete walkover victories and the game is well paced, never ending up as a lightning quick arcade rendition of what you see on TV or at the stadium. The licenses are also here making for correct player and team names, although a little less subtle than in the likes of FIFA and it’s EA Sports siblings.

WCR‘s visuals aren’t quite what you’d expect, or at least not what I expected. Instead of taking the crisp, ultra-realistic approach, the graphics instead opt for a more colourful, cartoon-styled slant. It’s not that the players are cel-shaded or that they’re caricatured in any way, it’s just that everything is slightly more fuzzy and rounded than you’d expect. It’s ever so subtle, but noticeable when compared with games from the likes of EA Sports. When the camera zooms out for normal play you don’t notice it, but when it zooms in for a quick cut scene it’s obvious to the trained eye. Apart from this effect, the game runs at a smooth consistent rate with good detail in the players, textures and stadia. Another nice addition is that you can opt for a widescreen view, which suits the gameplay style of sideways movement.

Commentary is present as you’d expect, voiced by a couple of guys who I’ve never heard of, although I’m sure they’re famous within the sport. Even though it is repetitive at some points, the commentary isn’t obviously so and doesn’t become annoying enough to turn off as in some games. The crowds also sing along, encouraging each team as they battle for the ball.

Apart from the obligatory ‘Friendly’ game mode, WCR features a wealth of tournaments, from custom created cups and leagues all the way up to the major tournaments and ultimately the World Championship. The higher trophies are something to aim for, as winning them is a feat that shouldn’t be underestimated. Working your way up the tournaments, you unlock a variety of secrets which keep the game interesting after you’ve played it a while. There are also a selection of ‘Challenges’ matches which involve playing classic matches, dream team matches and a survival style game. Multiplayer also features, although the game only supports two players offline, nothing more. There’s certainly enough here to keep the player coming back though, whether they’re a casual rugby fan or a dedicated one.

World Championship Rugby has really taken me by surprise. I thought that it would be just another sports title with a license attached for authenticity, but it’s turned out to be quite a game. It’s easy to get in and accessible to those who aren’t dedicated rugby fans, with a simple yet effective control scheme and a selection of useful visual aids. There’s plenty of depth once you get into the game and its challenging and rewarding gameplay will keep you coming back for more. I doubt that it will be a blockbuster selling hundreds of thousands of copies, but for the fans of the genre it’s going to bring a lot of enjoyment and that’s something the developers should be proud of. After all, who can possibly resist the chance of beating the Aussies in the World Cup on their own turf over and over again?

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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