Rugby 08 PS2 Review

Rugby games have something of a torrid time. Unlike their spherical shaped counter part, they don’t have the time, attention and money lavished on them that comes from being a multi-million seller franchise. Thankfully then, rugby is seeing something of a renaissance in Europe (well in the UK at least), something that is enhanced by the upcoming World Cup in September this year. It is no coincidence that this release from EA lands on our shelved just in time to take full advantage of the World Cup media machine.

This game is not entirely new territory for EA who have produced a long line of Rugby sports game. Although these are not released with the frequency of FIFA, it is the same iterative approach to game design. With that in mind it will be interesting to see how much they have advanced with the previous outing for the series, Rugby 06.

EA Rugby has become famous for capturing the key elements of a game of rugby; passing, scrums, line outs, drop goals. These are all delivered with a pleasingly simple control mechanism. The DualShock’s left analogue stick is used to direct the current player, whilst passing is achieved with a tap or longer press on the shoulder buttons. Tackling is even simpler, just direct your player towards the ball-holder and voila! Kicks are accessed at the press of the X button and directed by the analogue stick. All these controls are well introduced with a tutorial section that enables you to skip forward to aspects of the game that you need to practice. This is a welcome changed from the common approach of forcing the player to perform every tutorial action even if they have played the game before.

Once you have got the basics down, you are best advised to try out the club game. This starts the difficulty at a reasonable setting to enable you to get to grips with the controls and tactics in a real game situation. Once you have conquered the clubs you can then progress to professional or elite settings. As with most sports games, it is playing at these higher levels that give you the most satisfying experience. You start to discover new aspects of the control as you try and squeeze out a hard fought victory. Player management comes into play more and more as you move up the ranks; requiring you to make best used of each players skills to construct a winning team.

Into this mix EA have added a slew of special moves. Although attempting these initially results in loosing the ball, if you let your instincts take over they can make all the difference to a winning charge. Not only this, but they make the action much more entertaining to watch. The moves are accessed by moving one hand to the right analogue stick and swinging it in a particular direction; timing is key if you are to stand a chance of making these special plays count.

Something that is often levelled at EA sports game is that they are slow to react to player interaction. EA have worked hard over the various iterations of FIFA to move towards a more instantaneous (and dare we say Pro Evo like) control scheme. Rugby 08 still seems to suffer from the sluggishness that plagued the early FIFA games, but once you have got used to the pace you can easily compensate for the reaction times.

In addition to the World Cup mode which is populated by all the competing sides, there are other competitions such as Tri-Nations, Guinness Premiership, RBS Six Nations, or European Trophy. These are further complemented by the previous game’s world league team management mode and a new challenge mode with various scenarios from previous World Cup tournaments. These each posit the player with the task of recreating history. This provides what is essentially a missions based rugby game that is a welcome break from the more traditional games. Each challenge provides three objectives for the player to achieve. It’s a shame that more effort hasn’t been spent on developing this aspect of the game as it shows real promise. Unfortunately, the lack of sensible challenges means it soon deteriorates into a novelty and you quickly return to the main rugby games.

Graphically, the game looks as good as any FIFA title. EA are really getting a lot more sophisticated with their player modelling. If you are a fan of the sport you will easily recognise some of the bigger named players with their characteristic scowls. The stadium and environments are also pretty convincing, even though they lack detail due to the limited horsepower of the PS2. On the down side, the commentary voice work needed to be much more varied and is soon disabled when it starts to grate on your nerves. Apart from that, the crowd and play sound effects are all spot on, adding a sense of atmosphere and occasion to the larger games.

The biggest omission in Rugby 08 is that there is no online game. With slim PS2s having a modem built in, you would think that EA would want to take advantage of this and get people hooked into their online play in readiness for something more fully fledged on the next generation platforms.

Although Rugby 08 doesn’t progress things by leaps and bounds, it does enough to keep the existing players interested and hopefully to introduce some new ones to the series. The problem arises if you already have the 06 version, unless you are desperate for the updated teams, you will be better off saving your money. For the newcomer to the series, or even Rugby itself, this is an adequate introduction that will grow to meet your skill levels as you progress.

Overall, Rugby 08 is true to form; a slightly revised release of EA existing Rugby game timed for the World Cup.

7 out of 10
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