|System: PS2, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Canada||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA Sports||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 17, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Rugby is back for 2008, and thank goodness for that. Rugby 08 for the PS2 is really well made and simply executed. Club and international sides are well represented through various modes of play. Graphics and sound are so-so, but they don't hold back the gameplay much. The controls are simple and well mapped to the dual-shock controller, and are conducive to a free flowing game of rugby. There's a lot of fun to be had for both rugby novices and aficionados alike. In fact, if you've never played the game before, or if you're uninformed as to the rules of the sport, this game will go a long way to familiarizing you with one of the world's greatest team sports. Just in time for the World Cup too!
Gameplay and ease of controls is what this game is all about. Rugby is constantly moving, and EA captures the speed of the sport. Whether you're executing set plays from the ruck, whipping the ball quickly down the line from one touchline to the other, or punting the ball forward in the run of play to gain field position, all the controls work remarkably well. Judging distance and accuracy while punting the ball can be a bit dicey at first, but as you become familiar with the speed of play you will able to kick your way to positional dominance and easy points. Against poor competition and at low difficulty settings you will be able to easily score tries. It's a different story against the Aussies or the French, however. The kicking game and time of possession becomes crucial against such daunting opposition. I would have liked a few juke moves to be added to the right analog stick to help with long runs. The grubber kick, a quick toe poke, can be executed with the triangle button though, and this is a lethal move to help get you past the full back. All in all, the controls are great and simplistic. You can organize your side both offensively and defensively with the D-pad depending on the situation. Kicks are a breeze with the familiar half-circle meter that demarcates both power and accuracy like in EA's PGA and Madden games of the past. Passing to the left or right is smoothly done by tapping or holding the L1 or R1 buttons accordingly. This game really is easy to control and a joy to play.
Game modes include Play Now, the Rugby World Cup 2007, World Cup Challenge mode, and a general tab called Game Modes. The Game Modes tab allows you to choose from various official tournaments such as the Tri-Nations Cup and the RBS 6 Nations Cup, or you can practice, or have access to the nicely made, if oversimplified tutorial. Within tournament play, you can choose to play in the World League which is Rugby 08's career mode. You will start out as the lowly manager of a Third Division squad. Your goal will be to lead the languishing team out of the doldrums and into the Second Division. This mode is great fun and will be used regularly by owners of the title. The Challenge mode is new this year and has the player reenact classic events in World Cup history. There are many scenarios here to choose from, and there also many that can be unlocked as you progress through them. This mode of play is decent; if it weren't for the unlockable videos I probably wouldn't play it very often. The inclusion of the licensed Rugby World Cup 2007 mode on the same disc is great. EA's FIFA series has always produced an additional title which has always frustrated me. Rugby isn't nearly as popular as the beautiful game though, and so we are fortunate to have everything included in one disc. This mode of play rocks and will have you logging some hours. The Play Now mode is self-evident. You can choose from a number of different clubs, specialty league teams, and full international squads.
Graphics are last generation fare, but everything's well done though. There is a vast array of stadiums from around the world which are accurately rendered. The players' faces look fine, but all are a bit generic. If you select to play as the All Blacks, then you'll be treated to the Haka, though the captain's lips don't quite sync to the chant. Things look a bit fuzzy, especially on HD screens. You really should leave last generation consoles to be played on your tube television. It can be difficult to distinguish where the ball is in scrums on the far side of the pitch. Generally, the graphics aren't perfect, but they do support the gameplay well enough.
Sadly, the sounds are seriously lacking. The commentators do not do a very respectable job of highlighting the sport. Commentaries are not nearly as complex or rich as they are for EA's other sporting titles. Another unfortunate fact is that there is no online play. I'm sure there's not enough interest to merit maintaining a server for the few PS2 rugby players out there. I still would have liked to try and best a few Aussies though; I've gotten pretty good against the computer and my friends don't appreciate rugby.
If you're a rugby fan, then this game is a must buy. The addition of the Challenge mode and the inclusion of the World Cup and World League make for compelling gameplay. The ease of controls will make even first-time rugby players competent in no time. The mediocre graphics, sounds, and lack of online gameplay don't substantively detract from the overall experience. If you want to learn about a great game, pick up a sport that might be new to you, or simply add the best rugby game yet to your aging PS2 collection; I would suggest picking up a copy. You'll have a blast!
CCC Freelance Writer