Rugby 2004 Review (PS2)
Rucks and scrums, grubbers and mauls: though the lingo is strange to most American gamers, the sport of Rugby has all the violence, speed, and emotion that you could want. With the Rugby World Cup currently being played in Australia and being aired on Fox Sports World, many Americans may be getting their first taste of the sport. Will Rugby 2004 convert legions of Americans the way the FIFA series has? Read on to find out.
I laughed out loud when I first saw the player models in the intro movie. I don't know that I've seen worse graphics on anything in this generation of consoles. What's particularly shocking is that the player models are not much better than the version of EA Sports Rugby that was released in 2001. While the players appear to sport a few more polygons, the proportions are freakish, and the players still look like a poorly hinged together collection of basic geometric shapes.
As bad as the player models are, the truly crippling aspect of the graphics is the animation, or the lack thereof. The models do not move fluidly at all, and there are significant frames of animation missing when getting into and out of rucks and mauls.
The fields do fare a bit better. While I don't know how accurately all the stadiums are modeled, the detail in the field texture, stands, etc. is much better than what is provided for the players themselves. It certainly doesn't compare to any other current generation sports title, but the stadiums aren't going to make your eyes bleed.
Speaking of bleeding eyes, however, you'll need to stock up on Visine if you plan on spending much time navigating the menus in this game. Between the poor resolution, the dreadful color choices, and the atrocious font, you'll be squinting and guessing at most of the menu choices. Usually, the user interface and menus are a strong point of any EA Sports product, but this game makes any menu navigation a painful chore.
The commentary is pretty "cut and paste" in that you can hear the breaks and inflection changes as the commentary is "pasted" together. It's obvious that most of the commentary is of the generic "fill in the blank" variety, and the blanks are pretty obvious. The crowd noise is well done however, and seems to react appropriately to the action on the field.
There are a number of different modes available to simulate many of the main competitions in the world of Rugby, including World Cup, Six Nations, Tri Nations, Super 12, and the European Trophy. There is also a "World Tour" mode where you will travel the globe taking on various national teams with the British Isles team, an All-Star collection of players from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. If you're looking to put in a lot of time with the game, the mode that would probably see the most play time would be the World League mode. In World League (obviously modeled after the Master League in the Winning Eleven series), you will take a scrub team in the lower division of a fictional league, and try to build them into a powerhouse through transfers, skillful balancing of morale, injury, and on-the-field play.
One of the major problems this game has in reaching an American audience is that most gamers will be unfamiliar with the basic rules and gameplay. A robust tutorial mode could have really helped this game sell well in the States, but one wasn't provided. There is a training pitch; which contains some basic gameplay instruction, but it simply isn't deep enough to convey anything beyond the controller layout.
The on-the-field play is tolerable at best, frustrating at worst. The player control is decent, and the control scheme allows for most moves you'd be looking for. Once you've spent some time on the training pitch, you'll be able to execute most moves with ease. This is the tolerable part: while the control isn't special, it's not an utter disaster, either.
The frustrating part comes in rucks, scrums, and mauls. For those not familiar with the game of Rugby, these are three different types of "pack play", when the players will mob together, fighting for possession of the ball. It's the ultimate in smash-mouth sports, and while the modern game has become much more wide open, pack play is still at the heart of rugby. And when the heart of the game is as poorly modeled as this, you have a serious gameplay issue. First off, the pack play is really harmed by the miserable animation and graphics. In rucks and mauls, players will just "pop" in and out of the pack, with no joining animations. It becomes incredibly difficult to follow who is in the pack, and who isn't when players keep on teleporting in and out according to some whim of the animation engine. Another complaint in the pack play is that while the there are differences between each type of pack; it's not enough to warrant a different control scheme. And that's exactly what is provided - not entirely different control schemes, but just enough that you need to know what pack you're in (which can be tough given the animation), and remember the specifics of that control scheme.
Another particular gameplay issue is the sprint button. While most sports games have some version of a sprint/turbo button, most don't turn the controlled player into a Keystone Cop, with animations that are twice the speed of the other players. Though hitting the edge and pouring on the speed is an essential component of modern Rugby, it's laughable in this game as you pull away from the pack as if they were standing still.
It's pretty painfully obvious that while this is coming out under the EA Sports label, it's an EA title in name only. None of the usual presentation or polish is in place: no EA Sports Bio, a single music track in the menus, no demo mode, and poorly designed menus. The load times are painful (up to 27 seconds to get the training pitch to load), and the there's little reward when it finally loads.
If you're looking for a PS2 rugby game, I'd recommend the original EA title. It must be cheaper by now, and has better gameplay. If you need a PS2 rugby game with updated rosters, there are some upcoming titles you could wait for. If you need a PS2 rugby game with updated rosters and you need it today.... well, then, go ahead and give this a rent. I can't imagine anyone that would really need to buy this game, as it just isn't up to speed with this generation of sports titles in graphics, sound, gameplay options, or control.