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Submitted by Jon Wilcox on February 22 2005 - 15:26

Rugby inspired videogames have rarely performed well, so how does EA’s latest attempt to capture the Union game perform so far?

Rugby Union; itâ??s a sport thatâ??s been described by some as â??A barbarianâ??s game played by gentlemenâ?, and by others as â??that slow game where you run with an odd shaped ball!â? Itâ??s a game with origins wrapped up in the great legend of how way back in 1823, a 16-year old public schoolboy by the name of William Webb Ellis, picked up a football that he and his friends were playing with and ran â?“ thus forming the great game that we now have today.

When videogames became prevalent it was obvious that football would be one of the earliest conversions to the electronic entertainment world, but despite a continued evolution of the round ball game over the past twenty years that includes Sensible Soccer, Goal, and of course FIFA and Pro Evo, Rugby has rarely made any kind of impact on the videogame market.

Sure there are some who hold up the PlayStationâ??s Jonah Lomu Rugby 1995 as the pinnacle of Rugby Union conversion on the consoles, however even that failed to really capture the flow of the game. EA tried in 2004 to capture the oval sport, but it was horrible and was comparable to some of the early FIFA attempts â?“ thankfully though the mantra at Electronic Arts appears to be â??If at first you donâ??t succeed try, try againâ? (something that they seem bring to the acquisition table too) and they are now close to releasing their latest attempt, the imaginatively titled Rugby 2005 soon to be available on Xbox, PlayStation2 and PC.

Even though it seems that EA are determined to carve out a new and successful franchise, there remains an important question: Is it possible to ever produce a rugby title that truly recreates the world of Rugby Union?

From the off it is evident that Electronic Arts have gone for a complete graphical overhaul. Gamers are able to choose one country from a list of eleven rugby nations and the legendary British Lions, which the main menu then represents with the appropriate colour schemes and key players. In game, EA have licensed thousands of names from the world of rugby so you can expect to, at the very least, see the names you know on the field. Whilst a majority of the players arenâ??t exactly doubles of their real world selves, there are resemblances there, and the game does feature so-called 'Star Heads' of the top 100 world players - itâ??s sure to be one area that EA will continue to work on over future iterations. Coupled with licensed grounds including the magnificent Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the game really has come on leaps and bounds this year, and we can only hope for continued development in the future.

Rugby 2005 includes a whole host of international and club teams from across the world, and as youâ??d expect, most of the Unions have signed up to the game, allowing EA to faithfully replicate the shirts. Teams from the World Champions England, right down to international teams such as Georgia and Russia are included in the game, with all of the big name teams in European Cup and Super 12 teams making an appearance. So whether you support Leicester or Llanelli, Bath or Biarritz, you can be sure that your team (as long as they do feature in the top club competitions in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere) appear in the game.

As weâ??ve already said, the sport of Rugby has never really been successfully translated to a videogame, and this is in no small part due to the sportâ??s complexity in both gameplay and technical necessities, as Rugby 2005 Producer Andrew Wilson commented in TVGâ??s Q&A last week, â??â?¦the animation of the players can present huge challengesâ?¦Depending what the player chooses to do in any given situation, the game needs to have the appropriate animation ready. Add to this the fact that there are 30 players on the field (the most in any EA Sports game) that need to be rendered at once and the technological constraints begin to add up.â?

The level of complexity in the game of Rugby Union also necessitates the inclusion of a new mandatory tutorial in the title called â??Rugby 101â?, which explains the common set-pieces and plays found in the game including Scrums, Rucks and Mauls, Line-Outs, and of course Penalty Kicking and Try Scoring. All of the moves require various button presses, which follow a similar pattern to the gameâ??s previous incarnation â?“ whether this will raise or dash your spirits is a matter for the individual player. The mode should prove to be a good introduction to the sport, and will help to clear up some of the confusing elements of the game.

The game is set to include all of the major events in the Rugby including the Six Nations, the Tri-Nations, and the World Cup on an international level, as well as the aforementioned European Cup and Super 12 competitions; the developers have also added a fictitious international competition into Rugby 2005 featuring the participants of the Six Nations, the Tri-Nations, and Argentina imaginatively called the â??Ten Nations, â?? so you can be sure that EA are trying to add a level of depth to game.

So how does the title play so far? Well it certainly doesnâ??t take long for the difference in gameplay to stand up and announce itself to you â?“ this game flows much, MUCH better than any rugby game in the past, itâ??s as simple as that. If this is representative of the final game then EA have managed to capture the free-flowing game of Rugby Union quite successfully. Even when set-pieces such as line-outs are being played, the game doesnâ??t seem to stop and in fact it somehow still retains a certain pace; the only part of the game that really slows the pace are the rucks and mauls, but thatâ??s one of the features of Rugby Union, and something that has to be added to make a true and realistic game.

Electronic Arts have once again incorporated a â??Create-A-Playerâ? option into the title so gamers will have the chance to personalise a number of players with various attributes from hair style to taking up the option of wearing a skull cap. It certainly seems to be part of the whole Sport Sim strategy undertaken by EA, as well as the inclusion of the now infamous EA Trax playlist, which in the case of Rugby 2005 includes amongst others, The Libertines.

So far the game certainly improves on last yearâ??s attempt, with the main improvement happening in the flow of the game â?“ it now feels more like rugby, and coupled with the increased production values, Rugby 2005 is shaping up to be the closest thing to the actual game ever released in a virtual form. Itâ??s not quite there yet, and certainly isnâ??t as comparable with FIFA, but the strides are being made â?“ if only for a Live! optionâ?¦

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