“Oh, that’s so flashy, you get paid to write reviews?” they say. And, to an extent, yes, it’s flashy as hell. I’m a rock star in gaming circles. But then something like Rugby 18 saunters into NAG headquarters. “Who wants it?” says our esteemed editor. Silence. A tumbleweed rolls past. We’re gamers, see. To us, rugby is something that happens to other people. I took this as my moment to shine. “I’m from Stellenbosch,” I exclaimed, “We live and breathe rugby down here”. There was a snigger. I should have known better.
I always scribble my notes down on paper while I’m playing a game for review purposes. My Rugby 18 notes are ruined. Because of tears. Great, big, wet, when-Marley-dies-in-Marley-and-Me tears. Okay, I’m being a drama queen. It’s not so bad. But it’s pretty bloody bad. I think the biggest problem is that I’m coming off hot from a whole lot of FIFA 18. Sleek, beautiful, polished like a wizard’s knob, EA Sports really knows how to turn out a game about balls.
Rugby 18, on the other hand, is a shambles. When the publisher logo beamed at me during the loading screens, it struck fear into my heart. Bigben Interactive. And then it hit me – Rugby World Cup 2015. So these chaps are still at-large. Still dishing out rugby games, and still doing it badly.
It’s not all bad. Some of it is okay. None of it is great. The okay bits? The players on the field look okay. They are exaggerated versions of the players they represent, but they’re not terrible. Running onto the field, or celebrating a try, the level of detail is at least acceptable for current gen. The number of teams available to muck around with is also okay. You’ve got Australia, England, France, Scotland, Wales, Italia, South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji in the international arena, which is nowhere near good enough – Ireland, Japan and Argentina are all forces worth representing these days – but it’s okay.
Represented championship teams are also, just barely, okay. You’ve got your TOP 14, PRO D2, PRO14 and your Aviva Premiership Rugby, but there’s no Super Rugby, Rugby Championship or Currie Cup. Which means there’s no Stormers or Blue Bulls. No Hurricanes, no Crusaders, and no Brumbies. South African gamers will have to make do with the Cheetahs and the pointless Southern Kings, as far as club rugby goes. I understand licensing issues, I understand that the suits who run Super Rugby want a brazillion dollars to have their teams in your game, but I don’t understand how, in teams which you have featured in your game, you still have blank placeholder headshots for certain players. That sort of thing smacks of low budget nonsense.
But yes, you’ll have to choose a team out of this bunch, and you’ll have to run the chaps out onto the grass. And you’ll have to play rugby. And that’s when it really falls apart. Rugby is a far more complicated sport to recreate than football, in terms of video games, so I don’t want to be unfairly harsh, but this is a mess. You know how EA Sport UFC is riddled with mini-games to replicate the ground game, the clinch, the submissions, and so on? Rugby 18 is like that too, but none of the mini-games are any fun, or make much sense.
So much goes wrong during Rugby 18’s representation of rugby that I can’t even dig through all of it. Suffice to say, just about every game will break down to infinite rucks, interspersed with short bursts of running in the wrong direction, and then more rucks. The back line is never where they should be, so what could have been an epic Bryan-Habana-scores-in-the-World-Cup-Final moment ends with your scrum-half lobbing a limp-wristed pass to a man twenty meters directly behind him. Who is then promptly tackled. And then we’re in for another ruck. EA Sports nailed all of this back in 1994, with EA Sports Rugby 1995 on 16-bit systems. We should be past these issues by now.
I don’t want to keep ragging on this game, because I know there will be rugby fan across our great nation who are desperate for a solid game of rugger, but there are a few other things I can’t just let slide. Firstly, Rugby 18 is riddled with bugs. Some are just bad – like, your player constantly catching passes which are actually behind him. Some, however, are “can I have my money back” bad – like, an offside warning across the screen, but the match carries on, off screen, and you have to quit back to your console dashboard and fire up the game again. The user interface across the whole game is also a sorry affair, with some inexplicable iconography and some navigational systems which make little sense. My Squad, Rubgy 18’s contrived travesty of a FIFA Ultimate Team mode, is such a clusterruck (see what I did there?), if you can suffer more than an hour trying to squeeze some joy out if it, I’ll personally come over and give you a congratulatory hug.
I was about to wrap this up, and then I remembered the commentary. Sorry. Before you go, this is important. You know how when you phone a big company and the machine answers, and it’s like “I’m sorry, (insert person’s name) is not here right now”? That’s how they’ve approached the commentary here.
“What an amazing pass by….”[PAUSE]
Again, maybe it’s EA Sports’ fault – we’re so accustomed to commentary sounding fluid and dynamic. This actually broke the game for me. I turned the sound off. Because brain haemorrhage. You can all hate on EA as much as you like, but they know what they’re doing.
Obviously this is a game for rugby fans. The clincher here, though, is that it’s the only game for rugby fans. Which is so unfair, because basically you’re being told, “Eat up, chunky, this is all you’re getting”. Your options are: play this shit rugby game, or play something else. And I get it, you love the Bokke, your dad wears a Blue Bulls jersey to work on his birthday, your mom injects brandy into the orange slices at half time during your school rugby matches. You want a rugby game. And this, sadly, is what you’re left with.