Rugby games have received a raw deal in recent times. Rugby Challenge 3 came close to being something worthwhile, but it just doesn’t have the legs older Rugby games once did. It’s probably because the benchmark got set so high in Rugby 08 that there has not been a Rugby game in over a decade that’s been able to top it.
The beautiful game
2007 was a great year if you were South African. Not only did the Springboks win the Webb Ellis trophy at the Rugby World Cup in France but alongside it, we also received the best Rugby game that has ever appeared on any game video game format on earth – Rugby 08. After numerous attempts, EA hit the nail on the head and we ended up with a near to perfect game of Rugby. Everything from the presentation, to the licensing, through to the graphics and overall gameplay made it something very, very special. So special that it’s still a joy to behold today.
There is so much content squeezed into one package that you barely know where to get going. There are officially licensed tournaments aplenty – Rugby World Cup 2007, RBS 6 Nations, arguably the best format of Super Rugby ever with the Super 14 and the Guinness Premiership (before we saw all our local talent leaving for greener pastures up north). There were also two unlicensed tournaments namely European Trophy and World League (become a coach), which were fun additional tournaments to play for those that wanted that additional trophy in the cabinet. Yes, Rugby 08 even includes a trophy cabinet for you to brag about your achievements before ‘achievements’ were a thing. Just what was it about this game that makes it such a classic? It’s the attention to detail.
It just feels like a real game of rugby.
In 2007, as it is now still, the guys in charge of Rugby wanted to bring this beautiful game to Americans and with that Rugby 08 included one of the best tutorials in a game of rugby yet. I mean, let’s be honest here for a second, the rules in rugby are complicated as it stands and a game complicates matters further with numerous options available for each set move. Each facet of the game has a different button layout. General play, versus scrum, line-outs, rucks and mauls are all different. Then players also have to contend with defense and offense details. It’s a lot for someone to take in who does not understand the game of rugby, and the tutorial is superb in aiding new players. Veteran rugby game players get to enjoy a game of rugby to its fullest thanks to how in-depth you can get with your attacks.
You always feel as if you have absolute control of what you’re doing. Staying behind the offside line to crash tackle the opposition is an enormous amount of fun. There’s nothing like crunching a flying tackle using Butch James to nail Dan Carter. You can feel the impact in your hands as your controller vibrates a bit stronger than normal. The set pieces provide you with options. Are you in your own 22 and can’t run your way out from a scrum? Send it back to your Flyhalf and let him gain ground by kicking it out. Should you find your team in the opposition half it is perfect to set up a classic or skip pass pre-planned move. Scrums and rucks also let flanks break off the side to perhaps pop the ball out to your wing to score an easy try. Off-loading the ball before going to ground keeps the play moving forward. Kicking a grubber, up-and-under or drop goal can also be done with ease and if you know what you’re doing you can combine it really well with your general play. Use the right analogue stick to have Bryan Habana side-stepping the fullback as he makes his way to the try line. It just feels like a real game of rugby.
The day a PS2 game showed the PS4 how it’s done
All the player likenesses are better than anything you would have seen in modern rugby games and they come with their own stats too. Getting the right team chemistry is important and their form and morale can affect how they play on the day. Morale down? That player might knock the ball on more than he should, rather sub him for another player. More licensing has gone into the stadiums around the world. New Zealand, Italy, Ireland, Georgia, France, England, Australia, Asia, Americas, Wales, Scotland and, of course, South Africa have all their official grounds supported in the game. Stadiums in South Africa include Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Pretoria. At the time they obviously did not have the rights to name it Loftus or Newlands, but the stadiums look like the real thing.
Graphically Rugby 08 has aged well too. Unfortunately, it launched before the HD era (as I’m sure you would have noticed in the images), but it supports widescreen mode and looks the part when using component cables for the PS2. In terms of audio, it never gets old when you hear the crowd chanting ‘Springboks!’ if you’re playing well. It could be that it’s just been such a long time since last I heard a crowd chanting the Springboks name in the real world too, that it stands out for me. The commentary is also fantastic and on point with what you’re doing in the game. So did they get anything wrong? There a small glitch that you can use to your own advantage when in a line-out. When your opposition throws the ball in the hooker makes a small twitch movement before throwing the ball. Press the x button (to have your lock, second from the front) to jump and he’ll 99% of the time catch the ball. A bit of an oversight, but one that has made my games against the All Blacks a little easier when playing the elite difficulty.
There is still no other rugby game that has even come close to tackling it and continues running circles around the competition.
By completing tournaments you’ll also unlock some historic videos. These include a World Cup Montage as well as a highlights reel for 1987, 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003. Anything after that date had not yet taken place when the game released. Still, it’s cool to rewatch the memorable moments in rugby whenever you please to do so.
Rugby 08 is as accessible and downright enjoyable as you might recall it being. There is still no other rugby game that has even come close to tackling it and continues running circles around the competition.