Yes, I understand, you’ve clicked on the link to this review with a very heavy heart. You’re expecting the worst and you’ve come prepared for it. Fortunately you’re as prepared as the Southern Kings management staff, because Rugby Challenge 3 is easily the best Rugby game since EA’s Rugby ’08.
A license to thrill
You might think to yourself that official licenses are not all that important, but you’d be wrong. The very first thing you’ll notice are the official licenses and boy, have they gone to town with it. The Springboks, All Blacks, Wallabies and English teams all have the official emblems, anthems, names and resemblance. The various officially licensed tournaments include Buildcorp NRC (Australia’s domestic competition), ITM Cup (New Zealand’s domestic competition), Currie Cup, Super Rugby, Bledisloe Cup, AVIVA Premiership Rugby (England’s domestic competition), French 14 Cup (French Domestic competition), F2 Competition (2nd Tier French Competition) – and that’s just the official licensed stuff.
The other unlicensed countries are represented, along with the various unlicensed tournaments that you might notice are missing. The IRB Rugby World Cup is known as the World Rugby Championship, the Rugby Championship and Six Nations both show up as the ‘International Competition’ either featuring southern hemisphere or northern hemisphere teams. There are other tournaments that include the European Knockout Cup, Pacific Rim Championship, African Nation Cup, South America Shield and more. The detail is rather astounding and unexpected, and I’ve not even mentioned a word about the inclusion of the unofficial Sevens tournament – again, with all the licensed Bok, All Black, Wallaby, and English squads, as well as the official Rugby stadiums.
[pullquote_left]Rugby Challenge 3 comes with a serious first-world problem – where do you start first?[/pullquote_left]DHL Newlands, Emirates Airline Park (Ellispark for you oldschool lot), Free State Stadium, Growthpoint Kings Park and Loftus Versfeld are all featured and, though it’s nowhere near as impressive as stadiums you’ll see in a game of FIFA, it’s still quite impressive regardless. Of course the official New Zealand, Australian and English big-name fields also feature, but enough of all the licensed goodness. Rugby Challenge 3 comes with a serious first-world problem – where do you start first?
There are many modes to choose from. You’ve got your general single match (made up of either Fifteens or Sevens Rugby), the various tournaments or, if you’re new to Rugby, you can learn the basics in the training tutorials. It’s the perfect game for someone new to the sport, and it’s also deep enough for veterans. Once you’ve selected your team and strips (home or away) you get to toggle with the match settings. There are 5 difficulty options, the match duration, time of day, weather conditions and you even get to choose the Rugby law you prefer – normal or NRC. Once you’ve passed the really short loading screen, where you get to pass the ball around, it’s off to the game.
Rugby Challenge 3 plays very similar to Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge, it’s just that it’s been tweaked and small improvements have been made to make it a much more flowing and enjoyable game of Rugby. The action still takes place with the camera situated behind the players, so you’re seeing the backs of your players. I tried the sideline camera and it just felt very unnatural. There are moments, should the opponents get the ball, that the camera will swoop around, but this can be turned off if it’s something that bothers you.
L1 and R1 are still used to pass the ball left and right, and by pressing and holding it you can skip a few players for a long pass to your Outside Centre or Wing. Press both together, when your Scrumhalf fetches the ball from a ruck or maul, and your Flyhalf will receive the ball for touch kick opportunity. The face buttons handles your punts, drop kicks, bombs, chip kicks and grubbers while the right analogue stick takes care of fending, sidestepping and dummy passes by tapping it in a direction. Should you not have the ball you’ll tackle using the x button or go for an aggressive tackle by pressing the triangle button. Problem is by doing that it might result in a high tackle, which will convert into a penalty or even a yellow or red card. Only use it when there’s a certain try to be stopped. Yes, in ‘penalty try’ situations. Thankfully I’ve not yet encountered a penalty try in the game, but rather safe than sorry. The rucks, lineouts, scrums and mauls are a whole different story altogether.
Crouch. Bind. Set your analogue sticks in the right direction
As with the real game of Rugby this part of the game is generally a mess, unless you know exactly what you’re doing and understand the various button combinations. The scrum is a faithful port of what you would have experienced in Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge, whereby you have to press and time your analogue stick controls in a timed upwards motion to gain control. From here you can either get the Eightman to pick the ball up from the base of the scrum and break away, or your Scrumhalf takes over. The lineouts are tricky. After selecting a 3-, 5- or 7-man line it’s up to you to find your jumper. A dial will pop up that requires a timed button press. Time your button press wrong and you’ll lose the ball. Stealing a lineout ball is even tougher and, quite honestly, I’m yet to master that.
Should you win the ball and enter a maul it’s a good idea to bind players and press the square button to drive the opponents back as quick as you can. Again, like a real game of Rugby, we know that most matches are won and lost on the ground, and rucks play just as an important part. Once you tackle a player you can attempt to steal the ball, bind or form a heavy bind. Tip – A heavy bind more often than not gains you the advantage. So, get used to pressing that circle button once you’ve made a tackle, but, I won’t lie, snatching a ball from an isolated player is a great feeling. Especially when that player has a silver fern on his jersey. There is however more good news.
Strategies have finally made it into the game. It’s not quite as advanced as something as we saw in Rugby ’08, but it’s a start. On attack you can send a runner right or left by pressing the direction on the D-Pad or set the depth or width of your backline by pressing up or down on the D-Pad. If you’re attacking you’d want it to be a bit deeper, and on defense you want that line as flat as possible. Press a direction on the D-Pad combined with L2 and you can set your Fullback position, decide on the ruck commitment, get your kicker in place for a punt if you’re under pressure or cycle through pod options. Unfortunately there aren’t preset set moves, but this new addition is a promise of what’s to come in future Rugby Challenge games. It’s also not all butterflies and unicorns. There is a particular yellow card concern that needs attention.
TMO decision pending
[pullquote_right]The absence of a South African commentator, like Hugh Bladen, feels like a bit of an oversight[/pullquote_right]The offside rule is currently non-existent. Place your selected player next to who think might be the ball receiver on the opponents team and all is fine as “you’re within the rules”. There is an ‘on/off’ switch for the offside rule under the options, so it’ definitely something that should be working. Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge had no issues with this and I expect a patch will be able to resolve this rather important problem. There are other irks.
The commentary, provided by Grant Nisbett and Justin Marshall, is okay, but not great. There are instances when they get over excited for a simple tackle or they waffle on about something over and over again. It’s just not anywhere near as good as something you would have heard in one of the many EA Sport games – as that’s a standard we all expect. Also, the absence of a South African commentator, like Hugh Bladen, feels like a bit of an oversight. Instead you can listen to French commentary… because reasons, I suppose. There are also no South African referees. New Zealand, UK, French and, the really funny, French English referees make a showing. I highly recommend you try out the French English referees, though you should not blame me if the All Blacks win all the games under him. Lastly it should be mentioned that though the graphics look far superior to anything we’ve seen to date, for a Rugby game, there is quite a bit of room for improvement.
At the end you need to pinch and remind yourself that you’ve finally got a Rugby game worth being excited about. Rugby Challenge 3 has already taken such an impressive step in the right direction. There are so many small details that’s made it into the game. TMO’s will now also assist when you’re not sure if a try has been scored. The Currie Cup team of the Bulls or Sharks are different to that of the Super Rugby teams, as the Springbok players are missing during the Currie Cup. Whereby the Lions team is just about identical. You can sub injured players, who all come with their own unique stats. Players will be called out by their surnames and it includes all the big South African surnames. Not happy with the fact that this is based on the 2015 season? No problem. Customize or create your own character, team or competition or head to the Fanhub and download the team of your dreams.
At the time of writing the Lions, Bulls, Sharks and Stormers 2016 Super Rugby teams are all available for download. Want to relive the 1995 World Cup Final? Go download it. There is also a Career and Be a Pro mode where you can either become a Rugby manger or play as only one player in the team (you literally only control one player in the position you wish to play) and, in either mode, it’ll last for 13 seasons. Want to play an offline or online multiplayer game? Sure, go ahead. There is so, so much to enjoy. It’s what happens when you have a developer who puts their heart and soul into a sport that’s been forgotten by the industry.
Rugby Challenge 3 is by no means perfect, but right now it’s the best Rugby game money can buy. This is only the beginning and we might finally have a developer who can take the sport to new heights. It succeeds in not trying to be too fancy and doing the basics right, just like any coach will tell any great team.