Sport simulation is somewhat of a touchy topic in gaming. Finding the balance between offering fun, engaging gameplay, and an authentic, realistic experience isn’t easy.
Fifa is a series that has often walked the line between arcadey exhilaration and purist satisfaction. But yearly releases demand such a quality. Rugby games, on the other hand, are a less consistent experience. An absence of a dedicated release schedule, and big developer backer, has unfortunately led to sparse releases of varying quality.
Rugby 20 released back in 2020 and showed some promise; a commitment to deep, tactical simulation of the sport was evident throughout the game. Now, 2 years on, developers Eko Software have the chance to build on the evident promise of the previous title with Rugby 22.
Striking a balance:
I mentioned Fifa earlier because football, much like Rugby, is a tricky sport to translate to video games. The complexity of the game – with deep tactical differences between teams – has presented a significant challenge over the years for developers. A series like Football Manager leans heavy into the tactical aspect; foregoing any arcade aspects for a much deeper experience. Whilst the classic Fifa Street leaned completely into the over-the-top and arcade style of gameplay.
Unfortunately, the demand hasn’t been quite the same for a top mainline Rugby title. Rugby 22 evidently builds on the promise of Rugby 20, with a clear appreciation for the many tactical nuances of the game, but in other areas, you can feel the absence of support.
Gameplay wise, Rugby 22 has a lot to offer. The initial tutorial impressed me with the layers of gameplay mechanics that it seeked to introduce, and I was hooked from my first match.
Tackles feel impactful and frenetic, movement feels responsive and this makes each moment of a match feel engaging and rewarding. That said, there is a deep learning curve here and for newbies (like me) even the easiest settings will feel like quite the challenge. This isn’t necessarily a negative, however, and I’m sure someone new to the game of football would feel similarly about Fifa. Positives aside, the game’s choice to frontload the tutorial with an abundance of mechanics – some, such as the jackal – that are poorly explained, made the learning curve a bit steeper than necessary.
The physicality and intensity of the sport has been remarkably well captured and scaling the difficulties provides hours and hours of entertainment. The developers have also succeeded AT striking a difficult balance between making the game fun and an authentic simulation.
Playing online against other players is a smooth and inherently engaging experience (and humbling in my case). At its core, Rugby 22 offers some very solid gameplay that accurately lives up to the real game.
Unfortunately, other areas of the game feel undercooked, and in some cases, short-sighted.
Rough around the edges:
“Career mode” fails to live up to any reasonable expectations. A better way of looking at Rugby 22’s “career mode” is more akin to Fifa ultimate team: there is no narrative or story to be found here – instead, you compete to work your way up various divisions whilst earning points to buy packs containing players. Whilst the loop has potential to be addictive, the lack of licensing for most players makes unlocking new players much less exciting when the vast majority are randomly generated.
Without an exciting incentive, career mode lives and dies on the core gameplay, and whilst this might be enough for some, for me it feels misguided.
League mode offers an even briefer alternative, with its one season structure feeling quite bizarre.
Sadly these issues speak to a game that is very rough around the edges that surround its core gameplay. Game modes are shallow and there is very little to keep you hooked beyond the core gameplay.
As a visual offering Rugby 22 is also subpar compared to other modern sports games. The scanned players look great, but players without scans look somewhere between creepy and downright frightening. Thankfully the players animations are very well done, even if the commentary that accompanies the action feels stilted.
A crunching blow:
Rugby 22’s solid gameplay struggles to carry an otherwise mediocre offering and the result is a game that feels like a missed opportunity. Whilst the initial engagement of the deep, well realised incarnation of the sport of Rugby had me excited, the game’s lack of polish in other areas severely hampers the overall experience.
Online may offer some longevity, but outside of that, I’m not sure there is enough here to satisfy anyone but absolute purists.