Developer: Eko Software
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
There hasn’t been a particularly good rugby game for quite some time now. The sport is an intricate one and a bit difficult to re-create in a video game form, leaving most attempts feeling overly complicated and a little clumsy. The most beloved rugby games like Jonah Lomu Rugby and EA Sports’ original Rugby release kept it simple, offering fun gameplay at the expense of realism. That isn’t an approach that is as widely accepted these days though, with gamers opting for realism from their sports experiences rather than good old fashioned arcadey fun.
Unfortunately, Rugby 18’s attempt at realism has resulted in a clumsy experience that just isn’t much fun to play. There are a few neat ideas in place as well as a decent selection of club rugby licences, but as a whole it’s a pretty poor experience.
The controls of Rugby 18 are generally pretty easy to figure out, with the likes of passing assigned to the shoulder buttons and kicking the face buttons. You can send a pass out in either direction, whilst holding down the relevant shoulder button for longer will determine the power of your passes too. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a pass will be accurate though and the game doesn’t hold your hand or offer much leeway as far as your players catching each pass is concerned either; you’ll see plenty of wayward passes if you aren’t careful.
Defending is the same, with simple button functions in place for each tackle you make. In honesty, these weren’t too bad; I always found them effective and simple in design when taking out opponents. If you miss a tackle it’s your own fault, whilst your players are quick to help you out when trying to overwhelm an opponent’s attack. That being said, it could be a little too easy to take down your opponents at times; there were quite a few occasions where I’d be constantly pushing back an opponent’s attacking phases just because it was easy to run and quickly dive into their passing player, forcing them to go closer back to their try line each time.
That being said, your opponents will defend well too and are quick to break down most attacking plays. Even your backs don’t have the speed and power you’d expect from them; I got the ball to George North on the wing at one point, but after sprinting for about five seconds he completely slowed down and got caught by a forward. It didn’t feel realistic and broke up the flow of play, leaving the spectacular individual tries that are typically present in the real-life game of rugby a rarity in-game.
Whilst the game is easy enough to control in general, the set pieces are just poor – they’re just overly-convoluted and unrealistic. To the games credit, the instructions on how to perform them is always clearly indicated in-game, but unfortunately it’s the execution itself that is poor. They typically boil down to simply flicking the analogue sticks around and sending players into the action, though it all felt clumsy in-game. Then there’d be glitches where my players wouldn’t jump into rucks and mauls even when I’d tell them to, which would often result in the ball being turned over despite being in a strong attacking position. It was certainly frustrating.
On the flipside, I often found that the AI would be terrible during set pieces too. The amount of rucks, scrums, and line outs I won just because of how easy it was to exploit their mechanics was ridiculous, whilst sometimes the AI just wouldn’t send players into their own rucks to maintain possession. Whilst I appreciate that turnovers are naturally a part of the sport, the sheer volume of them per game in Rugby 18 bordered on ridiculous levels at times.
Even outside of set pieces your opponent’s AI is pretty poor, with them often missing passes or just making silly mistakes for seemingly no reason. There were a few occasions where they’d have a clear opportunity to attack, but for some reason would punt the ball away instead – don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that some fly-halves are guilty of doing this, but it was something I saw a lot of in the game where it’d be purely to hand possessions back to me rather than for my opponent to compete for the ball. Add to that the fact that a lot of the time your opponents would fail to even pick up the ball, and you’ll quickly realise that Rugby 18 isn’t quite switched on when it comes to providing a decent challenge.
One thing that Rugby 18 really managed to nail was the goal kicking mechanics, which don’t rely upon a mixture of power meters but rather on flicking the analogue sticks to send out a kick and applying any curve. It didn’t just feel satisfying to use but worked really well in-game, with the player able to fine-tune each of their attempts at goal precisely to hit them right in the sweet spot. It shows that sometimes the simple approach is the best approach to take.
Rugby 18 has a few league licences which allow you to play through full seasons of the Premiership, Top 14, Pro14 or Pro D2 as one of the authentically re-created teams. However, the most interesting mode to play is the Career mode where you build up a team yourself that you’re able to expand upon as you move up through the divisions. It’s an interesting twist on the game that feels similar to the manager mode found in the FIFA series and allows you to actually decide which players you sign for your team. It’s a neat mode to play through that offers something a little different to what I’ve been used to in previous rugby games, though in honesty it didn’t offer enough depth to keep me invested for too long.
Whilst it’s been a common trope that I’ve experienced in lower-budget sports games in the past, even I was shocked at how bad the commentary featured in Rugby 18 is. It’s not that the duo of Ben Kay and Nick Mullins necessarily do a bad job, but rather that it’s strung together in an awful way. The commentators could barely keep up with the action during a game, whilst other times they’d seemingly start a sentence about a piece of play but go completely silent when they were supposed to say the player’s name. When the commentators did say a player’s name properly though, it’d sound like it was recorded separately from the sentence it was a part of anyway, with each delivery sounding almost robotic at times. It’s just poor and I actually got to a point where I just turned it off and decided to listen to music whilst playing instead.
Visually, Rugby 18 doesn’t look all that bad with some great licenced kits on show as well as some decent character models, but don’t go expecting any realistic interpretations of players. For the most part they’re just your generic bunch where you won’t really be able to differentiate one player from another.
The same goes for the stadiums, which aren’t actually licenced; don’t go expecting to play in the likes of the Principality Stadium, Twickenham, Murrayfield, or the Aviva Stadium, but rather the likes of ‘Stadium 2’ or ‘Stadium 6’. At least the stadiums do have some atmosphere, with a real crowd presence in place, but those hoping for an accurate representation of some real-life international stadiums will be disappointed.
That being said, it’s difficult to go expecting the likes of the Aviva Stadium anyway since Ireland aren’t even in the game. Neither are the likes of Argentina or Japan either, which is disappointing given their IRB rankings and the fact that Japan are due to host the next World Cup. Whilst I can appreciate that those into Club Rugby will be pleased with the team selection (on the Northern Hemisphere side, anyway), those who prefer playing with international teams will be left a bit disappointed by what are some very notable omissions. There’ll definitely be no attempting to re-create the Six Nations or the Rugby Championship…
I really, really wanted Rugby 18 to be good, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a mess. It manages to get some aspects of the sport spot on, but for the most part it’s a clunky experience that just isn’t that much fun to play.
There are some good ideas in place here, but those hoping for the definitive rugby experience are going to be very disappointed. Whilst the most die-hard of rugby fans MIGHT find something to enjoy about Rugby 18, everyone else might want to leave it well alone.