Rugby is one of those sports that has a few too many rules and concepts to work perfectly as a video game. Whilst things like passing, kicking, and tackling are straight forward, scrums, lineouts, mauls, and simply controlling possession brings with it plenty of intricacies that don’t always make a successful virtual transition. Despite this, I’ve still loved so many releases that the sport has brought to the world of gaming, whether that’s with Jonah Lomu Rugby on the original PlayStation or the excellent Rugby 08 on the PlayStation 2.
There have been PLENTY of duds along the way too, with some of the modern releases proving to be some of the weakest. Where does Rugby 22, the first release on current-gen consoles, fit in then? It’s ok, though some complicated controls, awkward AI, and lack of licences do see it falling short when compared to other modern sporting releases.
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Anyone familiar with the sport of rugby should be able to get comfortable with the game quite quickly, with the in-game tutorial covering a lot of the basics required to get the ball, pass it between your team, and score a try, with set pieces also covered to ensure the player can control the ball and maintain possession. A lot of these mechanics are simple enough too, with quick button presses performing most actions.
However, learning when to press those buttons or how the controls change up based upon each situation can make things complex fast, especially for anyone who’s unfamiliar with the sport. Whilst passing, kicking, adding players to mauls, or throwing lineouts is simple to perform, switching between each task on a regular basis whilst the controls change each time can feel really complex. One of the biggest concepts of rugby involves knowing when to commit players and when to have them do certain actions in any given situation, but Rugby 22 doesn’t do a lot to teach the player about these things.
It’s more complex than other sports titles when it comes to switching players too, especially since there are fifteen players on a team and the pace of play can see the action move across the field so quickly. Now it’s not a problem to switch between players because that takes a quick button press, but knowing when to do it, responding quickly to the actions of your opponents, and then making sure not to accidentally stray offside with them when figuring out what you need to do can cause issues.
Admittedly, after playing plenty of other rugby games as well as the sport itself for years in real-life, I could get around a lot of these control issues after a few matches. For new players though or those completely unfamiliar with the sport, there’s little in place to teach them what to do. Yes, it does come with a tutorial, but it covers the basics and not the ins-and-outs of controlling play, the best defensive manoeuvres (in both attacking and defending play), or ensuring your team can pull off all the little tricks to maintain possession. A rugby game is never going to be as easy to learn as other sports games are, but Rugby 22 doesn’t always make it easy for the player either.
“Whilst passing, kicking, adding players to mauls, or throwing lineouts is simple to perform, switching between each task on a regular basis whilst the controls change each time can feel really complex.”
Those who do learn how to play properly and can grasp all of the controls will find that there’s a decent bit of rugby to be played in Rugby 22, with the satisfaction of finding those gaps when attacking, turning over the ball when defending on your 5m line, or hitting that perfect last-gasp penalty kick to win certainly capturing the competitive essence of the game. The place kicking was actually one of my favourite elements of the game, with its implementation offering a fair approach that requires skill to pull off without ever being unrealistically unfair. It’s fun to play, and whilst there’s a lot to learn, those intricacies lend themselves well to the strategic elements of the gameplay. There are plenty of tactical changes you can make to your team’s line-up too, which can be used to define both offensive and defensive shapes or how you approach set-pieces. It’s something that will tick a lot of boxes for rugby fanatics and ensures that players get full control over the strategic flow of the action.
There is something that lets it down, though: the player AI. Whilst I could fine-tune my team’s actions and how I wanted them to shape up, there were still plenty of occasions when my players were out of position for no apparent reason or seemingly non-responsive to an opponent’s attack. It isn’t something that occurs all of the time, but it was noticeable and at times very frustrating. At least the AI of your opponents could go a bit wayward at times too to balance things out, but it’s not ideal in a game where the competitive element of the sport is meant to be the stand-out feature.
When it comes to licensed teams and authenticity, Rugby 22 is a bit of a mixed bag. The licensed international teams include big hitters such as New Zealand, Australia, Wales, France, Ireland, and Scotland, but are missing the likes of England, South Africa, and Argentina. Whilst these teams are still present in the game, they won’t have authentic player names or kits to make it feel like you’re lining up against some of the biggest names in the sport. Admittedly, as a Welshman, I was quite happy with what I got (especially since five of the Six Nations teams are included), but I can imagine a lot of English folk are going to be a bit disappointed.
They might also be let down by the league offerings too, with only the United Rugby Championship, Top 14, and Pro D2 leagues represented with official licences. Again, teams from the Premiership are still available to play as, but they won’t bring with them authentic kits or player names. It’s one of those things really, with Rugby 22 not having as big a budget as other sports titles to be able to bring in EVERY relevant team in the sport. Not having two of the biggest teams in the world or even the authentic stadiums to play in was a bit disappointing, though.
“Those who do learn how to play properly and can grasp all of the controls will find that there’s a decent bit of rugby to be played in Rugby 22, with the satisfaction of finding those gaps when attacking, turning over the ball when defending on your 5m line, or hitting that perfect last-gasp penalty kick to win certainly capturing the competitive essence of the game.”
When it comes to game modes, you’ve got the likes of Quick Match, Multiplayer (both online and local), League where you can compete in a variety of club or international leagues, as well as the Career mode which sees you making your own club and then leading them to glory by purchasing players along the way using an in-game currency. The Career Mode was the highlight, especially since there were fun ways to earn cash to buy players, whilst managing your team to keep them in ship-shape is satisfying too. There’s certainly enough on offer to keep you playing for some time, so there’s nothing to complain about there.
Presentation-wise, everything is just ok. I was excited to see how it’d shape up on the PlayStation 5, but outside of a slick performance, there isn’t a whole lot to rave about… it just looks decent enough. The commentary is fine too, with Ben Kay and Nick Mullins doing a decent job of keeping up with the action and narrating each piece of play. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll hear some lines over and over again, but it doesn’t feel as grating as it has in previous rugby games.
Rugby 22 Review
Rugby 22 is a bit of a mixed bag, with the complex controls, iffy player AI, and lack of licences seeing it fall short when compared to other sports games. I didn’t have a bad time playing and it certainly became a lot more enjoyable after a few hours play when I learned the ins-and-outs of the controls, whilst the Career mode is addictive – I was happy to see the Welsh teams included too, which was a personal treat for me (especially since I finally got the national team to beat those All Blacks).
I just wouldn’t call it a particularly good game either, but rather one that’s serviceable and that will probably entertain fans of the sport exclusively. If you’re a newbie who isn’t familiar with the oval ball though, I’d recommend playing something else.
Developer: Eko Software
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC