Joe Whitley puts the latest Rugby League video game through its paces…
All the intricacies that make Rugby League such a brilliant game to play and watch are unfortunately the reason why no-one has yet made a video game that does the sport justice.
Unlike in football, where EA Sports’ Fifa franchise has come a long way in replicating all there is to the sport (besides a few glaring issues such as players venturing offside at will), Rugby League games are very difficult to get right. Even more so when you take into account the smaller budgets the producers have compared the giants like EA Sports. As a result, most are stop-start and lack the flow you see in real life.
That being said, I am certain that the latest one to hit shelves – Rugby League Live 2 World Cup Edition – is the best ever made.
Created by Tru Blu in Australia, Rugby League Live 2 World Cup Edition is, in their words, the best way to ‘experience all the emotion and passion of the world’s fiercest national rivalries’.
It’s hard not to agree. An extension to Rugby League Live 2, which was released in early 2013, it features everything the old game had with added World Cup playability. You can compete in the tournament as any one of the 14 teams and play in all the 16 official stadiums.
I received the game shortly after its launch in late November but instead of writing my thoughts down immediately I have purposefully taken my time to get used to it. I know as well as anyone how Rugby League games take time to win you over and didn’t want to make snap judgments.
I have now completed seasons with Leeds Rhinos and South Sydney and exhausted every feature.
Visually, Rugby League Live 2 World Cup Edition represents a massive step-up on previous versions.
The graphics are a huge improvement on past games and I think they are more than fit for purpose. As you can see from the screenshots, there is much more detail than before and the stadiums in particular are a real success – Headingley, for example, is almost perfectly replicated.
In terms of player likenesses, there are some decent efforts, mainly Billy Slater and Greg Inglis, but some are quite poor, too, like George Burgess, who seems to have a brown perm for some reason.
Overall, it’s a cracking effort and I don’t think it will leave you disappointed.
The gameplay won’t, either – though at first it may frustrate you.
As I said earlier, Rugby League must be one of the hardest sports to replicate in a video game. It is therefore unfair to expect perfection. There are a few things worth pointing out about the Rugby League Live 2 World Cup Edition gameplay:
Differences in difficulties
The difficulty settings are a bit too far apart. The standard setting – rookie – was too much for me initially. Playing as my beloved Leeds Rhinos I was getting torn apart by Rochdale Hornets – my carries made no ground and my tackles couldn’t halt their progress. Indeed, I was regularly losing by 20 or more points to nil.
Using the amateur difficulty (the next one down), though, the tables turned dramatically. I broke almost every tackle and scored with every set. If you ask me, there needs to be less of a gap between these two. Amateur should be harder and Rookie easier.
Passing from dummy half is also an issue. You have two options: you can throw out a standard pass, which hits your man every time, or try a risky face pass. The former is solid but the receiver is almost always static so makes it hard to get any ground. The latter allows the receiver to generate some speed before catching and is very effective when it lands. Unfortunately, though, more often than not it is intercepted.
The same applies when trying to throw the ball around in open play. The computer can make you look inferior with clever inside passes and combinations, but trying to replicate them almost always results in an interception. Similarly when you make a break and someone supports you (which is quite rare – the computer-controlled members of your team are hardly ever in the positions you want them), opponents tend to lurk and sweep up the ball. Indeed, it always seems better to run the ball in, which can make matches quite repetitive.
You also have the option of offloading before your player is held in a tackle, but again this can very easily result in an interception.
Kicking lacks fine details
Kicking is hit and miss, too. Out of the hands you have two options: simply press a button and aim it by directing your player (tough with all but a couple of camera angles) or you can hold down a button (L2 on PS3, LB on XBOX) and place it precisely using an arrow that extends depending on the power applied.
The latter option is great idea and perfect for hitting 40/20s but the truth is you have absolutely no time at all to line yourself up – defenders are on you in the blink of an eye and you almost always get charged down. I believe time should slow down while you hold the button to allow you to set yourself. In a real match a player can feel and aim without thinking, on a game you need to be able to see everything and there is just not enough time.
Place kicking is also not without fault. You can choose to kick the ball on a higher and lower trajectory by holding the analog stick down or up – which is useful – but there is no arrow to indicate this, you must simply judge it yourself. There is no arrow at any point, in fact, so you have to line the ball up by the seam. There is a wind meter but it isn’t the easiest to judge initially.
Also, some players have a bit of natural shape to their kicks, like Johnathan Thurston does in real life with his sweeping hooks.
One of my first games was indoors (with no wind) and when I was kicking for the sticks I aimed bang in the centre. The player pulled the shot and it hit the left post.
This could all be solved by adding an arrow and allowing you to add shape at will. Don’t get me wrong, once you get used to it there is no issue, but it would be nice to have a touch more detail here.
Tackling is fairly straightforward and you have two options – you can go high and wrestle your opposition, or simply take out their legs. You can put some decent hits in and pressure your opponents but I must say the game would improve ten-fold if your defenders were quicker off the mark and there were more tackling options – such as lifting or being more aggressive and trying to drive your opponent back. The limited options can make it quite dull when you’re in defence.
Defending high kicks can be incredibly frustrating, too. You can press a button to jump and contest high balls, but for some reason it seems impossible to stop the opposition. I’d say one in every 10 kicks I defend I catch, and that is not a reflection on my skills as it seems to be a common problem with many of our forum members, too.
I alluded to this point earlier in the article and it is quite a big negative in my eyes. When your receiver catches the ball, most around him sprint off, leaving him isolated and with fewer passing options. The same applies when you make a break – it is very rare for anyone to run into a clever position, instead opting to get directly behind an opposition player. Clean breaks would be supported by any professional team but it isn’t the case on Rugby League Live 2 World Cup Edition. It must be said that giving every player a mind of their own is a big ask and would be a lot of effort for the producers. It just seems a bit of a shame.
The interceptions I’ve rattled on about so far are frustrating enough, but when it becomes impossible to catch the opposition who has just picked your pocket, it becomes even worse. If your full-back is not at home, in my experience it becomes a one-in-20 chance that you will tackle the opponent. It doesn’t matter how quick your defender is, either. I’ll give you an example – I was recently intercepted by Kylie Leuluai. I pursued the prop with Greg Inglis for over 60 yards and got nowhere near him.
There is a real wealth of modes and options at your disposal. The career mode, although a touch slow at the start, allows you to craft a team, set budgets, check stats and play in mid-season games including State of Origin, which is superb. You can play as any NRL or Super League side and there is also Championship and Championship One teams, though it is fair to say that the stats favour the Australian players, who are – unfairly in most cases – comfortably stronger in every department.
The World Cup mode is superb, too, and every team and stadium is available for selection. If you ever want to relive the magic of RLWC2013, this will certainly do the trick. It’s also superb for exacting revenge on the Kiwis for disgruntled English fans.
For those who like to pit their skills against strangers online, you can play multiplayer over your wi-fi network. However, there have been complaints as the developers have released it as a standalone title – not an add-on to the original Rugby League Live 2 game, which had just started to gain momentum in online circles. This is not a deal breaker for most but apparently it can be quite tough to get matched for a game.
Rugby League Live 2 World Cup Edition: Forum reaction
I opened the floor to members of our forum, here’s what they had to say (all comments unedited):
Gudgin: “I’m finding it pretty tricky to get past defences and am routinely getting spanked by even the lowest ranked teams.
A bit miffed that the Championship 1 teams aren’t updated too. The overall presentation is pretty good, even if the graphics are a bit basic for 2013. Need to learn how to play it properly now to fully enjoy it.”
BenGilesRL: “Have it on xbox. Am gradually getting better on rookie. Opposition always score with intercepts as stated but trying to work out how to minimse possibility. Place kicking is tough, as is getting used to controls – but getting there.
Getting the hang of it now as have gone from stuggling to make ground and conceding intercepts regularly on rookie – to beating Wigan 18 – 0 with London on professional. The main discoveries were that miss out passes are ok when throwing back but otherwise stick to quick passes when hitting the line. Also to fend effectively don’t tap the direction as it says, hold it – and it becomes a lot more effective. I find the shift of balance from previous games where it was one man solo efforts to the most effective way of scoring now being with committed tackler passing the biggest improvement.”
B Rad: “Have the original and recently got the RLWC edition. Play it on Legend. Takes a little getting use to but you can really defend the computer opponents out of it. The intercept is a major problem. Its the only way the computer can score, and is so annoying when your attacking really well only to have them grab it and run 100 m in the opposite direction and touch it down under the posts. If the computer opponent could actually play some decent attacking football instead of just intercepts or bombs when at your quarter of the field then Id be much more content losing a game. Horrible when you dominate everything and still lose because of 3 intercepts. You feel quite cheated. The mechanics of the game has improved in leaps and bounds since Rugby League live the original but of course its pretty much the same as number 2. Once you get over intercept try’s and uncontestable bombs its actually quite a lot of fun.”
RLDave: “The annoying thing about the game is the bias shown against SL players. Their stats are way down on NRL players, even the likes of Sam Tomkins aren’t rated very highly. The England National team apparently has the same defensive stats as France and PNG. But the game itself aside from that is great. The Stadia are very highly detailed (right down to the scoreboard at the Shay) and once you’ve mastered it it’s a lot of fun. I used to have passes intercepted all the time but once you cut out the impossible passes that wouldn’t really be on in reality it’s not that bad. I like how you can have a game plan of having your team grind away at defences and it pays off with them getting tired and dropping off tackles allowing you more breaks. Great game, they just need to research SL stats properly.”
Odsal outlaw: “Intercepts are frustrating, but it’s usually when you throw the flat passes (double tap rather than single tap on pass button) near the opponents line. If you do a normal pass which throws deeper then its not as bad. The bit I struggle with is defending bombs, seems impossible. I play on legend as well and manage to win most games. The online thing is a problem, for whatever reason defending I’d impossible. I don’t bother anymore but would usually have scores like 46-44!!
I’ve had all the games in this series since the first PS2 game, although dont have the WCE yet. But they get better each time and are good fun.”
Mass666: “The one main problem i have with the World Cup Edition is the fact that the online community has now been severed in half. The WCE is a stand alone title, and is not compatible with older versions of RLL2 or the game of the year editon.
Having run several online comps and leagues for RLL2 on Xbox 360 over the last year or 2, i can vouch for how many serious players there are/or was on Xbox in the UK.
It was hard enough to get a random game against anyone whom is not on your friends list anyway, but now the game has been split in two even more so..very bizzare choice from Tru Blu (Game Developer) to not include a compatible version across the different titles.
The game itself is real gem if you perservere with it and give it a good crack.”
I realise a lot of what I have written here could be seen as negative. However, I am simply trying to make all prospective buyers aware of what to expect. I am a huge fan of the game and writing this makes me want to drive home, turn on my PS3 and get stuck in.
The truth is a perfect Rugby League game is not really possible. This is certainly as close as it gets, though.
What you need to know
Rugby League Live 2 World Cup Edition
Release date: 21st November 2013
Where can I buy it? Most large retailers, including Amazon.