The Average Gamer

Rugby World Cup 2011 – Hands-on Preview (360)

RugbyWorldCup2011_LogoThe Rugby World Cup 2011 starts on the 9th Sep 2011, which means six glorious weeks of some of the finest athletes in the world bashing the crap out of each other. Shortly before the tournament kicks-off you’ll be able get your hands on the Official Rugby World Cup game from the studio responsible for the FIFA games. This is not an EA game though, as HB studios has been developing the game independently of the incredibly popular football franchise for 505 Games.

I played the game with the help of Alistair Jarvis, studio head of HB Studios. For a global sport, rugby has historically been very poorly represented in the videogame world. Shockingly enough, its been 4 years since the last rugby game was released, which was Rugby ’08 from EA. One of the reasons from the lack of titles is that the complexity of the sport does not immediately lend itself to being played as a videogame. One example where even seasoned rugby players regularly fall foul of the sports innumerable laws is the breakdown.

For those who don’t know, the breakdown is the term used for the period between a player being tackled and the ensuing ruck (i.e. the bit where all the players pile on top of each other). Players compete for possession of the ball using their feet or hands but as soon as the ruck is formed, using their hands becomes a penalty offence. Many penalties arise from the ruck for offences such as handling in the ruck, not rolling away, killing the ball (players deliberately lying on top of it) and entering the ruck from an offside position. It’s a complicated area of the game and not all these rules are consistently enforced. Some rugby fans and players would argue that even the referees don’t fully understand all the rules so simulating areas like this are fraught with difficulties.

Keep it simple, stupid

For Rugby World Cup 2011 HB studios have taken the approach of simplifying various aspects of the sport to make it a more free-flowing experience. For instance, you don’t have to worry about throwing into the line out as the AI will sort that out for you. Just pick which part of the line you want to throw to – back, middle or the front and you’re away. That’s not to say you won’t see the odd crooked or mis-throw, you will. Human fallibility has been programmed into the AI. You can also get your forwards to pick up and drive the ball just by tapping the B button, or try a darting run with the scrum-half by pressing X.

RWC2011 - Attacking the NZ Try Line

South Africa attacking the New Zealand try line

Once Alistair had explained all the controls it was time for me to play. They are fairly intuitive and straightforward, very much in keeping with the rest of the game. My first match, England vs Argentina. Right from the kick-off I was making beautiful line breaks, with Mike Tindall (England Centre) of all people, a real tank of a man. A simple tap of the RB button resulted in a Mike passing the ball to his closest teammate, in this case the master of the swan dive, Chris Ashton (England Winger). Once Ashton got tackled I had a couple of choices. Go for the quick offload, which is available if there is a team mate close by, or wait for support to arrive and risk a turnover. In this instance I waited for the support to arrive and took my chances in the breakdown to secure the ball for another attack.

Breakdown situations in the game are much less complicated than in real life. You decide how aggressive you want your players to be in the rucks and mauls by pressing the A button. The more aggressive they are, the more likely the ref will penalise them for some sort of indiscretion. On the other hand, if your players aren’t aggressive enough the opposition will win the ball. Giving away penalties is generally not a good idea, especially in your own half, so it’s a delicate balancing act picking the right amount of player aggression.

RWC2011 - Twickenham in all its glory

Twickenham in all its glory

Just like in real-life, producing quick ball is vitally important to creating overlaps and scoring opportunities but I kept giving away penalties as my players were far too aggressive in the rucks. Oops, my bad. This put my team on the back foot very early on in the match. Watching helplessly as the Argentinian kicker repeatedly slotted over the penalties was very frustrating.

Worse was to come as I recklessly tried to run a ball from inside my own 22. Whilst my players passed the ball down the line well, Shontayne Hape (England Centre) got himself completely isolated following an ambitious line break and the ball was quickly turned over. Chaos then reigned in defence as I tried to get my players to track the opposition, but that only led to a try for Argentina and a total of 7 more points with the successful conversion attempt. This was game over for my England team. The only positive outcome of the match was the lack of injuries to my players. Injury management is a crucial part of winning the World Cup. You simply won’t win it if all your best players are unavailable for the knock-out matches. I can only hope that the trouncing that Argentina gave England doesn’t happen during the World Cup. My fingers will be well and truly crossed.

Doppelgängers everywhere

As this an officially licensed game many of the famous rugby stadiums have been faithfully recreated making you feel like that you’re actually there. So far a host of football unions (English, Welsh, Scottish, South African and the French to date) have agreed to their team strips, emblem, player appearances and home stadiums to be included in the game.

Having been to Twickenham over 30 times in the past 15 years to watch everything from 6 Nations, Rugby League and Union World Cups to Premiership final matches, I can say the stadium looks absolutely fantastic in the game. It’s the closest I’m ever going to get to playing on the hallowed turf.

When it comes to the player’s likenesses, it’s quite funny recognising them during a match. What’s even stranger is the control you finally have over them. No longer do you have to sit idly by, screaming at the TV or from the stands as they screw up a perfectly good overlap. Now you can go for that overlap, make that pass and score the winning try. Or screw it up, just like the real players do.

Unfortunately, the Australia and New Zealand rugby teams aren’t officially represented as they have their own game coming out; Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge. Whilst this means that the players won’t be instantly recognisable from their in-game faces, they will still play like Wallabies and All Blacks, i.e. the Kiwi’s will choke and lose at some point during the tournament and the Aussies will luck their way to the final ;-)

Playing away

If you don’t fancy just playing World Cup matches, or even a randomised draw to spice things up, you can take part in one-off international test matches or even play some warm-up tours where Southern hemisphere teams travel to the Northern hemisphere and vice versa.

RWC2011 - The Scots probably losing to the South Africans

The Scots probably losing to the South Africans, they usually do

You will also be able to edit player’s names and skill stats if you disagree with the blatant config favouritism from the Australians in the dev team ;-).

Another big feature of the game is the addition of 1-on-1 online multiplayer matches. For the first time rugby fans will be able to battle it out online. This is the first step in adding the kind of online features that are part and parcel of other sports games like football. Off-line multiplayer is also available with up to 4 players per match which is perfect for getting your mates round and playing the game together.

As this was a preview event I didn’t get to see the online multiplayer in action, but I’m told it will be ready for the release of the game next month. We will be trying out the offline multiplayer next Tuesday in an RWC 2011 event and talking to the game developers.


HB Studios clearly has a passion for rugby which is apparent from the care and attention that they have lavished on this game. It does present the game of rugby more from a Southern hemisphere viewpoint, with the focus on free flowing play rather than fully simulating the breakdown area, which is more prevalent in the Northern hemisphere game. HB Studios have, I think, made a complex sport far more attractive to a wider audience. In the long term, more fans can only be a good thing for rugby in general. This is definitely a game you should look at when it’s released.

Rugby World Cup 2011 is due for release on the 26th Aug 2011 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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