It says plenty about a game when you can celebrate the addition of a whistle. A whistle. Thanks to this catholic change, Big Ben Interactive has made this ruthlessly-timed World Cup tie-in 100% more like the game it’s based on, which is a bit like saying that putting high heels on an alpaca makes it 100% more like a glamour model.
That’s perhaps a little unfair, because Rugby World Cup 2015 is marginally better than last year’s limping wraith of chase-me-peewee catsick. The most important change is at the breakdown: rucking is still based on the same system - you retain or steal the ball by rotating analogue sticks to find the gently-rumbling sweet-spot - but this time it’s almost competitive. It’s still too easy to win opposition ball and, unlike in real rugby, being isolated doesn’t increase your chances of losing the pill, but the practical improvements to the rucking are a necessary improvement. Looking for contact is suddenly a tactical option, allowing for multiple phases and dynamic changes in attack. You can stretch defences right to the touchline, or attempt to smash your way through the heavy traffic in the middle. It’s sadly undermined by the niggling feeling successful attacks are more to do with wobbly AI than your own flair or invention, but squint hard and you could be watching a tolerable rugby video game, if not the actual sport itself.
RWC 2015 at least deserves an encouraging slap on the back for for being the first rugby title in years which rewards running hard and straight, rather prancing sideways in an attempt to glitch past defences. There’s something meaty and attritional about popping a short ball to a forward, then watching them carreen into the nearest defender like a drunk ice cream truck.
Unlike Rugby 15, there are moments here which actually feel like rugby union. Minor victories can feel exhilarating, such as gaining precious ground through multiple phases of play, or battering back an attacking player. The passing, however, is less realistic. You’re presented with a broad list of options, including pop-up and missed passes, but they all go to hand too easily. Offloading the ball in contact is a skill many professional players get wrong, but in RWC 2015 even the most anvil-handed prop can deftly float passes to his teammates. The result is a ball that looks like it’s attached to your players with elastic, like mittens on a toddler’s anorak.
The replays, missing in Rugby 15, are a great example of how the game strives to improve while still falling short of the line. Instead of encapsulating the entirety of a dashing team try, all you get is a hasty re-run of the final few seconds: it’s like watching that legendary Barbarians try against the All Blacks but only seeing Gareth Edwards’ celebration. Another theoretically smart addition is the option to switch to off-the-ball players, allowing you to test opposition defences with snaking runs and crisply-timed passes; on paper, it’s a sensible option, offering the same kind of thoughtful offence you’d get with a human teammate. In practice, it’s too fiddly, too fast and often ineffective. There’s no reason to keep using it unless you’re dedicated to recreating rugby within the shaky systems the game provides.
The only area that stands out is the commentary. It’s the best in-game performance since Bill McLaren lent his mellifluous tones to Jonah Lomu Rugby (“Mercy me, that could have put him in ward four!”). Despite some recycled lines, Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes feel invested in every game, and their commentary is enthusiastic, reactive and, for the most part, relevant. Take this away, though, and the sound design is heartbreakingly frail; instead of the brawny slap of real rugby, you get soggy impact noises and mumbled team talk.
Unfortunately, just as these minor improvements handsomely frame what insufferable bollocks the previous game was, they also reveal how basic RWC 2015 is. There’s nothing here that suggests an understanding of scrums - which is forgivable, since most international referees don’t either - but there’s certainly no attempt to twist the complex battle of binding, shoving and probably-biting into something that belongs in a game. Instead, it’s reduced to ‘hook’ and ‘push’. Lineouts are more tactical, but they still feel like they operate separately from the flow of normal play - entire teams are trapped in stasis while the set play is completed.
Other, less complicated disappointments are everywhere. It’s still difficult to kick tactically, since you can’t see where the ball is going. There are only two weather options - clear and overcast - which, I suppose, is still one more than you get in Wales. There are only three stadiums, and the only one with any character is a sparse club ground which looks like Bolingbroke Old Boys ARFC should play there. There are no online options //whatsoever//. Also, the game isn’t fully licensed, so not all teams are accurately represented. This means the host nation of a Rugby World Cup has to compete using preposterous made-up players. I thought James Slipper had the most amusing name in world rugby, until I discovered England’s Gabriel Font, who sounds like typeface designed by a fundamentalist Christian.
The lack of licensed players might be forgivable if the customisation options were muscular enough to overcome them. They aren’t. You can change names, skills, but not appearances. Not that it matters, of course: you never get to see the players up close. No, not even during the national anthems (there aren’t any) or the World Cup winning presentation (there isn’t one). The drab, distant presentation, combined with the other numbing inadequacies, make RWC 2015 feel more like a feeble mobile game than a bombastic sporting tie-in.
The scope and spectacle of the looming World Cup only underscores the game’s crippling deficiencies, to the point that it absolutely feels exploitative. Truthfully, the mistakes fixed here should never have been made to begin with; the improvements made in Rugby World Cup 2015 are nothing more than a fig leaf which barely covers the game’s otherwise gruesome nudity.
This game was reviewed on PS4.