Parisian development studio NACON and Eko Software are aiming to score some much-needed points in the rugby game market with the release of Rugby 22. However, does it convert those points into a winning formula? Let’s jump in and find out in this review.
Does Rugby 22 Try Too Hard Or Does It Convert Perfectly?
As a player and rugby fan myself, I was eager to get my teeth into this title. I’ve long bemoaned the fact that rugby hasn’t been as well represented on console and PC as perhaps its footballing and NFL counterparts. As a follow up to the somewhat averagely-received Rugby 20, Rugby 22 should come as a real treat for those eagerly awaiting an updated rugby gaming experience.
So, I was keen to see how far things have developed in this particular area of sports games in the last decade. The results are interesting, to say the least. Will you be picking up a copy of Rugby 22? Let us know in the comments if you’re giving it a try (sorry).
There are lots of things that Rugby 22 does well, and there are others that definitely hold it back from being great rather than good. In terms of game modes, it offers single-player, online multiplayer and local multiplayer to enjoy. Players can also expect to see a more realistic AI and an improved difficulty setting that adapts to their current playing skill level.
Jumping in at the deep end with Rugby 22 involves basic training, which to be honest, isn’t that basic. You’re given a few practices at each set-piece and gameplay tactic before moving on, whether you’ve managed to crack it or not.
Being thrown into your first game without much preparation is a bit overwhelming, and the on-screen tutorial messages aren’t as clear as they could be. It doesn’t matter too much though, as your first game is a whole load of chaotic fun. You can go back and work through the training at any time, which is a good thing because you’ll need to!
There is a lot you can customise, team-wise, right down to choosing what shape you want your pods to run in. It’s admirable that NACON has put such a strong focus on the technicalities of gameplay with a range of backs moves to practice as well as the forwards-based set-pieces. However, these will definitely take a lot of time to master! Set piece mechanics are much more technical than expected and definitely require a bit of practice. The lineout system in particular took me a lot of work to get used to.
Kicking And Rucking
One area that I feel does need work is the kicking mechanics. In a real game you only get one shot at conversion, but to replicate that so specifically in Rugby 22 can make it feel like a particularly tricky hill to climb. It’s another skill that will definitely take a lot of work and may feel frustrating to a lot of fly-halves who are giving this game a go for the first time.
A new control system for rucking mid-game gives an enjoyable and realistic feel for the stop-start nature of a real rugby game. However, the default camera view can make this a bit difficult when you’re playing in opposition. Thankfully you can adjust these to a more top-down and side-on viewpoint so you can actually see where your try line is.
Local mode is really fun, although games can become a bit chaotic in the ruck as it’s often difficult to identify where the ball is. However, competing for the ball during rucking is quite an intense button-bashing session. Pretty much like actual rugby, then.
It’ll be interesting to see the reaction to the multiplayer mode of Rugby 22. It’s one part of the game I’ve not been able to explore given that I was playing it pre-release.
Something I was a little taken aback by is the distinct lack of English teams in-game. One of the main draws of playing sports sim titles like these is being able to call on recognised faces from the sport you love. Consequently, mixing placeholder AI players with the few famous faces that evidently have been licensed just feels a bit odd. This may be something that some gamers become frustrated by.
Rugby 22 does however have a range of international teams, with a couple of notable exceptions (England and South Africa). At club level, you can play as teams from the United Rugby Championship, the French Top 14 and the Pro D2 leagues.
Creating your own team in career mode gives you a challenging starting point. You’re mixing and matching from a small handful of licensed players and game-generated players from ‘England’ or other international teams. Obviously, you’re starting your way up from the bottom with an imaginary team but it feels weird to have certain real-world names in your squad alongside the likes of ‘Owen James’ and ‘Phil Barnes’ as your 9 and 10.
Another interesting addition in career mode is the option to invest in-game currency in your team’s games in order to make a profit. Basically, you’re betting on the result of the game to see if you can make a bit more career cash to invest in your team. With this, you’ll be able to upgrade your squad by purchasing new players as you progress through the leagues on offer.
The basic team management is good, however, you’re only given an initial budget of 800 in-game currency to buy and sell your players with. After that, you need to play your way through each match in order to earn further cash. The stronger your opposition, the more currency you earn. From here you can then go on to upgrade your squad.
In League Mode, you’re able to progress a team through a season in one of the available leagues; United Rugby Championship, Top 14, Pro D2 and the ‘English Premier League’. The ‘English Premier League’ replicates the Gallagher Premiership, although the lack of licensing for English teams is really apparent in this mode. Langhorn Drive being named as ‘one of the most prestigious clubs in England’, for example, is bound to confuse a few gamers.
Incidentally, Langhorn Drive is the address for Twickenham Stoop, home of Harlequins. Likewise, Newcastle (Falcons) are known purely as ‘Newcastle’, and their home ground of Kingston Park is referred to as the Eagle Stadium. It’s clear how NACON have tried to provide likenesses for the English squads in-game, but it does feel rather a shame to have such a big roster of clubs and players missing from your playing options.
Graphics & Audio
Rugby 22 ran smoothly on my Xbox One. The UI and stadium graphics were colourful but perhaps not as immersive as I’d hoped. The movements of the player models have clearly been well-researched and look great when throwing themselves into tackles.
In general, player models are decent enough but they don’t look like they’ve had too much of a graphical overhaul. The generic AI players aren’t as well-detailed as the ones Rugby 22 has acquired licenses for. Graphically, while this is definitely an improvement from past rugby games, it’s not by a huge stretch. There are a fair few glitchy running and celebration animations, although the general player movement does look and feel realistic. Most of the player models do tend to look very similar to one another but are much improved from previous iterations of rugby sims. In general, Rugby 22 looks like a step up, but it’s just not as atmospheric as it could be.
There are two main camera modes to choose from, ‘TV/Side’, which gives a more top-down and whole pitch overview and ‘Action’, which gives a kind of third-person view which works well when you’re playing in attack, but less so if you’re on the opposition.
In terms of audio, the match commentary provided is fairly generic and often as repetitive as you can expect with sports games. That said, it’s not annoying or in any way detrimental to the experience. Crowd noises are engaging and in keeping with the atmosphere of a rugby match, and the referee’s commentary is perhaps one of the better aspects of the audio. He likes to tell me when I’m offside. Which I usually am, a lot. Art imitating real life, or something like that.
Rugby 22 is an enjoyable outing and a lot of thought has gone into the technical elements of gameplay. It’s definitely a title that players will upskill in the more time they put into it. However, whether it has enough star power to retain a strong player base for multiplayer remains to be seen.
There’s plenty of content to keep fans engaged in the short term. Also, the campaigns in league and career mode will certainly have players putting the hours in once they’ve mastered the core gameplay mechanics. It’s a fun game but one that definitely requires commitment. Fans of couch co-op will also have a great time trying to beat each other in quick match mode and trying out their boots as some of the different club and international teams on offer.
Rugby 22 is a big step in the right direction for the rugby sim genre. I can’t help but wonder though how much more enjoyable and engaging the game would be if it had managed to secure licenses for the English league and international teams and the South African international team. There’s still plenty for fans of the All Blacks, Wallabies, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and many other nations though!
I definitely enjoyed Rugby 22, the passing play and rucking, in particular, felt swift and dynamic. It’s just a shame that the generic nature of the player models and the ‘nearly but not quite’ feel of some of the teams lets the overall experience down. It’s a good game, but it definitely left me feeling that with some tweaks and a bit of polish, it could be so much more.
For this reason, I’m awarding Rugby 22 a Thumb Culture Silver Award.
Rugby 22 is available on all current and previous-generation consoles and PC via Steam from January 27th 2022.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.