Review – Rugby 20

It sucks being a gamer who’s also a massive rugby fan. Given how niche the sport is, it’s hard to find a rugby game with enough of a budget to afford both a sizeable amount of teams and an acceptable level of polish. Not long ago, I said that the rugby sevens mode in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was the closest to a good rugby simulator available in modern consoles. It was time for Bigben and Eko Software to come up with Rugby 20, a brand new rugby game to try to take the throne.

After the abysmal Rugby 18, the developers also responsible for 2019’s Warhammer Chaosbane took their time to fix issues, add new modes, increase the amount of licensed teams, and improve the overall quality of the gameplay. After all this they finally provided us with a rugby game worthy of our time and money. And yep, Rugby 20 is a massive improvement over its predecessors. That doesn’t mean it’s devoid of its fair share of issues, however…

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It’s not licensed, but you can clearly notice this is meant to be Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

It was easy to notice the improvements in the gameplay department the moment I jumped into the training mode in order to get acquainted with the controls. Tackling a foe is easy and responsive. Retaining and/or stealing the ball when in a ruck is very intuitive. The game allows for a series of different set pieces right after pick the ball, like passing it directly to someone next to you or kicking it away in order to gain more territory. Both scrums and line-outs are presented as “mini minigames” of their own, with fun button prompts that manage to spice things up a bit. The game’s AI presents you with lots of different set pieces and substitution suggestions on the fly, allowing for you to change the outcome of the game without ever needing to pause it. The only really underwhelming gameplay feature is how confusing and imprecise it is when you’re trying to take a conversion.

With the gameplay out of the way, I was ready to play a few quick matches in order to get used to the AI and the overall pacing of the game. I then noticed the amount of teams included in Rugby 20. The following leagues are available: the French first and second divisions, the English Premiership and the Pro14, comprised of teams from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, and two South African intruders. All of the national teams that took part on the 2019 Rugby World Cup are also present, although only half of them are licensed. The All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks, and the English national team aren’t licensed, for instance, featuring hideous fake uniforms.

All in all, there are around 100-ish teams to choose from. If you’re used to games like Madden or NBA 2K, that’s not exactly a bad thing, but the few absences in here are too noticeable and unforgivable for me to ignore. The game doesn’t feature the Super Rugby championship, arguably the best league in the world, with the best teams from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and Argentina. It clearly showed that Eko Software didn’t have a big enough budget to cover all the necessary licenses, instead focusing on European leagues. I appreciate what’s included in here, but I’d rather have the best league in world than the French second division.

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These running animations, they’re just plain bad.

Once I started playing a match, I was sadly shocked with how ugly Rugby 20 is. Granted, it looks much better than its visually egregious predecessors, but that’s not exactly something difficult to achieve. Rugby 20 is really hard on the eyes. All the players look way too similar to one another, with almost no facial expressions at all. They look like robots, express themselves like robots, and run around like robots. The running and celebration animations are so laughable clunky and dated that I can’t help but feel that games like International Superstar Soccer 98 for the Nintendo 64 manage to make their players feel more human in comparison. If there’s anything Eko Software needs to prioritize in their next rugby game, that should be making their players feel like believable human beings.

The game itself, thankfully enough, was fun enough to play. There were a handful of framerate issues here and there, but considering how rugby isn’t exactly a very fast-paced sport (despite how violent people think it is), I didn’t mind that much. I was actually impressed with the opponent’s AI, even on easier difficulties. They will mercilessly hunt your players down if you have the ball and will come up with their own set pieces on the fly. They would kick the ball away if I was getting too close to their in-goal area, they would do a long pass if I provided an opening, and would also perform a drop-kick if there was no other way for them to score a few points. It’s challenging, but never unfair. In fact, it’s pretty fun.

Playing quick matches was where I had the most fun with Rugby 20. The game features a handful of other modes, such as an undercooked career mode, a smaller but way more honest version of FIFA‘s Ultimate Team, as well as a robust and competent online multiplayer feature. But honestly, considering the small roster and overall simplicity of the finished product, a quick match against the CPU or a local friend ended up being Rugby 20‘s highlight.

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Coming up with new set pieces on the fly, thinking outside the box. That’s what rugby is all about.

The best thing that can be said about Rugby 20 is that it’s almost the rugby game we’ve been waiting for all these years. Yes, it’s ugly as sin and it suffers from a lack of licensed teams from the Southern Hemisphere, but it’s functional, relatively glitch-free (aside from the hideous animations), and above all, fun to play. It’s a step in the right direction, a solid foundation from which Eko Software can improve upon, just like Big Ant did with their AO Tennis series.

 

Graphics: 3.5

It looks a lot better than its predecessors, but it’s still a very ugly game with some of the most archaic animations from this generation.

Gameplay: 8.0

The vast majority of commands are simple to pull off and as responsive as they need to be. There are lots of set pieces to choose from as well. The only underwhelming feature is the confusing and imprecise conversion mechanic.

Sound: 6.5

The soundtrack isn’t fantastic, but it’s not terrible either. The music included in here does its job of being pleasant background noise. The commentators don’t do a bad job either. They’re functional enough.

Fun Factor: 7.5

It’s not a looker and it suffers from a noticeable lack of important licenses, but it’s still a very fun rugby game. Most importantly, a step in the right direction for the genre.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Rugby 20 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Reviewed on Xbox One.

A copy of Rugby 20 was provided by the publisher.