When choosing a game mode, players are able to select from any number of matches or tournaments such as a one-off Test Match, the Tri-Nations or the Rugby World Championship. Matches can be played for 5, 10, 15, 20, 40 or 80 minutes. Matches of 15 minutes have been implemented at the express request of fans, says Percy.
A career mode is also available. Here, players will be able to play through 13 seasons at both the club and international level. Injuries sustained when playing as the Reds, the Sharks or the Crusaders will carry over to the international season, for example.
The game features five difficulty settings, four of which, running from Very Easy to Hard, are self-explanatory. The final, Pro, is another nod to community feedback, says Percy. This vastly more ruthless setting sees the computer targeting the gamer’s own stylistic weaknesses and the best players on his or her chosen team, leading to heightened injury risk.
In addition to the “glory cam” outlined above, players will be able to choose from a variety of perspectives. The side camera shows a broadcast-like presentation, while “behind” and “close behind” allow for a biased, team-based perspective, and a more experiential perspective, respectively.
Controls are fluid, and appear to adhere to gaming’s oldest mantra: easy to learn, hard to master. Both triggers are bound to sprinting, while the bumpers are used to pass left and right. The left analogue stick controls direction and the right analogue stick is used for “finesse” moves such as side-steps, fends and dummy passes.
When attacking, the face buttons are bound to a variety of chips and kicks. When defending, they denote player selection and the forcefulness of tackling. A hard tackle will impact on the opposition’s stamina, but may place the tackler at greater risk of conceding a penalty.
Choosing to kick in play actions a slow-motion mode, allowing the player to place their punt with precision, the time and degree to which the game is slowed is based on the statistics of the kicker in question. Dan Carter or (the likeness of) Morne Steyn will have much more time to place their kicks than the likes of Tony Woodcock or Flip van der Merwe.
A sleek user interface also means mechanics don’t intrude on the experience. A radial dial under rucks and mauls visualises which team has dominance and more players can be added to any breakdown with either a light or heavy bind. Again, heavy binding means players are more likely to win a turnover, but they’ll take longer to disengage and their stamina will deplete faster.
When it comes to refereeing games, the New Zealand Rugby Union rightly insisted on promoting “good rugby”. Referees may not catch the occasional forward pass, but by and large, they’re eagle-eyed in their policing of any encounter. The only law not policed, somewhat curiously, is late tackling.
Full credit to Player 2
But if the prospect of conceited tackling worries those who might want to take their experience online, they need not. In addition to the now-standard leaderboards and four versus four-per console, Sidhe has implemented an anti rage-quitting mechanic.
Online, players will earn points for every win, loss and draw, which in turn will affect their overall online ranking. How many points they earn for each win, loss or draw will also be determined by a reliability rating. Players who frequently play out their losses will earn more points per loss than someone who only plays out a game if they believe they’re about to win.
Each player’s reliability rating will also be viewable to other players, meaning match-ups against unreliable players will be undertaken with full knowledge of the potential for the opposition quitting. Should the player’s opposition quit out of a game before its conclusion, the remaining player will be awarded points based on the current state of the match.
With the implosion of the Australian industry and with New Zealand developers already seeing greater success in the mobile and casual space, Rugby Challenge represents more than another boxed product, it may prove to be either a quiet bookend or a bright new dawn for retail game development in New Zealand.
But more importantly, Rugby Challenge represents the first promising entry for long-suffering rugby gaming fans in more than a decade.
The version of Rugby Challenge we played in Wellington last week was achingly close to finalised. Some minor audio infelicities aside, the code appeared eminently ready for store shelves. Sidhe won’t be drawn into disclosing a release date under any circumstances but have never withdrawn statements suggesting the game would be released in time for the Rugby World Cup, to be played in New Zealand in four weeks.