Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360
Rugby Union is a sport that has always felt under-represented on consoles and home computers. It says something that even now, some 14 years after its release, Codemasters’ Jonah Lomu Rugby is still considered by many to be the best rugby game available.
With this year’s Rugby World Cup that all seemed certain to change with not one, but two new rugby games hitting the market. You’ve probably already read our thoughts on Rugby World Cup 2011, but if not check out the review here.
Jonah Lomu Rugby Challenge (note the added “Challenge”) comes not from Codemasters but Sidhe, who have previously developed several Rugby League titles. I was hoping that with two rival rugby titles available it would spark a PES/FIFA style rivalry that would lead to constantly improving yearly updates. It remains to be seen if that is the case, but on this evidence both titles have a long way to go to reach the standards of PES and FIFA.
Booting up the game (and the obligatory START button press) takes you to the main menu. You get a nice rolling animation in the background of some rugby action whilst you dither over the choices presented. Single Match, Training, Competitions, Career Mode, Play Online, Customise, Help & Options and Rugby Store are all available for your selection.
Selecting Single Match lets you get into a quick match picking from any of the teams available. These are neatly divided into 7 categories and include custom teams, international sides and club teams from five countries. There’s no limit to which sides you can pick to face off against each other, so if you would like to see how Wasps would fare against Australia then go for it!
Jumping into the action, unfortunately some of the shine comes off. Passing feels lose, with far too many passes just being wildly inaccurate. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been on the attack with a man over out wide and the try line begging only to see what should have been a simple pass go behind the player and into touch. It can also take too long for a player to make a pass, so long in fact that you think your button press hasn’t registered so you press again, which then sees the original pass being made with the receiver then making a second, unwanted pass which often sees the ball bouncing into touch. Frustrating.
Turnovers at rucks seem far too frequent, with stronger teams getting a ridiculous advantage in this area. Line-outs and scrums introduce teeth-grindingly annoying mini-games to determine their outcome. All in all it’s a far from enjoyable experience. I know these are an integral part of the sport and have to be represented in the game in some form, but there must be a better way? You don’t have to complete a mini-game to take a throw-in or free kick or corner in FIFA...
Graphics are decent without being great. Player models are fairly good, although the likeness of some players leaves a lot to be desired! Kits, for the licensed teams at least, look good and so do the stadiums. Animation is mostly good although there are some niggles. For instance it is unbelievably difficult to score a try if you are being tackled, all too often this results in players being forced into touch. How hard is it to throw yourself on the floor and touch the ball down?
Commentary is very much by the numbers. It’s certainly not offensive, but you’re not going to learn an awful much from listening to it. Replays and cut-scenes are fine, although replays following knock-ons where an advantage has been played often end up replaying the wrong piece of action and not actually showing you the offending knock-on.
The Training section of the menu offers a series of tutorials that will run you through every aspect of both the sport and the game, with a handy video explaining the game and its rules to complete newcomers. The gameplay tutorials are comprehensive, covering everything you are likely to do in the game. For instance, it illustrates the different in-play kicks available to players well, which may help newcomers to the sport understand why there are several kick buttons rather than just the one!
Competitions offers you the chance to start (or continue) any of the pre-set tournaments within the game. These include several international tournaments and multi-league tournaments as well as each of the domestic leagues included in the game. Apart from the domestic leagues, all the other tournaments are unlicensed so have new names and logos. For instance Six Nations is presented here as Euro Nations.
Career mode allows you to play through 13 seasons of matches. Interestingly you have the choice of playing just for your club, just for your international team or for both. It should be noted that the career on offer is that of the team manager, so unfortunately you won’t be creating a player and improving him over time like the career mode in FIFA. Disappointing.
Play Online offers the usual selection of Quick Match, Leaderboards, Private Match and accepting an invite from another player. It does offer online co-op, but sadly no online competitions or leagues.
Conspicuous by their absence from the teams available are both the British & Irish Lions and the Barbarians. You could probably create them using the Customise option, but when it comes to kits you are sadly limited to only those available in the game, so you’re likely to struggle to get your custom teams looking just how you want them to.
Likewise only four of the twenty-four international teams included are actually licensed, so the remaining teams will play in the wrong kits and will field players you’ve never heard of. Again you can sort out the players using the editor, but with twenty teams to fix that is quite a task.
You can also create custom competitions when you get bored of those included, although there is no option to create a straightforward knockout competition, which is baffling. Instead you have the choice of a League, Series (limited to two teams, with multiple matches) or Pools. It’s all fairly simple to setup, it’s just a shame that it’s so limited.
Help & Options offers pretty much what you would expect. There are several options for cameras in the game, although I would highly recommend turning off the Glory Camera. With this on you will get close up views of players as they make runs, with the unfortunate side effect of blinding you to whatever else is going on in the match. This inevitably leads to your player being tackled (as you have no idea what the relative position of tacklers is, nor team-mates who might be open to a pass) rather than the intended close up view of your player scoring a glorious try.
Finally, Rugby Store allows you to use the Rugby Dollars you accumulate whilst playing the game to unlock various bonus images and videos, as well as three custom teams. All seems a bit pointless, but if you like unlocking things you might enjoy yourself here.
Despite a few niggles, if you want to pick up a rugby game I would definitely recommend this one over Rugby World Cup 2011. There is room for improvement in this title and I really hope Sidhe come back next year with an improved version and get some more of the licenses sorted out.