Upon booting up Rugby 18, you’re treated to a dull, monotonous backing track, which aptly serves as a fitting introduction to the dire, often appalling representation of a sport that is desperately awaiting the same video game transformation that other sport giants such as football, ice hockey, basketball and American football have been offered.
Once you’ve selected your favourite club team, you’re able to dive into what is essentially a tutorial game, and to its credit, Rugby 18 does an satisfactory job of explaining the rules of rugby to newcomers, but unfortunately, you’ll seldom be able to put this knowledge into practice, as you’ll spend about 99% of your game time rucking. Following kick off, the entire game is literally one ruck after another, each breakdown precedes another ruck, each one moving you about a metre up the field if you’re lucky, that is of course until your players decide to completely ignore your input and dance around like clowns. When you lose the ball, and you will a lot, you’ll need to make tackles to get it back, but sadly, most players are better at dancing the YMCA than actually making a tackle. Eventually, when one of your players does land a hit, you’ll end up back in a ruck, where those same players who couldn’t tackle a statue can’t keep themselves onside. What’s more, if you do win the ball, the next pass if often wild and inaccurate, giving the ball straight back, thus repeating the painful cycle over and over again. AI in Rugby 18 is downright shocking and makes for a painful experience. If you do manage to break out, you’ll struggle to make it far before the stamina bar runs out and you’re back in a ruck. Opponents always seem faster than you, even if you’re playing as New Zealand against the Cardiff Blues; a mismatch on paper, but more than an even match here - yes you can remove fatigue, but it doesn’t help improve the experience.
To its credit, once mastered, scrums and lineouts are handled pretty well by Rugby 18 and generally feel enjoyable when you win the ball back. What’s more, on the rare occasion when you do score a try or win a penalty in a kickable location, goal kicks are a simple guiding process using the right control stick and taking note of the wind direction. We say scoring is rare because, if you have the game set at the default speed of eight minutes, and let’s face it, you’re not going to want to experience a full length match, unless of course you enjoy pain, you’ll probably have only one or two chances to score before the eighty minutes are up thanks to the broken rucking system. We never scored more than fifteen points in one game, with most matches ending either 3-0 or 7-0 depending on the opponent. While the gameplay is terrible, the commentary is diabolically bad. Not only is the ongoing analysis boring, it’s often thirty seconds behind the actual game, so you can be tackling a player while the robot-like men in the gantries discuss the ruck you just broke away from. Add in the fact that the commentators like to pause before shouting every player’s name, and you’ll soon find yourself reaching for that mute button on your TV.
If you’ve played some of the other sport games on the market today, you’ll know that the one thing they all have in common is a wealth of game modes, but sadly, Rugby 18 has barely anything to keep rugby fans coming back. There’s the standard quick game mode, followed by a league mode where you can play through the Aviva Premiership, Pro D12, and Top 14. Other than that, there’s a Career mode where you take control of a team in the bottom division and try and work your way up, and a My Squad mode where you can build your dream team from officially licensed players and take your squad online. There’s also a Weekly Challenge mode, but every time we tried to access it, nothing appeared. Career mode is where the meat of the game lies, but it’s nothing special. We spent nearly thirty minutes building a team, before going bankrupt after just three seasons, upon which the game makes you start a new career. It’s poor that building a team was the most exciting aspect of Rugby 18, not the actual gameplay, and to have all that work erased after just three seasons was infuriating.
The issues with Rugby 18 don’t end with its shoddy gameplay and lack of content, it’s possibly one of the worst-looking titles on the PlayStation 4. Players look nothing like their real life counterparts, while stadiums and backdrops look like something from the late PS2/early PS3 era; they’re truly dismal. What’s more, considering Big Ben are asking fans to fork out between £40-£50 for the game, Rugby 18 is not just insulting professional rugby and its fans, it’s a complete rip-off; we wouldn’t even recommend picking up this game for free, let alone for actual money.
If Rugby 18 has one saving grace, it’s the licensed teams, of which there is a sufficient number. Teams from the main Aviva Premiership, Pro D12, and Top 14 leagues are present and accounted for, but even then it’s not without issue. At launch, the game only featured eight international teams, which isn’t enough for a World Cup, while Ireland (the fourth ranked team in the world) were omitted, meaning a full Six Nations couldn’t be played! Big Ben have since patched in Ireland, Argentina and Japan, but these aren’t even officially licensed, so it feels like a half-arsed effort, which perfectly epitomises the entire game.
Rugby 18 may boast a fairly impressive roster of officially licensed teams, but it fails dramatically as an accurate representation of rugby. The game is a broken mess of poorly implemented controls, dire visuals and lacklustre game modes and is deeply insulting to all rugby fans, and the sport itself. Stay well away from this garbage and fire up Rugby 08 on your PS2 instead, we guarantee you’ll find more enjoyment.