RUGBY WORLD CUP 95 REVIEW - August 1995
|Alarm bells are ringing in my head. It's my third game of
Rugby World Cup 1995. I've been playing it for about 12 minutes, and haven't read the
instructions yet. In fact, I still haven't managed to work out which one is Fire Button 1
and which one is Fire Button 2. I'm playing as Scotland against New Zealand. And yet,
Scott Hastings, my tenacious-but-sluggish no.13 has just tottered half the length of the
pitch, pursued by the whole New Zealand pack in single file, to run in his second try of
the match and seal a comfortable 22-0 victory for the plucky Scots. Something, somewhere,
is quite clearly terribly wrong.
And it's not as if they weren't trying. On more than one occasion, an All-Black forward did manage to break through the Scottish defence and head for the line with the ball, only to inexplicably pass it when about three metres out and directly in front of the posts with no defence in sight, to a colleague with half the Scottish backs breathing down his shorts who was promptly trampled into the mud to turn possession over to the lads in blue once again. This isn't the New Zealand, or indeed the Rugby World Cup, that I watched.
As you can see for yourself, RWC1995 takes much the same approach to its subject as EA's FIFA Soccer - big graphics, isometric 3D, fancy presentation. Unfortunately, Rugby Union - far more so than football - is a game in which it's utterly vital to know where the rest of your team is at any given point, and the close-to-the-pitch viewpoint used here is next to useless in that respect. In fact, much of the time I wasn't even sure which half of the pitch I was in, since rugby pitches have no convenient mix of curved and straight markings to help you find yourself. More than one promising attack was thwarted when I passed the ball out to what I thought was a clutch of overlapping forwards, but actually turned out to be the nearside touchline. There's no option for a radar scanner either, which is ironic because this is one of the very few types of sports game in which one would actually be useful (if only to give you a feel for where you were rather than the exact location of all your players).
Also taken from FIFA Soccer is the inertial system used for player movement (and the ice-skating graphics which accompanied it), which means that any sudden changes of direction in a jinking run result in an almost total loss of speed, closely followed by several opposing players jumping on your head. This is symptomatic of the game's biggest single problem.
Rugby World Cup 1995 goes to great pains to realistically simulate the game of Rugby Union, rather than simply create a fun Rugby Union-based video game. But it messes it up. For example, the crux of a running game in RU is a forward steaming into a pack of opposing players, tying them up in a ruck, then feeding the ball out to his backs to run with it. But in RWC1995, possession of the ball after a tackle is random - there's nothing you can do to give yourself a better chance of holding on to it. Almost immediately a tackle is made, the computer decides who to give possession to, and if it isn't you, you can bring no influence whatsoever to bear on the situation until the other player brings the ball back into play.
So the only way to make safe progress is to play a kicking game, except that the kicking control is terrible, requiring you to perform all manner of joystick gymnastics and - most crucially - hold the fire button down for lengthy periods to get any kind of distance, by which time you've frequently been flattened by a tackle. This isn't realism - Gavin Hastings or Andrew Mehrtens or Thierry Lacroix don't have to wind themselves up for seven or eight seconds before they hoof a big up-and-under, do they?
And that's another thing - there seems to be little or no real-life information employed in the make-up of the teams. My weeny Scottish pack were regularly able to shove back the chunky New Zealanders 10 or 15 metres in the game's (very occasional) scrums, simply by waggling the joystick at random (I still hadn't read the instructions at this point, remember), and the inhuman Jonah Lomu is just another slightly crap and slothful back in RWC1995. I had a much harder time against the Ivory Coast than the All Blacks, and that's just silly.
The really sad thing, though, is that so much of this could have been so easily fixed. When you do score a try, the game flicks into SVGA mode for the conversion, and while it's a complete mess in itself (the screen splits untidily into two down the middle to show both the kicker and the posts, and the kick power bar wraps clumsily around the edges) the much-further-out view would have made the game twice as playable. A simple joystick control could have been used to try to turn a tackled player back towards his team-mates, or some kind of joystick-waggling system (as used in most previous rugby games) could have provided a chance to win back possession in rucks and mauls. The player could have been given a chance to decide how many men to put in a line-out, a simple but influential strategy used frequently in the real game. The stupid, stupid inertia system could have been thrown out, or at least (and how hard would this be?) made optional. EA sports games, this one included, are overloaded with all manner of window-dressing options, how about one which actually makes a difference to the game?
I'm reviewing this as a big fan of both Rugby Union and video games. Maybe I'm being too purist about it. But as far as I can see, Rugby World Cup 1995 has very little to recommend it to followers of either of those noble pastimes.
Concentrates on realism at the expense of gameplay, but doesn't make a very good job of either.