Reviews

Rugby Challenge 2006

Who cares that Rugby Challenge 2006 isn't the greatest sports game ever made? It's still slick, fast and easy to get to grips with

For a game riddled with so many rules and - let's face it - pointless intricacies, rugby fans are an unfussy bunch. So long as the ball keeps moving, the scrums are steaming and the beer is flowing, just about any display of egg-chasing, no matter how basic, will keep the punters happy.

And that's why we reckon the rugby massive will happily lap up Rugby Challenge 2006 like it's spilt Guinness on the floor of a sweaty changing room. It's slick, reasonably fast, easy to get to grips with and, unlike its 2004 semi-prequel World Championship Rugby, it finally offers the chance to play as both the national teams and all the British club teams (both Premiership and Celtic league). Who cares that Rugby Challenge 2006 isn't the greatest sports game made? You get to play as club teams rugby fans! Like Saracens and Worcester! Since when have you been able to do that? Er, like, never!

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But let's not get too carried away. We have, after all, just suggested that Rugby Challenge 2006 doesn't quite measure up in the quality stakes. Sure, it's great for pick-up-and-play stuff - especially if you're not all that au fait with rugby's rules and regulations - but if you're looking for a game with slightly more depth than a toddler's paddling pool, Ubisoft's first crack at the peanut-hugging market falls just short of touch.

So let's start with the good stuff. As with World Championship Rugby, everything is geared towards a fast running and passing game. Get possession, sprint towards the line and keep recycling the ball out to the wings courtesy of the trigger button passes. If you've played World Championship Rugby then you'll know exactly what to expect as the controls are nearly identical. In fact, the only real update to the controls are the mauls and scrums, which now use a simple repeating reaction test to help drive your pack forwards. Penalties are uncommon and, providing the ball doesn't go into touch too often, it's possible to keep a single phase of play going for an entire half's worth of action - that's how focused on free-flowing ball recycling Rugby Challenge 2006 is.

There's a much improved training mode too. And not just your typical running and passing tutorials either (although these are really helpful). Rugby Challenge 2006 offers loads of innovative little training games that help sledgehammer the basic techniques home - and bloody hard some of them are too.

But the real improvement is just how much content has been added. Not only are the Guinness Premiership and Celtic League teams now present, but the European clubs and the Southern Hemisphere clubs too, and all the competitions that go with them. Throw in plenty of challenge matches, some novel tweaks on the rugby format (Hot Potato for example, where you're only allowed to hold the ball for three seconds before passing) and a perfectly playable career mode that bears more than a passing resemblance to PES5's Master League and you have a game that most rugby fans will be pleased just to see exist.

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But this isn't 2003 any more, and with England's World Cup victory now but a fading memory of a lunchtime hangover it's not so easy to jump on the first open-topped rugby bandwagon that comes along. After EA's Rugby 2005 managed to add some depth to World Championship Rugby's simple format with its momentum-based mauls and advanced passing and running techniques, we expected RC2006 to follow a similar suit. But it hasn't, and with EA's Rugby 06 improving even further, this is likely to look even more basic in comparison.

There are some other troubling faults with RC2006 too. For one, it doesn't look all that hot. We know rugby players aren't the best-looking of sportsmen, but even the Elephant Man would gag at some of the monstrosities representing the Six Nations' finest here. Okay, so the lack of detail keeps things running smoothly, but Steve Thompson should consider talking to his lawyers.

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