I was lucky enough to be invited to ‘an evening of Beer and Rugby’ last night at the Cabbage Patch in Twickenham, where a group of bloggers and writers gathered to play the Official Rugby World Cup 2011 Game.
I’m not a huge gamer to be honest, but they covered all bases with the invitation by mentioning beer as well as the game, and the rugby crowd were discernable from the gaming crowd in their approach to the evening.
Each writer was assigned a team, and we were split into four pools of three to battle it out for the smallest trophy in the history of competition. I was given Argentina, and wasn’t too disappointed with the middle-of-the-road side – at least then it wouldn’t be too embarrassing to lose heavily. Nick Heath was happy enough with England, Tom from SinBin Rugby was visibly disappointed with Italy, whilst Gareth from Rugby Spectator appeared quietly confident with Samoa – it later emerged that he’d had a good half hour practice beforehand.
Having been drawn in a pool with Australia and New Zealand, I was feeling quite hard done-by to start with, flummoxed that three of the original top four Rugby World Cup seeds would be drawn together – but I was happy enough to remain unbeaten by virtue of two relatively high-scoring draws. Not many teams can say that about a Rugby World Cup campaign, and it was a triumph for the minnows in the metaphorical pond of big gaming fish.
From a Rugby perspective, the game seemed very engaging, with little time wasted at breakdowns and set-pieces, and the actual play relatively intuitive – important for me given that I’d never even picked up an Xbox controller.
It seemed the lesser teams struggled to compete at the breakdown, where the likes of Tonga, Samoa, Argentina and other lower-ranked teams such as Wales were regularly turned over, which meant they found it hard to retain possession – frustrating to play with the weaker team, but not unrealistic!
Luckily though, some people knew the rules better than others. My strategy was to keep the ball in hand, and given the lack of success at the breakdown, look for the offload wherever possible – not unlike Australia’s style that has reaped rewards in recent years. I couldn’t get to grips with the tackling, and generally found myself looking at the controller for the tackle button whilst the opposition ran amok, but I’m told that if you know what you’re doing, it’s very realistic.
Meanwhile, some of the gaming writers preferred the kicking option, and one of my favourite plays was when someone went for a punt inside the opposition 22, knocked it over the posts, only to be disappointed at the lack of points on offer.
The England boys had been playing the game at Pennyhill Park the evening before, and there were some amusing tweets emanating from camp. Toby Flood claimed that the game lost credibility by making Ben Youngs lithe and quick, whilst there were some raised eyebrows at the apparent speed of Mike Tindall. The photo opposite was probably Tindall and Dylan Hartley laughing at Shontayne Hape making a break. ‘As if’, says Tindall. New Zealand won the writers’ tournament for the record, which makes it even more unrealistic.
The overall standard of play at the writers preview was fairly abysmal, and not really surprising since the game has not yet been launched – tacklers diving all over the place, wingers kicking the ball instead of touching down for a try, and lots of passing into touch. But you could tell that there were various layers of complexity in areas such as hand-offs, sidesteps and defensive alignments, that would keep the avid gamer entertained beyond the basic mastery of running and passing.
When I was interviewed about the game afterwards – I’m sure a video will surface somewhere – I was asked about the new features such as chip kicks, and the pick and go option. It’s difficult for me to comment on that, given that I wasn’t familiar with the old features, but from a Rugby point of view, it was pretty decent.
It’s faster than other Rugby games seem to be, without being ridiculous, and it’s as realistic as I’ve seen. The risk / reward options like offloads (and chip kicks apparently) can work out brilliantly, but they can also cost you possession and points, whilst if you get isolated with ball in hand, the likelihood is that you’ll be turned over.
I can’t tell you much about the controls, available camera angles or anything technical like that – I’m from the Jonah Lomu 1995 school of rugby gamers, which was all about the offloads, running in the air, quick throw-ins behind your own goal-line, and the classic Bill McLaren commentary. But from a Rugby fan’s perspective, this game definitely held my attention and I can imagine it getting pretty competitive with a few mates and a few beers.
If you have any specific questions about it, leave a comment here and I’ll respond to the best of my ability!
For more screenshots, photos, news and release dates, check out the Rugby World Cup 2011 Official Game page on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/RWC2011game