Everyone knows the story behind rugby. It was invented by some fool at public school, it’s played by men with odd-shaped balls and has traditionally been confined to the playing fields of high schools, where socially maladjusted teachers encourage freezing first-years to beat the hell out of each other in the name of sportsmanship.
It is a documented fact that no English person, above the age of 14, and who isn’t a masochist, plays rugby. Those who feel the need to ‘scrimmage’, ‘maul’ and ‘ruck’ in several feet of mud should either take a course of expensive therapy, or else play a computer simulation of rugby. And – hey! - here comes a rugby simulation right now.
Boots, brains and bashing bits
In Five Nations Edition you can take part in both the World Cup and the Five Nations Championship. Both competitions are pretty similar, consisting of a number of large men leaping at each other. Before you can take part in either contest, or indeed in a practice friendly match, there’s the usual rigmarole of clicking on endless option icons. You can fiddle about with the condition of the pitch, the wind speed, the length of the match, the pitch perspective, the action replays, the more obscure rules, the strip colours… well, you know the sort of thing.
The more interesting options involve the players themselves. In best management tradition, each player has a set of statistics that determine just how beefy and fleet of foot he is. You can alter these in any number of thrilling ways, or switch them off altogether so that, to coin a phrase, all men are created equal. Fiddled to your heart’s content? Right, onto the game itself.
This is standard Kick Off fare, with lots of fast scrolling and computer-controlled action. By pressing fire you switch control to the player nearest the ball, and a little roving dot in front of the sprite shows the direction any pass or kick will be made in.
The inevitable flashing arrows that identify which player you’re controlling tend to get lost when the game heats up. A neat-but-ultimately-too-small-to-be-of-real-use radar flashes away in a corner of the screen, showing the swarming dots of your team-mates.
Gameplay is a case of hurling yourself at the chap who is carrying the ball then legging it away before the others get a chance to realise what has happened. An impressively sneaky feature is that you have to pass the ball to gain any ground – if you try to run straight up the middle, your player gets rapidly tired and slows down to a mere jog.
World Class Rugby forces to you think strategically, which is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand it makes for a more involved game, because you have to keep track of where your players are, so that you can pass to the best possible position. On the other, not being able to nip off to where the fancy takes you slows down the action somewhat. The fact that every single tackle seems to result in a time-consuming scrum doesn’t help the pacing of the game either.
But then again...
On the flip side, some of the cleverest bits of the game occur when the ball is not actually in play. In dead ball situations, a set of pre-arranged moves pop up on screen. You select which manoeuvre that you want your chaps to execute, then just sit back and watch them rush purposefully about. When you see an opening, you bash the fire-button and take control of the ball-carrier again. Cunning, dashed cunning.
Summing up in the traditional last-paragraph fashion, I’d say that World Class Rugby – Five Nations Edition is a fun little game. If you think you can cope with the jerky pacing and the sometimes confused graphics, there’s plenty for you to get stuck into. A quiet, little success, methinks.