Rugby presents certain challenges to the video-game designer. How do you incorporate elements of sheer athletic prowess, beyond dull joystick-waggling? And how do you avoid confusing the player?
Luckily for us, Rugby 06's answer to the first question is to focus on the beautiful side of the game – so sidesteps, complicated running strategies and cross-field kicks get more of a look-in than grim rolling mauls. Even if you're England.
In general we reckon this is a good thing. But it must be pointed out that, with all of its special moves, Rugby 06 uses an intimidating array of buttons, and the pace of play dictates that these be committed to hair-trigger muscle memory. It works best on a gamepad – it's all too easy to miss that vital diving tackle on a keyboard – but even then it suffers from a tricky learning curve. Unlike a footie sim, which can tap into known conventions, 06 demands users learn a whole new range of movements.
What's more, the game sometimes struggles to avoid the second pitfall: confusion. It's fine when you're attacking, but surrender possession and you may lose track of what's going on. Be warned that this is a difficult game.
On the up side, the graphics are excellent. The players have odd, empty eyes, but they move smoothly and convincingly, while the stadiums look great. And there's all the management and training options you've come to expect from a modern sports sim.
And once you've got the hang of it, this game is strangely enjoyable. Despite all its petty cruelties – it keeps the clock running while your player recovers from a high tackle in the timed challenges, for example – Rugby 06 has that magic addictive ingredient that keeps you coming back for more. And this may very well be the sign of greatness.