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Preview: Rugby 20’s Tactical Focus is Great, But It’s Currently Lacking Match Atmosphere

The makings of a rucking good game?

Rugby 20

Despite being a few months away from launch, Rugby 20 is showing potential. Aside from a few technical issues that could still be ironed out, could this be the game rugby fans have been waiting years for?

The Rugby 20 beta has come along just in time for the Rugby World Cup final. Set to release in full on 23 January 2020, the game is currently in its second beta on PS4 and Xbox One.

Developed by Eko Software, and published by Bigben Interactive, Rugby 20 is shaping up really well, with hard hitting tackles really standing out. But an overall lack of match atmosphere, and annoying button prompts are currently letting down what could be the presentation of rugby we’ve all wanted to see. 

Overall, each game feels smooth and flows well in Rugby 20. Instead of the face buttons, passing left and right is done by pressing the shoulder buttons; it’s a small tweak, but one that’s effective. With the additional tactical overhaul, non-active players move where you want, stay in formation, and are always ready for the killer pass and run. At its best, Rugby 20 truly showcases what rugby should be. 

But what even is rugby without some tough tackles? Gladly, Rugby 20 puts an emphasis on tackles by making them feel both solid and tough. As the player goes in for the challenge you can feel the impact through the controller vibration, and it makes each tackle feel that much more impactful and important. Timing plays a huge part in how successful a challenge is, too; time your tackle just right, and it’ll feel pleasingly visceral. It’s one of the best additions to Rugby 20. 

There’s also a variety of tactical options available in the game. Real players are included in the game, and they can be moved about very easily, changing the formation at will. Rugby 20 even allows for in-play tactical changes, which makes it even more simple to ensure the formation and tactics are perfectly suited to the situation. It’s one of the best tactical systems I’ve come across in a rugby game yet.

That said, there two key components of a game of rugby that currently don’t work very well: rucks and scrums. The scrums, are based on a mini game where you need to get your timing just right. It becomes a game of precision as you aim to keep your dot within the circle. Thankfully the ruck doesn’t require this type of needless precision, but button cues do need to be followed in order to either keep the ball or change possession. For two of the most physical parts of rugby, it feels like quite a mismatch to base them around timing and precise button presses. 

Unsurprisingly, Rugby 20‘s beta is limited to only some aspects of the full game. Not all the teams are included – there are only 20, whereas the full game will have official leagues and their clubs – and there’s a limited selection of modes available: exhibition matches (either online or offline), training, and tournament mode. Due to the lack of full leagues, the tournament mode feels quite flat right now. It’s structured like the World Cup, but without a full roster it’s hard to get a feel for the real thing. I’m optimistic it’ll be much more enjoyable following the game’s full release.

Each match is commentated by Nick Mullins and Ben Kay, but their commentary is very repetitive and one-dimensional. How many times can you be told to pass the ball out wide? A lot it seems – even when you’ve already done that. Let’s hope for some more dialogue in Rugby 20‘s full release.

I’m looking forward to playing the full version of Rugby 20. The beta has given me some things to look forward to, but it’s also left me with a few worries. The atmosphere of each game falls a little flat as a result of the repetitive commentary, and the game’s approach to rucks and scrums leaves something to be desired. But tackling and passing feels wonderfully fluid, and the game’s tactical emphasis shines above any other rugby game to come before it. There’s still time for the issues to be ironed out before Rugby 20 releases in January, so I will remain hopeful.

Rugby 20 releases on PS4, Xbox One and PC on 23 January 2020.

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Gaming has been a life-long love for Stan. To him, there's nothing better than getting lost in a single player adventure. He calls Hyrule home, but occasionally also ventures to a galaxy far far away... Fancy a game of Gwent?