Ah rugby, the game of toothless oafs, Cambridge undergraduates called Toxteth and men who love cupping oval balls. A game of grit, determination, and chronic sports injuries. Of course, it doesn't have to be this painful, thanks to EA's yearly update of its official Rugby Union-licensed game, imaginatively called Rugby 2005, now sprinting onto Xbox for the first time. Who could have seen that coming, eh?
So what's new? Well, for starters, this Xbox offering sports all-new player models and animations, which help create a far greater sense of authenticity than before, with bone-bending tackles, fearsome mauls and balletic dives for the try line now replicated in realism-packed glory. The atmosphere has also been ramped up, with accurate crowd chants and improved stadium effects that further add to the immersion.
But what's it like as a simulation of legal GBH? Well, you know what? It's pretty damn good. Games genuinely feel like the real thing, with countless punts arcing into touch, smooth passing moves flowing across the back line and brutal rucks savagely contested by hulking cauliflower-eared forwards. Best of all though, is the game's intelligent use of the play on rule, meaning that matches flow more smoothly than beer at a victory party.
The AI is also impressive, reading the game with lifelike intelligence, while each carefully recreated international team displays the kind of ability you'd associate with their real-life counterparts. The green-as-grass Italians and Americans are easy to steamroller, but the savvy New Zealanders and English prove a far harder proposition, fizzing the ball around the park while forming formidable defensive lines.
The game simply spills over with tournaments, and you can try your hand at anything from the Six Nations to the World Cup. It won't be long before you've mastered the art of combining your backs and forwards to devastating effect, though sadly, kicking during open play and line-outs is clumsy and unclear, and stealing possession can often be frustratingly difficult. Overall though, Rugby 2005 is a triumph, and had it not been for these few clumsy fumbles, it could have been a world-beater. As close to the real thing as you're likely to get without strapping on a groin guard.
A generally excellent recreation of the game of rugby, topped off with lashings of EA veneer.