Rugby League Live 4 – Review
PS4, Xbox One
Rugby League is in my blood. I grew up in a family where the code was number one. My Dad both represented NSW as a player and worked in junior development of the game for many years. He is now the Australian National Wheelchair Rugby League Coach. My brother and I both played the game, playing in various representative teams and we kept playing until injury said it wasn’t prudent to continue to do so. Now my boys play, with cold starts on Sunday mornings being the norm. I am not telling you all this to show off or profess some sort of divine knowledge of the game. No, I am telling you to illustrate how important the game of Rugby League is to my family and I. So you’ll understand why I want, no need, a good Rugby League video game to come into my life and while Rugby League Live 4 isn’t that game, it is much much closer than ever to satisfying my desire.
I am not going to beat around the bush, the previous Rugby League Live games weren’t very good at all. The first was hot garbage, an absolute mess of a game. Since that point, each release has gotten better but still didn’t capture the feel of the sport I so love. Thankfully though with the release of RLL4, Big Ant has actually managed to inject the game with this feeling. No longer am I playing a stilted, stop-start representation but engaging in a flowing mix of attack and defence, the same flow that makes me enjoy the game so much. This is largely due to the improved control system that Big Ant have implemented. The controls feel similar to previous games but have been tweaked to make passing, running plays and defence much more intuitive. This is mainly achieved by much better use of the triggers and right stick. The right stick is used for sidesteps, fends and driving tackles and the triggers are used to add modifiers like compressing the defence and taking finer control over individual players. These changes don’t sound like much but when added together it brings a much more realistic feeling to the game, a feeling that the previous releases lacked.
Rugby League Live 4 is also much better at recognising the difference between player’s stats and attributes. For example, trying to barge over an opposing defender as a small player like Billy Slater was likely to get me sat on my backside whereas doing so as a monster like Junior Paulo would result in the satisfying trampling of the defender. This improved player focus means that real-world tactics are much more important in the game. Creating a roll-on effect by using the big forwards to charge up and get quick play-the-balls is essential for giving the speedy, agile backline room to move. Finally, in a Rugby League game, I can use tactics I used as an actual player. I found immense satisfaction in setting up wrap-around plays and creating space for my outside backs with some pre-planning at the beginning of the set. This all reinforces the fact that RLL4 feels like the game of Rugby League and makes the game much more satisfying as a result.
The game included all the modes I would expect of a sports title. Career, season and quick play were all present. The career mode can be played in three ways, as a rookie player, as a star player or as a coach. the differences are obvious with the focus being on developing a single player or taking charge of a whole club. I must say that playing the game as a single player is not the ideal way to play. That isn’t in anyway the game’s fault, but just the nature of Rugby League. It is much more fun to control the whole team. Thankfully, even if I was competing in the Rookie Player career I could still take charge of the entire team and not have to focus solely on one player. Another wonderful addition to the game is the inclusion of the excellent customisation features that were in Don Bradman Cricket 17. Deep and easy to use, the creative studio allowed me to create players, teams and even team logos. People that love this sort of thing will get a real kick out of it because it is a very well put together system.
It isn’t all big hits and magical side steps though. There are some problems and depending on your perspective, they can be major ones. Currently, the AI is, well a bit broken. I am not talking about general play but about individual instances of player behaviour. Kicking for penalty goal when 30 points behind, being over the try line and passing instead of putting the ball down, running from dummy half on the last tackle deep in their own territory. These sorts of things happened all too often and they just don’t happen in real life. There are also many instances of referees getting the rules completely wrong, especially around knock-ons and charge downs. It led to frustration and more than one swear word coming out of my mouth. I have spoken to others who have been playing the game and it appears these problems are inconsistent, with some people like myself getting them on a regular basis and others only seeing them occasionally. The good news is however, there is nothing here that can’t be fixed with a patch or two. If Big Ant can patch this (along with a bit of difficulty balancing) then RLL4 will be improved immensely.
Another problem is pretty much unpatchable but it is forgivable. There is no getting around the fact that game doesn’t look the best. In some areas, it is passable in the looks department but in others, it is just plain ugly. This is of course understandable. Big Ant has nowhere near the resources of the big sports game developers so presentation aspects suffer. Personally, I am glad that getting the game feeling great was more important to the developers than making it look great, gameplay is king after all. In saying that, there is no denying that RLL4 doesn’t look good and if graphics are important to you, you may want to take that into consideration before buying the game.
In the end, Rugby League Live 4 represents hope. Hope that a definitive virtual League experience is not only possible but something that will happen in the not-too-distant future. At present RLL4 has problems, mainly with the AI doing some very questionable things, but those problems aren’t so major that they can’t be fixed some post-launch love from the developers (in fact there is a launch day patch coming and Big Ant have an excellent reputation for supporting their titles for a long period after release). Is the game a must buy? Perhaps not, but it is easily the best Rugby League game ever made and despite its problems, there is plenty for fans of the sport to enjoy.