Building on the popular but shaky foundations of Rugby 2002 and Rugby 2004, the latest instalment is a quality sports simulation that can happily hold it's own against heavyweights FIFA, Madden and NBA Live. It's pure fun, and while the voyage to the try line may be burdened by a few frustrations, it ultimately scores the winning points.
Like most of the industry giant's sport titles, this is a fully licensed affair, bursting at the seams with modes and management options. There are eight tournaments to enjoy, including the World Cup, Tri-Nations and Super 12. Gamers can create their own players or an entire team of players which can be managed and utilised in multiplayer games or in tournaments.
What Rugby 2005 does very well, however, is cater to the newcomers. The basic coaching clinic does an excellent job of taking players through the controls and rules of the game.
This in-depth training is truly needed. Rugby 2005's gameplay is deep, capturing all the little nuances, laws and on-field dynamics which define the sport, and this can take substantial effort to master. Thankfully, with this edition, EA has finally nailed the controls. Lineouts and scrums are simple and intuitive to execute, with the player able to choose a strategy before play or just go commando and free-ball it. Running with the ball also feels quite fluid and by using the second analog stick it's a breeze to perform side steps, hand-offs and shoulder-charges - although you will have to get the timing just right.
Most important of all, Rugby 2005 really feels like the sport. You can make calls on the fly, running with a simple button press from the back of the maul and driving your possession up field before spreading it wide. You can perform cutouts and inside balls too, but it all depends on how you handle the binding/not-binding dynamic. You see, when a player goes down with the ball you add your players to the maul with a button tap, with the more players you have engaged, the higher your chances of keeping/stealing the ball. However, the more people you stick in the maul, the fewer players you have left to defend or attack the line. It's a very interesting and engaging gameplay mechanic.
Unfortunately, there are bugs in the AI that pepper this otherwise fast-moving and engaging game. High on the list are your player's unwillingness to jump on loose balls, their happiness to pass the ball to non-existent players and their tendency to wander backwards in defence rather than move forward. C'mon fellas, it's a contact sport! Bombs are also a problem. The other kicks at your disposal - punts, drop-goals and grubbers - are fine, but the marker that follows the ball's trajectory is hard to see and doesn't indicate when the ball is descending, which makes it very hard to catch.
Rugby 2005 is clearly the best rugby title ever made and a vast improvement on EA's two previous outings. Sure, there are still some frustrations and plenty of room for growth, but Rugby 2005 is a worthy virtual alternative to the real thing.
Visuals: Player likeness and animation is top notch Audio: Crowd jeering and bone-crunching tackles, although commentary a little repetitive Gameplay: Well-balanced gameplay, improved controls Score: 4.0 Publisher: EA Developer: EA URL: www.easports.com/games/rugby2005