It's been two years since the original NRL Rugby League stormed onto the gaming scene and improvements are evident throughout the game. Adding to Single Game and Competition modes is a great multiuser competition in which up to 15 players can choose a team each, plus Online and Franchise modes.
It's this last that's easily the most exciting. Spanning 10 seasons, Franchise mode allows you to take control of a club in the position of coach/manager, getting your hands into every component of the game. It's wonderfully in-depth and you'll be intimately involved with everything from trading and buying players, determining training schedules, managing injuries and suspensions, securing sponsorships, accepting e-mails and fiddling with finances. You can also create your own players, determining everything from visual appearance to attributes and favoured foot.
In the field, RL2 is as delightful as a Joey Johns' long ball and re-jigs the control scheme to allow for far greater depth to the gameplay. You can now deliver cut-out passes up to four people wide, drop the shoulder when running with the ball, strip in one-on-one tackles, hold the player down to give your line time to reset, run from dummy-half, perform two-man tackles, contest the high ball, and so on. It's very well thought-out and you'll be surprised by how realistic it feels.
The AI is quite smart, too, and won't back away when defending its line or prove a liability in gameplay. And with the same innovative slow-mo camera from the first game (it stops play while you aim kicks or possession changes hands) you never lose sense of where the action is heading. However, you may lose sense of your controls. With so many gameplay mechanics on offer, mastering the vast array of control types and combinations is no mean feat. However, a bit of perseverance and you will be enjoying the game with much more satisfaction than its predecessor.
Rugby League 2 also looks far better than the previous version. You'll recognise all your favourite players and see plenty of great, authentic animations like wrestling tackles, kicks for goal, diving tries, big dummies and crashing shoulder-charges. The stadiums also look impressive, especially the grass that looks alive and fresh.
Interestingly, you'll come across in-game cut-scenes - like a captain berating a player for dropping the ball or an argument between two hulking front rowers - which is cool at first, but they aren't of the highest quality and may be worth switching off. Sound effects are solid and are strengthened by Andrew Voss's credible voice-over.
However, the biggest thing in NRL Rugby League 2's favour is Kiwi developer Sidhe Interactive's obvious love for the game. Many of the features, gameplay mechanics and options on offer are far from generic and wonderfully tapered to best excite the footy faithful.
Visuals: A marked improvement, with great animation and famous faces.
Audio: Andrew Voss adds his voice to the generally solid sounds.
Gameplay: Engrossing and well-designed, RL2 scores an impressive try, but sometimes-complex controls block the conversion.
Score: 4 1/2 PC World Recommends
Developer: Sidhe Interactive