I’m a massive Rugby League fan, and whilst the last few Rugby League games have had more than their fair share of issues, they were still good fun. The core gameplay was always there, but glitches and uneven (and unpredictable) gameplay always led to frustration that felt unfair and often to losing matches that quite frankly had nothing to do with your input.
Thankfully, Rugby League Live 4 is the most polished Australian-developed sporting game in quite a while. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s still issues (which we’ll get to later), but a lot of the frustrating issues that plagued earlier iterations of the game have now been cleaned up to the point where people playing the game won’t be left questioning a myriad presentation issues or glitches.It’s clear that Big Ant have done a lot in the way of presentation. Most of the players in the game have been face scanned and are easily recognisable, which goes a long way to automatically associating skills and attributes to their real life counterpart. Animation of players and ball movement is also a lot smoother than earlier iterations. Sure, there’s still the occasional glitch where the ball might go through the ground, or a replay showing that the ball transition wasn’t the smoothest, but for the most part, this is a huge step forward in the graphics department and a better offering than AFL Evolution which released earlier this year. Commentary features Andrew Voss alongside a British commentator. It’s much better than previous iterations and feels less robotics, but there were still times when the line that was read out didn’t match what had happened in game at all.
The general gameplay looks incredibly familiar on the surface, but there’s subtle changes that go a long way to changing how you attack and defend. For instance, kick-offs and kicking for goal now have a meter which actually seems to affect how far the ball goes, with a series of graphs representing where the kick will go based on how much power you give. It feels much more natural and takes a while to conquer but ultimately gives you much more control over where you’re kicking and makes the player feel like they’re in control.One of the other major issues with previous iterations was the fact that you would often be penalised, or make an error and never really feel at fault (or have any idea why the game was punishing you). Big Ant have put certain mechanics in place to make you more accountable for what you’re doing in-game. For instance, being onside is a major part of Rugby League and this is evident in Rugby League Live 4. You now have an indicator over under each player at all times which signifies when you’re offside, so you now know not to make a tackle if you’re defending, and you know where to run if you’re attacking. It completely changes the game and puts more importance on staying onside in both attack and defence.
Attacking the line feels more realistic now that you’re able to clearly see which line players are running. You’re also able to scoot out of dummy half if you feel that there’s space in the defensive line. Offensive strategies also allow you to put on set plays that you’ll be familiar with if you watch the modern game. Set plays such as block plays, or inside out runs will allow you to attack the line more efficiently than ever. There’s definitely times where A.I players will run in front of you, or you’ll go to kick the ball on the 5th play and a player will be in front of you, but it’s miles better than earlier games. Errors and forward passes were still an annoying part of the game. I can’t tell you how many times I’d pass the ball after a changeover only for first pass to go forward. The brand-new foresight mode is good for people who don’t necessarily know their teams or Rugby League positions. It allows you to see players strengths/weaknesses based on their stamina, strength, fitness, agility and speed. However, I found that it was hard to use effectively since you need to use it when you’re attacking and there’s not a lot of time to analyse players whilst actually playing the game. It’s a neat little feature, but not one that I can see being used often.
Defence is by far the most improved part of the game. You’re now able to hold L2 which allows you to slowly strafe with a player and lock in on your opponent. This resulted in less offloads and feeling like you could actually structure defence. Big hits allow you to break the ball free and can completely change the game and break up the monotonous back to back sets. Like attack, you’re also able to set up your defensive line. Whether you want your defence to sweep left/right or your wingers to drop back and support your defensive line, you now feel like there’s some control to your defensive line.Overall, the gameplay feels solid and more realistic, but I don’t doubt that some people might find it less fun. There’s often less time to make attacking decisions and if you pass too close to the line, it’ll hit the defensive player (or be intercepted).
Those who played the career mode in Rugby League Live 3 will feel right at home this time around. Players now have more loyalty to their clubs, which means that we won’t have those unrealistic club jumps and club transfers will apparently happen automatically, so it’s more realistic than ever before.
Rugby League Live 4 is a step in the right direction. There’s a level of polish that we haven’t seen in an Australian sporting game in some time and whilst there’s still some A.I issues, I never felt that they changed the result of the game. Attack is more realistic, which can lead to frustration when trying to get over the line, but the game rewards you for spending time with it and learning the new offensive/defensive mechanics. If you liked the last game, there’s no reason why you won’t like this one even more.
The PS4 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review.
More Polished Experience
Improvements To Attack/Defence Mechanics
Players Actually Look Like Their Real Life Counterpart