As I downloaded Rugby League Live 3 from the Xbox store I reminisced about the last rugby league game I played, which was in fact the original Rugby League on Xbox in 2003. At the tender age of twelve I remember it being a lot of fun, but it wasn’t a game I took particularly seriously. While a decent representation of the game of Rugby League, there were still quite a few glitches which resulted in equal parts of frustration and hilarity. So I was keen to see how things had progressed in Big Ant’s Rugby League 3.
To get a feel for the game, I jumped straight into a casual match as the mighty Newcastle Knights. This gave me a chance to figure out the controls and get some initial impressions, and instantly I got a fun vibe with some great match atmosphere. The match felt like a real game, with Phil Gould and Andrew Voss commentating as the action unfolded. I was a bit disappointed that these commentators only had a few lines and after playing a few games they started to repeat themselves. Even worse, sometimes what they were saying seemed irrelevant and not really an accurate summation of what was going on. However, I loved the fact that the commentators sometimes don’t agree with the ref’s decision. Harsh decisions like getting called offside when I tackled a player from marker were often met with derision from Gould and Voss which goes some of the way to taking the sting out of conferring a penalty because the ref is blind. I do think the game would have benefited from pointing you towards a tutorial that gives you the lowdown on gameplay rather than having to figure it out by trial and error. There is a tutorial of sorts in the forms of Drills, however it never really tells you that this is probably where you should start before taking on other teams, which seems odd given the game’s complexity. I felt that the game doesn’t really accommodate people that aren’t familiar with the rules of the game, it just assumes you know how to play and feels like it is definitely targeting dedicated League fans. This may end up leaving some casual or new fans a bit bewildered, and really the Drills section should have been rebranded as a tutorial and included the important rules and basic plays.
Once you know the controls, things like tackling and passing become quite intuitive. Just as in the real game, when attacking and defending there are many tactics you can draw on as well to help your team to victory. As an attacker you can use the D-pad to get your team into positions for various plays such as field goals and field position kicks. You have to take into many factors when making these plays such like whether you have enough time to kick the ball when going for a field goal. If you mess this up the other team will simply charge the ball down and possibly score a try off your error and I did this many times to other teams. Additionally, pressing R2 and L2 passes the ball to the playmaker which puts you in prime position to kick or change direction and pull off some slick plays. As a defender you can bring certain players in from either side of the defensive line for some extra pressure depending on the situation you’re in. If your players are struggling to get back into position following a tackle you can hold down the tackle longer to give your team time to get back. This is a great element to the game and makes things more realistic, but of course if you hold them too long you can get penalised. Unless you’re Queensland in the State of Origin, then you can hold them as long as you want.
I love the controls for taking conversions as the buttons are simple and it all comes down to timing and the right angle. Point the arrow in the right direction and press A at the correct time so that when the kicker reaches the ball the meter lands on the green area. Depending on the length and difficulty of the conversion, the meter will go faster or slower making it more difficult to get it right, especially under pressure. The wind does have a small effect on the ball too, and the effect obviously increases with your distance from the posts. Although the tight and long conversions can be hard, they’re never impossible and it’s certainly unlike the recent abomination Rugby World Cup game where you press forward and it doesn’t register and the ball ends up dribbling in front of the player. While we’re on the subject, unlike Big Ben’s Rugby World Cup where all the players looked the same, the graphics in RLL3 are pretty decent and you can actually tell who the players are. This really brings the game to life as this is a licensed Rugby League game, so you’ll be seeing a lot of the game’s greats duking it out and it’s nice to be able to recognise them.
The main mode in RLL3 is naturally the career mode and you are given a few ways to go about completing the season. Firstly, you can choose an existing player from the team of your choice or create your own Rookie and slip them into the team of your choice. With the Rookie option you can fully customise their appearance, what position they play, whether they’re left- or right-footed and then add skill points to boost various stats. As either an existing player or Rookie you play exclusively as that player in a designated position. You don’t control the whole team, instead slotting into a specialist role. The game assumes you know how your position is supposed to play, but aside from small hints of where to go with little directional arrows you’re pretty much on your own. I played as a winger which meant long sessions of running up and back without touching the ball. There is a call for ball button (Y/Triangle) which makes your team mates pass it to you, but without knowledge of the position it makes it hard to be able to accomplish anything else than just running at the opposing team and getting tackled. So for people with active positions and a knowledge of the intricacies of said positions I’m sure this would be great, but otherwise this was bat shit boring. There are objectives during the games which liven things up a bit including bombing the ball 20 times in a match or not making an error in a match. There are also longer term career objectives like make 30 split runs. Completing these objectives gives you money which you can spend on skill boosts for a single match. Your player also gets a salary from your club every week. Unfortunately you can’t do under-the-table deals to breach the salary cap like in real League football.
My favourite Career mode was the Club option where you take control of the entire team’s training, finances and player transfers. You can either play with the whole team like normal, sim the match while watching (but all you can do is make subs) or sim without watching (which just gives you the final score). This is useful if you just want to progress through the season quicker. You can also pick sponsors which gives you different options like more money in the short/long term. It actually feels like you own the club as the decisions you make have a direct impact on the team’s prosperity.
As with most sports games of the modern era there is an online mode where you can match make or enter tournaments. 1 v 1 matchmaking was impressively fast (as long as you’re playing at a decent hour when people are online) and it seemed to run smoothly for me. The connection was fine and despite a few glitches, playing against real human beings is fun and rewarding. Unfortunately, the online competition mode didn’t happen as I wasn’t able to connect to enough players for it to run. Therefore I can’t really comment about it, just that it didn’t work for me, which is a shame as I was looking forward to getting around the larger online rugby community rather than just one person at a time. There is also a Player Hub mode where you can create your own players, clubs and referees and upload them online, and you can incorporate them in the career modes.
I really enjoyed my time with Rugby League Live 3, it’s a fun game with a great feel to it. It is a game that is relatively easy to pick up but hard to master, and you are given many different options to improve your skills. Big Ant Studios and Tru Blu Entertainment have delivered the best rugby game to date with only minor missteps here and there, mostly on the online side of things. No sports game would be complete without some funny glitches, so check out the video below for some unintentional hilarity.
Reviewed on Xbox One.