With the fact that WW is moving on from RC4, I'd like to sum up my thoughts on this game so that hopefully a potential RC5 will carry this series forward into something that us rugby gamers deserve and have been wandering the desert in search of for over a decade: a game to replace Rugby 08.
Note: I've been playing mainly 15s career mode on a PS4 since early access launch.
Warning: This is a really long read.
TLDR: Better than any offering since Rugby 08, but suffers from a general roughness and lack of polish, creativity, and depth. Its strength lies in the customization options, the physicality of the on-field action, and the potential of the Unreal Engine, but everything else feels like a barebones port of a barebones game from two generations ago. Also, communication from WW is horrid.
UI, HUD: 2/10
Overall, the game is worth playing for us starved rugby fans, but there's no real guiding principle for gameplay, so that while all the parts are there, it doesn't feel like a cohesive whole. For example, Rugby 08 is all about forward movement, and you know that because every single animation, every pass, even the offload system, is designed around carrying the attack forward smoothly until you get within the opponent's 22 when the defending AI all of a sudden turn into jacked up monsters with a hair-trigger clearing kick.
In RC4, I'm not just not sure what the game wants me to do. I don't get rewarded on attack for spotting a mismatch because my players slow each other down through poor positioning, the AI has a homing device, and the tackle radius is so huge. Playing defense is just pressing the switch player and tackle buttons in quick succession as the AI behaves wildly and breaks tackle after tackle. The defensive strategy and decisions only come at the breakdown. I'd encourage a thoughtful exploration of the gameplay systems, and how they contribute to your guiding principle, whatever that might be. I'd argue that EA was on the ball, and that forward momentum should be the driving force of the game.
On the bright side, you've captured the physical contact side of the game with the contact animation sets. That part is solid and doesn't need more attention, but the finesse side is lacking. I'd recommend focusing on mo-capping an agile fly-half or something to get the missing footwork, kicking, and passing animations this game needs.
Satisfying bump-off and hand-off animations, but needs more finesse move, footwork options
Set plays are a great addition that you need to expand on
The ruck system is in a good enough place currently to leave as is for now
Player speeds and pace of the game is in a good place
The new stamina changes are very welcome
Off-ball animations and/or HUD indicators to show exhaustion or tiredness would be great
This system encourages judicious use of the sprint button now, so would be good to make that known
Defensive AI are like homing missiles--need drift defense and a more conservative rush-up to create more opportunities for turning defenders and creating holes
Consider creating logic that moves the defensive AI towards the ball like a homing missile as is until they hit a certain radius from the ball-carrier, after which they'll become more conservative (could link this to the aggression stat).
Tackle radius is too large, so that whether I get past a defender or not is dependent entirely on a successful sidestep or fend, not footwork and creating space
Need more kick and passing/catching animations
Need to be able to play off 10
Needs a 'protect ball' button option when carrying into contact (ex. hold down Left Trigger)for faster ruck recovery at the expense of an offensive move--it'll also make me feel like I'm doing something to initiate the break tackle chance instead of trying to hand-off every time because heading into contact without doing anything on the buttons feels wrong.
Passing and offloading need to feel more responsive, accurate, varied, and realistic
Flat passes currently cause both players to stop mid-stride, killing forward movement
Offloading from the shoulder buttons feels unresponsive (Rugby 08s offloading system is preferable) and sets the player up for failure
All passes use the same animation and are at the same speed and trajectory, regardless of distance
Pod formation options don't reflect real-world formations
Lots of slow-down and jerkiness stemming from a combination of an elongated acceleration curve, rough animations, and poor player positioning
I'd like to see a totally re-imagined passing, offloading, and kicking system
I'd like to see kick chase (this could easily be a set play) and an aerial contest system
Satisfying tackle animations
You seem to have fixed the fullback, which is great
Rucking is in a good place, allowing for potential to steal ball
The auto-lock on the ball creates horrendous sliding and movement issues
Instead, need a jockey/breakdown button to put my player in this lock-on mode for better defending at the expense of speed. You've played Fifa, Madden, and NBA 2k--you know what I'm talking about.
Lack of a realistic attacking AI to defend against
Lots of pick-and-go and random passing
Add more set plays and have the AI use them frequently and strategically in attack
Needs a strip ball button
Needs a hitstick
Needs an intercept button to press if you're in the passing lane at the right time
Lineout is fine enough, but would look to replace the ball-throwing direction meter. It's wildly insane on Pro difficulty.
Add set plays to lineouts
Scrum is fine enough, but would look to add a hooking element to make your hooker matter more
Place kicking needs a curve function. Rugby 18 did this very well.
What I would do
Mocap an agile 10 for footwork and kicking animations to complement the Jonah Lomu animation set
Overhaul the locomotion system to address changes of direction from a spectrum of non-agile to agile (this combined with reducing tackle radius will create opportunities for space)
Add more set plays with varying moves within them, and have the attacking AI use them far, far more often
Add real-world 1-3-3-1, 3-2-1-1, and 2-4-2 pod formation positioning, and the ability to play off 10
Prioritize speed and smoothness of animation, with the idea of forward momentum always at the forefront
Remove the auto-lock defensive system that takes the control of my player out of my hands, and turn it into a jockey/defensive breakdown.
This game could have that AAA graphical quality we've all been wanting in a rugby game, but it's not even close to being there yet. We get a glimpse of what it could be in the 3D Edit Player screen for face-scanned players--dynamic lighting, high quality character models, high-res textures, and quality idle and facial animations. But the rest of the game is a mix of 4th-gen and 3rd-gen graphics, which actually makes sense because you've ported over a 3rd-gen game and plastered a 4th-gen veneer on it without making the creative, cost-cutting decisions necessary to show off what UE can do even on a 4th-gen system. You may have a great engine at your disposal, but Rugby 08--a PS2 game--has a more authentic look if you compare screenshots to their real-world counterparts.
Face scans are an exciting and awesome addition to the series. The amount of face scans in the game is impressive, and although the quality can be hit-or-miss, when it hits, the players look authentic.
Kit textures are accurate and detailed
Skin textures look really good
Hair for face-scanned players is well modeled
Plenty of accessory and boot options
Legacy hair styles generally look bad
How all hair interacts with light is the biggest issue and degrades every character model
Light only hits the top side of hair planes instead of passing through, so you get those horrible-looking black jags on all hairstyles, and is especially noticeable on lighter hair
Hair and facial hair on avatar portraits looks especially bad
Many of the face-scanned players need to be color corrected to match their body color and not look like corpses
Generic player faces tend to look bad
Would change focus from trying to replicate every individual player face through edit morphs (which generally turn out low quality), to detailing dozens of high-quality generic faces of various ethnicities (UE's Metahuman will be gamechanger for this), and then customizing skin tone, eye color, hair, and facial hair
Would love to see cloth physics on the shorts, and shorts of various lengths
Marvelous Designer is a great 3rd party app for this
Need sweat on the skin
Need breath fog for cold environments
Need accumulation of grass and dirt stains on skin and kits throughout the match
Hair physics on medium and long hairstyles would be great
Impressive amount of stadium options
Stadium models generally look authentic
3D grass implementation looks like rigid turf, constantly pops in during cutscenes, lacks realistic color, and generally isn't great when seen from a lot camera angles
I would consider completely overhauling this, as it fills 90% of the screen during gameplay (more bang for your buck)
Crowd is a bit of an eye-sore. Besides being understandably low res, I think it's mainly the texture colors. There's way too much gray and bright, faded color hues. It often looks out of the place with the stadium.
Also, would like to see crowd LODs.
Lighting and Atmosphere
Day and evening lighting looks really great
Dynamic lighting that changes during a match is cool
Overcast is acceptable, but the Rain setting during the day uses weird lighting so that players cast a strong noon shadow underneath them. In addition to that, stadiums tend to turn on at least some of their lights on gloomy days, at least in the Premiership.
Stadium lighting needs the most attention. Night matches look the worst.
All angles are lit equally so that character model details are completely washed out. (That combined with the poor custom faces and poor hair implementation is why people are saying these graphics look like the PS3.) In the real world, you can see that light strength and direction is unequal--one side is usually more lit than the others.
Shadows (under arm pits and inside of legs) are harsh, pure black, which is a huge giveaway that there's lighting problem
Light lacks any kind of color profile
All stadium lighting is exactly the same, which leads me to believe you're using the same lighting setup regardless of the presence and configuration of each individual stadium's real-world lights.
Could use atmospheric haze and fog
What I Would Do
Rework every pitch until it passes the squint test (compare in-game vs real life screenshots--they should be similar at a distance or if you squint your eyes)
Basic method would be to have two basic pitches--arid and lush--with differing hues of soil: light brown for arid, dark brown for lush.
Implement a softer, low intensity 3d grass method
Rework stadium lighting
Focus on improving hair and facial hair quality and light interaction
Enforce quality control on all assets--if it looks janky, it doesn't get approval. Quality over quantity.
Add the gritty elements that make rugby rugby: sweat, mud stains, grass stains, blood stains
Character models always look better with a sheen of sweat
I'm a bit biased in this area because it's my day job to design UIs, but I have to say that the UI for the RC series is pretty abysmal and is going to be the key factor in transforming the game for RC5. I know WW has inherited the series from another developer, and that you're a small company, but if you don't have a full-time UI designer on staff already, I highly recommend contracting one.
You've probably recognized this already--I'm guessing it might be a factor contributing to reneging on your career mode promise for RC4. Every little new function requires new UI elements, new screens, new user flows, on top of all the back-end work. It piles up quick, I know.
These menus were super basic in RC3, and are just reskinned
Lacks important functions where you need them:
Pre-game team management for single and online matches
Half-time team management in games
Roster sorting and filtering in career mode
Comparing draftable players to current roster in career mode
Notifications for when your players are back from injury
Unexplained settings and functions
Generally clunky in design, boring, and unsatisfying
The player profile with two copies of the same bar graph is a good example of this
Misses opportunities for quality of life improvements
Misses opportunities to show off character models and tell stories
Lacks a guiding principle
Tons of room for improvement, especially for training elements for new players
A good HUD surfaces the systems that the game is built around to the user in a way that can't be missed, teaching them how to play by explaining to them what they did right or wrong
Pass success or failure
Ball-carrier move success or failure
Offload availability, success or failure
AI opponent's selected player, stamina, and momentum
Closest selectable defensive player to the ball
No indicator what direction my kick is going if I do the kicks with a button press instead of holding them down
The stamina meter around the selected player doesn't have enough contrast
No indication of who I'm passing to
Holding down L1 or R1 often just gives me one option when there are clearly multiple players available to receive a pass
That's a shame because I feel most in control when I pass like this, and there are multiple players to choose from
What I Would Do
Redesign entire UI around the guiding principles of passion, momentum, and player-focus
Bold colors that contrast, shapes with edges, header font implying movement and energy
Kinetic transition animations between screens, active states
Emphasis on players, using a mix of real-world photography and 3D models
Turn text into visuals wherever possible
Add team management screen to assign set plays, tactics, and position roles
Redesign player profile screen to include 3d model
Redesign roster screen to be more visual
This is the part that's better to show than to tell, so I'll be attaching mockups in the future for funsies.
Not enough to keep you interested when the career mode is so lackluster on a game that doesn't offer an ultimate team or in-depth online mode. No real difference between career and competition, whether 15s or 7s. It's a huge missed opportunity!
Captures and presents a good amount of statistics through the seasons
Lacks the basics of any sports game career mode: player progression/regression
Lacks coaching development
Lacks player stamina management game-to-game
Lacks youth academy
Lacks realism in how different leagues cultivate and sign their players
Lacks a reason to play on: even if you do claim the trophy at the end of the season, all you get is a 10 second cut scene.
Lacks things to do in between games
Only being able to sign players at the beginning of the season is ridiculous, and the fact that you have to do it all at once in order to progress is maddening
The league news ticker is a missed opportunity for season story lines
No other mode appeals to me, so I'll leave it to others to discuss them.
What I Would Do
Players progress skill attributes by training and performance, regress physical attributes by aging
Each player is assigned an archetype based on play style
Players gain stat bonuses/decreases from previous performance, synergistic partnerships (based on archetypes), and injuries
Players have game, season, and career goals that help advance them faster
Each player has a set of traits and tendencies to individualize them
Improve your team through regional scouting and youth academy
Hire specialist coaches to get specific training bonuses
Be assigned season goals and objectives from the club board
Earn offers for new coaching jobs to achieve career goals, including coaching an international squad through world cup cycles
Negotiate contracts throughout the year including re-signings, loans, and transfers
Have a career trophy case showcasing all of the trophies you've won
Do all of the above, but in WORLD LEAGUE
Eventually turn 7s into a completely different kind of experience, separate from 15s with totally different themes and gameplay
There's a whole McMansion's worth of room for improvement here, from cutscenes to sound design to commentary.
Legacy cutscenes do at least occur after every break in play, which is a necessary element (I'm looking at your Rugby 15). It's good they exist in some form.
Cutscenes are what give the impression of a game having "good graphics". FIFA on PS4 during gameplay looks pretty similar in resolution and quality to RC4, but it's the cutscenes that strategically show off what the Frostbite engine can do.
Weird camera angles and direction choices from the legacy cutscenes don't present the updated visuals in the best light on 4th-gen consoles.
You see the criss-cross grass geometry, you get lag from piling on DoF and 3D grass together in one shot, you end up having to scale down the resolution and shadow quality on all the player models.
Changing this presentation package to feel more like a broadcast, using intelligent camera angles to maintain at least 4k30fps on the PS5 while utilizing all the graphical bells and whistles, would be a gamechanger.
Watch how PES ends up doing it now that they've switched over to UE
Leverage the ease of facial mo-cap in UE to replicate those dramatic rugby moments and bring some passion into the game.
Would like to see the walkout from the locker room, or least the gathering in the tunnel before matches
Big matches should have the most pre-game cutscenes
Easily one of the biggest turn-offs of this series in general
A lot of effects should probably be redone: the weird slipping sound that's supposed to be a pass, the gigantic thuds and groans during a tackle, the weak kicking noise, and most of all, the crowd.
Crowd noise sounds like it was sampled from an indoor crowd: there's no weight or echo to it. You need to feel like you're surrounded by it.
Need those team-specific chants and ambient noises to add authenticity and personality to the stadiums. I want to hear cow bells and that cool ass Maori call-answer that goes out over the PA in New Zealand. I want to hear Swing Low at Twickenham and freaking bag pipes at Murrayfield.
There should be a PA for all the stadiums announcing starting lineups, tries, substitutions, and whatever else they announce.
The handful of generic tracks that make up this soundtrack is pretty weak. If you're taking any tips away from this review, make sure it's this one: check out artlist.io and get yourself some pretty solid, good royalty-free music with vocals from various genres for a small subscription. You can put together an amazing soundtrack using content from this site.
The lineup screen in RC4 is a really welcome improvement. My PS4 always took a while for the face textures to load in, and with this recent patch, they look super low res as a tradeoff for loading in quickly, but it shows some creativity, and I like it. I'd like to see if you could go further with it and pull off something like the lineup graphic in this year's Aotearoa production package.
End game stats are cool. Would like to revisit replays of tries and drop goals, as well.
Speaking of replays, instant replay is an awesome feature that I enjoyed with RC4
Honestly, I generally don't mind the current commentary. It usually just fades away for me until one of them says "Rebels" all super menacing like. I actually have the player noises and sound effects turned down really low so that all I hear is the commentary and crowd. Not much time needs to be spent in this department until everything else is sorted.
What I Would Do
Study rugby match production, taking note of camera angles, shots, and potential player animations for new completely new cutscene package
Find a source for better crowd noise and pepper in authentic chants and noises
Replace worse offending sound effects.
This game gets an A in my book for the wealth of customization options available. The Fan Hub is a great concept, player creation is amazingly detailed, there's all kinds of settings to adjust to customize the game to how you want it, and you can edit pretty much everything. I'm super proud of my Fan Hub uploads (if you see players made by HisGreal, that's mine), and it may have rivaled the amount of time I've spent actually playing the game.
The only gripe I can think of is that I wish the kit creator would have been more modular, so I could edit one section of the uniform to my liking at a time.
Seriously, if your player base is all telling you that your studio's communication is poor, your communication is poor. Whether it's lack of time, lack of staff, constraints by your publisher, or whatever, you all need to sort that out, especially if you're going to pull the Early Access thing again with RC5. It's seriously bad. If you're following E-sports Boxing Club, then you've received monthly development updates and fighter announcements detailing where they are in the process for a game that isn't even in beta yet.
Frankly, I'm pretty pissed that you guys reneged on career mode improvements after promising it, and that doesn't mean you should be tight-lipped in the future to avoid blowback. It means you should deliver to your player base what they deserve, and be explicitly clear about what's going on during development. I don't see anyone at WW doing interviews for this game or interacting on social media outside of your official facebook posts. I don't know what you guys intended to do with RC4 or how you envision an RC5. Basically, we don't know anything at all except to check your facebook page for updates.
Thanks for absolutely fookin' nuthin.
@WW - Cole, you've been awesome on here and we appreciate that. Thanks for bringing our feedback to the table, and for having patience. You guys did try to address many issues. I'm just aggrieved.