While rugby isn't a mainstream American sport, it is nonetheless a terrific action-packed team sport that can be best described as a cross between football and soccer. It's played on a professional level in other countries, mainly throughout Europe, which has seen many rugby video games over the years. Why Electronic Arts has released this one here is unclear--however, in spite of this fact, Rugby 2002 is certainly an accurate and fairly entertaining re-creation of the sport.
The game features all the usual modes of play you'd find in a football game, including quick start, friendly (exhibition mode), and tournament. The tournament mode has three different international competitions to choose from. You can select a full world championship tournament, which features every rugby-playing nation in it, or you can choose to play in two other tournaments that offer competition with select countries. The game contains 20 different rugby teams from all over the world, all of which are rated differently in several categories, ranging from strength to awareness.
Rugby also has an excellent tutorial mode that shows you what the sport is all about. The tutorial mode takes you through every aspect of the game by showing examples of every particular action in rugby. Before moving on to the next example, however, the computer asks that you successfully complete the same play that was shown. Everything--from the proper way to scrum to passing--is covered in the tutorial mode and really helps newcomers understand the game.
Actually playing the game is quite fun against a second player of equal skill when you first start out. Going up against the computer, even on the game's normal setting, is extremely tough at first, but once you get the basics down and find a good balance between kicking and passing, you'll be able to move the ball downfield and put some points on the board. If you've never played or seen rugby before, you'll want to go through the tutorial--or the game will seem like a complete mystery. Rugby is really a mix of soccer and football in that you can carry the ball, kick the ball, pass the ball laterally, and score points by making touchdowns or kicking the ball through a field goal. The control is fairly solid--selecting different players, kicking, passing, and all of the actions you can perform are quite responsive. Moving your players and picking the ball up, however, feel a bit awkward in comparison since the game uses a momentum-based physics model similar to that of Madden 2001. Stopping a player or going in a new direction takes a second, since he's already moving. While this is clearly accurate, it takes some getting used to. You won't be cutting through defenders like Jonah Lomu your first time out, but with a bit of practice, you'll get the control of the game down. Kicking a conversion goal, however, is the strangest thing to do, because in order to make the ball go through the uprights, you have to totally aim the onscreen directional arrow away from the goal. This is odd, because once you realize where the arrow has to be in order for the ball to go through, it might as well be dead on--since you can pretty much hit it every time.
Visually, Rugby 2002 is a bit of a disappointment. The game doesn't have the same great player models or facial expressions as its FIFA and Madden counterparts. While it still certainly looks good, it just doesn't have anything visually spectacular about it. The animations of the players are all really good and look fairly realistic, although when the two teams are locked in a scrum, they really don't look like they are pushing or digging into the ground at all. The stadiums look fairly decent, as does the game as a whole. It's just not nearly as polished as EA's other sports games. In the audio department, Rugby does a good job of announcing and delivering realistic sound effects. The English accent of the announcer calling the game really adds to the experience.
Overall, Rugby is a solid re-creation of the sport that delivers fast and responsive gameplay. While the graphics aren't on the same level as EA Sports' other PlayStation 2 titles, such as Madden and FIFA, the gameplay makes up for it. Anyone with an interest in rugby will definitely get something out of this game.