The 2015 rugby world cup is almost upon us, and as with all major sporting festivals, a game is released just in the nick of time to get us all in the mood. Rugby can be complex at best. Let’s hope that Big Ben Interactive and HB Games have made an intuitive, fun and polished experience.

HB Studios, the Canadian firm which has been making rugby games since 2003 bring us Rugby World Cup 2015.

The first few minutes spent with RWC 15 give an ominous indication of what is to follow. Even before you take to the field for some action, the game feels distinctly underwhelming and low budget. Rather than presenting you with video footage or even animated graphics, a flurry of tutorials announcing the various controls take the form of static screens.

On the field, changes have been made and not for the better. Winning a turnover ball in a ruck is nigh on impossible and maintaining possession when you have the ball is straightforward. This means that games often descend into basketball-style affairs, where a pattern sees one team score before their opponents return the favour.

Passing can have momentum but the AI puts a spanner in the works

There are flashes of momentum when you get into a passing groove, feeding the ball from one player to the next, a process made easier by your opponents’ reluctance to tackle on easy and normal difficulty levels. Even then, sweeping moves are frequently cut short by the inane offensive approach of your AI teammates, who frequently stray offside.

The tutorials are static graphics stating what basic maneuvers are with no live gameplay tied to them. So, trial and error was the order of the day. This was fine, until I realised that the developers hadn’t implemented clear success or failure indicators in the tutorials. So now, I had to figure out how to handle a ruck. That meant reading static slides and trying until I figured things out. That’s where the game became frustrating. When getting into a ruck after tackling, you’re told to fill a green bar and then take possession of the ball. The trouble is that the opponent A.I. is so slow at this mechanic that you win almost every time.

You end up winning position and punting the ball, winning crucial space as a result. Then, once you’re moving switching players becomes clunky. In other sports games, the game chooses players based on ball location. The opposite happens here. You’re either in the zone of the ball or you’re so far out that you’re losing ground out of nowhere. Once you have a player who has control and want to break out, your team becomes chicken headed. There is no co-ordinated effort with the game A.I., whether from your team or opponents. I also encountered a player who got tackled, and remained on the ground while the rest of the team scrambled around.

Feature-wise, the game builds on Rugby 15 in some ways, with the inclusion of action replays a welcome feature. Others, however, have been taken out. Strangely, it is no longer possible to choose to play a game in rainy conditions, an unfortunate state of affairs for anyone looking for the authentic experience of playing as Scotland.

Graphically, screenshots of the game could easily be mistaken for a free to play iOS title, although once in motion, they fare slightly better. The stadiums, meanwhile, are generic and although the audio of the crowd adds some atmosphere, the jerky, bobbing spectator models would not look out of place in a Playstation 2 game.

No online multiplayer?

The biggest problem, however, is the lack of game modes. Save for the World Cup, exhibition matches and practice sessions, there are no other offerings. Criminally, there is no online multiplayer option at all, an inexcusable omission for a 2015 sports title. Rugby fans are still waiting for a great console game.