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Pro Rugby Manager 2004 PC CD-ROM Official Website

Published by Digital Jesters
Developed by Cyanide
Released - Out Now
Price : £34.99

Whilst football management games have always been really popular the same cannot be said for other sports management titles. Rugby is one of the many sports that up to now has been poorly represented. The last rugby management game I played was on the Sinclair Spectrum back in the 1980's which goes to show how neglected the sport has been. Thankfully though it's all about to change as we now have Pro Rugby Manager 2004 from Digital Jesters and Cyanide.

The first time you play Pro Rugby Manager 2004 you'll be taken back by how much there is to the game. We all expect the latest game from Sports Interactive to knock us back with how much their games contain but let's face it games developed by other people are often lacking. Pro Rugby Manager 2004 doesn't have the depth of Sports Interactive's games but it's certainly not lacking and for the first title it has a lot, and shows a lot of promise that will hopefully be realised in future Pro Rugby Manager games. You have a choice from playing in competitions in England, France, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy and South Africa. International games are played too. What's particularly impressive is the way all competitions run and it's not a case of picking how many of them you want to run when you start a new game. The speed of the game is impressive too and you won't be waiting around while the game is making calculations. You can elect to progress to the next day, next week or next event although you'll be alerted if something needs your attention.

If you've read anything about the game you'll have seen it likened to the Championship Manager series. Personally I wouldn't agree with that and in some ways it actually reminded me of the last Ultimate Soccer Manager game. The reason I say this is because you are not merely confined to making manager's decisions but can also improve various facilities such as your training ground, video room and club shop. The players have 16 primary attributes such as acceleration, passing and strength and they are rated from 0 to 100. They also have secondary attributes which are more concerned with less tangible qualities such as courage, temperament and altruism. You'll also find some icons that highlight a players stand out qualities, which is rather useful. In fact it's quite satisfying to see the detail Cyanide have put into the game. Certain players, such as those from the Zurich Premiership, will have their photos included too. While this can be considered a nice touch it does look silly when a lot of players don't have a photo because you have to make do with a silhouette image.

It's worth noting that it will be game over if your team should go 500,000 in debt. Personally I don't like this inclusion and it spoils the illusion of realism. It also means you have to take a strong interest in the financial side of the game, more so than a real manager would. Signing players also seems a little too simplistic. You get players who will comment that your offer is a joke but will not tell you a financial figure they will settle for, so you're left a little in the dark. The game does allow you to hire and fire your own staff including coaches, and each have their own attributes and a set wage that they will work for. Training has to be organised too and you can set up your own training programs or go with the default ones. The training organisation is icon based and is fairly straightforward. The game manual does a good job of explaining what all the training options do and what benefits they have.

You usually expect management games to be a fairly passive affair apart from the odd tactical switch or substitution. Pro Rugby Manager 2004 goes about things in a slightly different way though. Should you elect to watch a match and not simply get an instant result you'll get to participate in the coin toss and choose whether or not to kick-off. You'll get to choose where the ball should go from a kick-off and make decisions on line-outs and penalties etc. You can make individual and collective decisions too. The individual choices (which can be made by clicking on the player in question causing a menu to appear) allow you to tell a player to perform a variety of passes such as a missed pass or a switch pass or whether or not to set up a maul or attempt a grubber kick as well as setting him a direction to kick the ball. You only get a limited amount of time (10 seconds) to make the decision and then the game continues. Collective defence and attack decisions can be made too. Attack decisions range from scrum protect to line out whereas the defensive choices give you the option to push the opposition in a chosen direction and to defend deep amongst other things. You issue these orders by using the buttons in the lower left of the screen.

So with all things considered then is Pro Rugby Manager 2004 an impressive game? Well to be completely honest it lacks a bit of polish and there are a few areas which could do with improvement. I've also noticed that the game language selector will sometimes open up when trying to run a game and it always defaults to French which can be annoying, especially if you continue without changing the language to English. Some of the text spills over the cells it's situated in on the match ratings screen and this should have been tidied up. I've experienced the odd crash back to the desktop when making a substitution. On exiting the game it can take a silly amount of time to return to the desktop and I've found that only pressing the Alt+F4 key combination will enable the program to immediately exit. There is also a problem where the game can crash when trying to move to the third season which is unfortunate. These are not major problems (aside from the last one mentioned) and could easily be remedied in a patch but it's a shame they are there to begin with.

Of course you will all have seen the pictures of the 3D match engine and be curious as to how it plays. Well it's not realistic and it certainly comes across as a sterile interpretation of a game of Rugby. We were fortunate enough to receive World Championship Rugby (PS2) this week and the difference in realism between that game and this is quite large. However I'm sure you're all aware of how poor 3D match engines are in football management games, even after all these years of trying and personally I think Cyanide have done extremely well with their match engine. It doesn't look realistic but it doesn't look poor either. The movements of the players can sometimes be a little strange and the players don't always do the natural thing but it's still decent. Cyanide could have done a 2D match engine and probably have got better results but they went for it and created a 3D match engine and they have an engine that offers a solid platform to work on.

There are 14 stadiums in the game and they look good. The crowd looks a little poor but this doesn't detract from the matches in any way. There are a handful of fixed cameras, some up close and some zoomed out, and there is also a camera that you can move about to create a custom viewpoint. The player models are a little basic, don't expect any player likenesses here, but for a management game they are more than adequate. The look of the game, outside of the matches is more than acceptable and Cyanide have created a clean interface that works well and requires a minimum of fuss. There is a lot of data here and thankfully the clean presentation allows it to be accessed quickly.

There was little doubt that Pro Rugby Manager 2004 would be no problem for deaf gamers and that is certainly the way it's turned out. In fact aside from the match commentary there is no speech in the game at all with all the information being presented in either text, numbers or icons. The match commentary isn't really that good to be honest and text appears onscreen for all the important points. It's probably a sad fact that a lot of people will not know much about rugby here in the UK and that a game such as Pro Rugby Manager 2004 might seem difficult to get into. Thankfully the game manual explains a lot about the game and will help you get used to the various concepts and elements of the game.

There is no denying Cyanide have done a good job with Pro Rugby Manager 2004. For the first serious attempt at a rugby management game, it certainly has a lot of elements correct or at least they are on the right path. There is also the option to play online or over a LAN where you can create your own leagues. We weren't able to try this out but it does seem promising. The game does have it's rough edges though and they do need sorting out. However I'm sure they will be sorted very soon with a patch. Rugby fans at last have a game that they can call their own and I'm sure a lot of non-rugby fans will enjoy the game if they give it time and get to grips with the game. After all it is a sport that we English are world champions at (for once).

Overall Game Rating: 7.8/10
A very good effort by Cyanide and they have given us a rugby management game that's worthy of attention. The game does have some problems but it's nothing that can't be fixed with a patch and had the problems been sorted out in time for release then we would have been looking at a better rating.

Deaf Gamers comment:
The match commentary is not subtitled but this doesn't affect the game play in any way.