It's an age old rugby question: if the best league team plays the best union team, who will win? Of course, you can't answer without being biased but in gaming terms it's a much easier question to answer. To that end, is Rugby Nations 16 or Rugby League Live 2 the game for your train commute home?
Who Can Avoid Jogging the Most?
Time to get the biggest frustration out of the way first: whether it's football or rugby, computer games often struggle to capture the pace of the real thing. Watching players job along the touchline as if it's the team warm up can zap the excitement out of games. To give credit RLL2, they've introduced a sprint button that allows you to turn on the gas at key moments. Whilst those in the know might say that that's a fairer reflection of how league works anyway, the apparent slowness that players run with on RN16 makes you feel like you're watching an over the hill seniors team on a Sunday afternoon.
Both have faults with player controls. With RN the problem is the lack of jinking and sidestepping options that you get in RLL2. Instead, you're left to try and run angles to beat defenders and that means that you don't have the arsenal of moves at the touch of a button that RLL2 has. In terms of committing players to the ruck, kicking, scrummaging and so on, it's obviously the challenge of a union game to try and find ways to incorporate all these components in to the gaming controls in a way that makes them possible and challenging. RN16 is therefore at disadvantage against a rugby league game but it just about does OK. It's often a case of tapping a button quickly, whether it's adding player to a ruck or shoving in a scrum. In conclusion, they've spent too much time worrying about making rucking work and not enough time making running and passing work, which are clearly the most exciting parts of the game to play.
Available on: iOS, Android
With RLL2, the problem is simply controlling in which direction your player moves, particularly in defence. Whereas your players are more incline to defend automatically in RN16, in RLL2 you are very much responsible for how they defend. This means through no fault of your own you often create craters of space in the middle of the pitch by virtue of the difficultly in trying to get whoever you are defending to move in unison with the rest of the defensive line. This means that defending in RLL2 is a deflating experience, and given the fact that the lack of rucking in league makes defending almost entirely about tackling it's somewhere where the game completely misses the mark. On the flipside, the lack of sidestepping and good passing that RN16 has is not a problem for RLL2 meaning that running with the ball is both challenging and doable, in fact you're far more likely to score more far tries in RLL2 (unless you're completely inept.)
Both games are on a par when it comes to kicking conversions but given that this is such a simple component of the game then that should come as no surprise. With both you can find yourself questioning how wind speed and direction could change so many times in a match but you let it go. However, one sneaky little feature that gives RLL2 the edge is kicking out of hand. This should be a faff to do but on RLL2 play goes in to slow motion as you start to kick, enabling you to do something tactical and realistic without making a fool of yourself.
Where RN16 does clearly win out is the AI. In RN16 the attacking AI will surprise you by slotting a drop goal or tiring you out around the rucks before shipping it wide, even on the easier settings. However, on RLL2 the AI rarely do anything inventive on the easier settings. In fact, it's only (and very annoying) tactic is to boot drop goals with surprising ease once they're in range. Rarely do they spin it out wide or chip over the top which are the kind of classic rugby league moves that you'd expect to see come through in a game like this.
It seems unfair to pit two games against one another when one has got licenses and the other hasn't, but here we go…
Despite any gameplay flaws, RLL2 is a beautifully realised gaming experience that will appeal to any rugby league fan. Sports games need to be truly authentic or totally surreal and futuristic; there's no middle ground. RLL2 offers players the opportunity to play in countless well rendered stadiums, in whatever real world tournament that they like and with a team whose current roster is accurate. I was impressed by the sheer number of leagues and teams included here and it's only let down by a few minor details. Firstly, there are only 3 playable international teams and no world cup. This is obviously not a big deal for any big time league fans as it's never been a hugely popular international game (and to be fair the big three of England, Australia and New Zealand are represented) but it is an area for improvement. Also, players don't bear any resemblance to their real life selves aside from skin colour. You may say that that is forgivable on a game designed for a smartphone but if you're looking for flaws there is one.
On the other hand, the minor criticisms above pale into insignificance against the poor display put on by RN16. Whether it's the ludicrous made up player names (ten points if you can guess what kind of names they gave the Welsh players) or drab and unbranded kits, this is not a visually stunning or authentic experience. Some bonus points are clawed back by the fairly accurate stadiums on offer but the work is undone by the 2D crowd cheering on a made up player. The playable teams on offer are also patchy with some clubs being represented and others not. In short, the realism of RLL2 is completely lack and the half attempt to create it makes that even more obvious.
RN16 does score a few points for including the 6 Nations, which fits perfectly into a gaming app. It's only five matches long whereas many other the RLL2 modes replicate full rugby league seasons or tournaments that mean only the most devoted player will ever complete them. If only they could have had some real players in real jerseys, then playing a 6 Nations campaign on RN16 would have been a decent gaming experience.
And The Winner Is
Well despite my inherent pro-union biased, it must be conceded that RLL2 is the more complete game on offer here. Whether it's the benefit of licensing or the ability to actually make your players turn on the gas and sprint, RLL2 is just a more complete and well-rounded gaming experience. Neither are perfect and both have plenty to work on, but whatever ever code you believe in, league wins this time.