Pinterest As a proud New South Welshman I have gained a high tolerance for disappointment over the last 12 years. The feeling of being so near yet so far so many times is great preparation for being a fan of digital rugby league, for once again Big Ant Studios has produced a performance better than its last but one that is unlikely to draw any new fans to the grounds if they were unimpressed with previous efforts. Yet occur they do, and nearly every play session left me seething with frustration at the injustices suffered and dejected as another otherwise entertaining match left a sour taste. Momentum into the tackle is critical for both ball carrier and defender, though there are still too many awkward moments where defenders drive a player back in a tackle against all laws of physics. It is mercifully infrequent close to the line thank goodness, so unstoppable bargeover tries are rare, though not eliminated completely.
But will it be heartbreak or triumph for the Tru Blu Entertainment and Alternative Software-published title? As a result of this focus, RLL4 appears, at least on the surface, quite similar to its predecessor.
Many of the same game modes and playable teams plus, covering the NRL, Super League, lower leagues in both Australia and the UK, as well as representative sides make a return from last time around, with the overall visual presentation not feeling a million miles away from Rugby League Live 3.
Beneath the surface, however, Rugby League Live 4 brings a plethora of new features and improvements to the table. While Rugby League Live 4 undoubtedly retains an Australian NRL-centric focus, a number of additions at least go some way to bring fans of the Super League back on-side.
As ever, the majority of the top NRL players also receive the face scanning treatment here. Thankfully, the player models, on the whole, have come on in leaps and bounds since Rugby League Live 3, with players looking much more lifelike and less like caricatures.
Furthermore, their movements and animations are now less robotic and distinctly more athletic, thanks to new motion capture carried out by the developers. Thankfully, the developers have undeniably succeeded in that respect.
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated in-game addition is the arrival of attacking set plays for the first time. Now, however, users can chain together a series of effective and varying attacks from tackle to tackle.
Alongside these set plays, the ability to sidestep, fend and hit up an opponent all make a return, while the ability to drive forward in a tackle has also been refined.
Rugby League Live 4 has largely retained the same control system for passing as its predecessors, with the front shoulder buttons — combined with a face button corresponding to first, second or third receiver — being used to pass left and right or both shoulder buttons for a quick pass to your nearest playmaker.
While the passing mechanics may have largely remained unchanged, kicking is an entirely different story, with both placed kicks and kicks from general play receiving a major upgrade. These are generally easier and quicker to pull off than before, where players were all-too-often caught in position on the fifth tackle.
That being said, the slow-motion feature for in-play kicks has been removed, which may take some getting used to via trial and error at first.
Similarly, contesting kicks has received somewhat of an overhaul, with flick-backs, safe catches and acrobatic leaps all being available; an accuracy meter is also now used to determine which team is likely to come up with possession.
Somewhat disappointingly, however, the option to attempt a one-on-one ball strip has been removed from the series. While the feature was unquestionably improperly balanced in RLL3, it would surely have been better for Big Ant attempt to implement a stricter success rate rather than remove it outright.
An all-new per-player offside indicator, meanwhile, will be your lifesaver in preventing numerous needless penalties being given away, by showing you which players to avoid tackling with during the current play. Similarly, the ability to make substitutions on the fly, through use of the touchpad, will make your life a whole lot easier.
Defensively, the AI opposition play a lot smarter, reading the game well and being satisfyingly difficult to break down even on the lower difficulty settings.
The ever-popular FanHub makes a triumphant return, offering players one of the most comprehensive player and team customisation suites ever featured in a sports game. This time around, users are even able to create their own stadiums and match types. One of the most pleasing aspects about the FanHub is that it includes a platform-agnostic sharing tool; that is, users can download players, teams and stadiums uploaded by others, regardless of which console they were originally created on.
The physicality, the free-flowing action, the individual brilliance and the unpredictability are all accounted for here; Rugby League Live 4 is, by some distance, the greatest video game representation of the sport released to date.