August 12, 2009
Ah the joys of cricket, truly there is nothing more relaxing then sitting back for an afternoon of gentle applause, LBW appeals, googlies and fine legs. If you have read that last sentence and decided I may well have lost my mind, then let me assure you that it is genuine cricket parlance that many a fan has come to know and love. Here then is a chance for players of all abilities to get stuck into some international cricket against the best in the world. Plus it gives most long suffering England fans a chance to see their team win a few games. Can you imagine such a world?
It has been two years since Codemasters last brought out a cricket game and with the Ashes series in full flow, now would be the perfect time for them to refine the formula. While Brian Lara 2007 was a decent game it was not without a few shortcomings, not least of which was the bizarre save system, stupidly easy bowling and dubious A.I. Here then is a chance to right all of those wrongs whilst also ironing out a few more creases and adding in some online gameplay.
The gameplay itself has not changed much from Lara though. It is still your duty to try and bat your way to a high score while bowling out your opposite numbers as cheaply as possible. The controls for batting, bowling and catching are all remarkably simple – often requiring just one or two buttons to pull off even the most complex actions. Thankfully there is an in depth tutorial for newcomers which might even be too in depth as it can take a few hours to get through all of the tasks and challenges which is often longer than it would take you to finish a full game. The main changes are the ability for batsmen to play off the front or back foot – which can change your shot accuracy and selection, and that bowlers can choose from a wide range of deliveries depending on their own skill and the condition of the ball. Both additions make for a nice tactical balance to proceedings, though neither are necessary for success as you can stick to the basics if you are more comfortable. Catching is also just a case of tapping a button at the right time.
If I had one main complaint it would be that the batting has become far too easy this time around and the bowling is far too hard (or is that two complaints?). Even on easy difficulty it seems like you have to wait for a batsmen to make a mistake in order to get him out, rather than any kind of bowling skill on your part. The same holds true with batting, as it usually comes down to your own error in timing rather than troublesome bowling. When you can amass 804 runs without losing a wicket then you know something is wrong. On the bowling front, it can be frustrating to deliver a number of perfect deliveries only to see them dispatched to the boundary. It does make the game more of a challenge but a sometimes frustrating one at that.
There are plenty of options on offer too, as you can leap straight into a full five test ashes series or play a variety of other matches. One day internationals and 20/20 cricket are both represented and you can play tournaments in each of them. All of the current test teams, and a few others, are represented too so you can go ahead and play as whichever country takes your fancy. It would have been nice to see a few county teams thrown in as well for good measure, but that may be asking too much. As you play through you can unlock new features and locations by batting or bowling especially well, so there is a nice sense of progression on terms of new things to see and do.
The online modes are more of the same in terms of options but at least they give you a chance to square up against your friends. The action is pretty much lag free, if you discount some of the jerky animations that most of the game suffers from, so you can promptly get into the thick of things. The community is hardly massive though so do not expect to get into a game straight away unless you have an opponent lined up. It is a fun aspect of the game but one that suffers from its fair share of quitters as with any online game. When someone quits it seems worse in cricket, a sport that prides itself on sportsmanship above all else.
It is my sad duty to report that the delightful Caribbean theme music of the last game has been axed and replaced with something far more dour - a blow to my heart straight off the bat (see what I did there?). Thankfully though the commentary in general has been kicked up a notch thanks to contributions from a number of world renowned experts and players, not least of which sees ‘Beefy’ Botham and Shane Warne providing assistance in the tutorials. Part of cricket has always been the rambling anecdotes that take place while there are lulls in the action, and this game provides that with gusto. The only issue is the stilted nature of some people's delivery and the fact that repetition occurs far too often.
What you will notice while playing is the rather, well, wooden nature of the players. All of them bear a slight resemblance to their real world counterparts while looking just wrong enough to make the whole thing slightly disappointing. The animations too are not of the best quality with players looking awkward as they run up to bowl and all batsmen going through the same jerky follow through for each shot. There were also a number of incidents when the ball would glitch and stop in the middle of the field while my fielders jerkily ran around near it, failing to pick it up, which resulted in the game stuttering for a few seconds and then carrying on with the next delivery having finally decided to continue. Not indicative of thorough testing, which is no surprise considering the game seemed to be rushed out to coincide with the Ashes.
The achievements are decent but not spectacular and tend to focus a bit more on the Ashes series than they should do. There is nothing really tied to playing with any other team or at specific grounds, so you could literally get the full one thousand by playing as no one but England. The game also has a number of new stadiums and items that you can unlock by beating certain records too – it would have been nice to see something tied into this in terms of points as well. As much as I hate online tasks it wouldn’t have been too harsh to have a few points allocated to playing a single game online in a bid to encourage players to dabble in that mode. Despite my gripes you will have some fun going for the batting and bowling tasks, though they are a darn sight easier than the previous game thanks to the ability to save at any point. Which takes away a lot of the challenge, especially for getting a hat-trick or six sixes.
A really good cricket game but only if you are a fan. For anyone else, this will be something that you play for a couple of hours and then get bored of and I cannot imagine that anyone watching a friend play would suddenly get the urge to have a go themselves. Much like the real thing, this is a niche sporting title and one that will have a surge in popularity during the hype of the Ashes only to be forgotten about shortly after. It is a solid game that you can have plenty of fun with but do not expect it to keep you hooked for long unless you are a serious fan.
Some of the voice work is very good and sounds exactly like TV commentary including some delightfully rambling anecdotes. Sadly the majority is stilted, scripted and far too repetitive.
Drab stadiums with poorly animated crowds and players that seem to be carved and animated using wood. It does a job but nothing more than that, plus the odd glitch does not help matters.
Easy to pick up and play even for newcomers, but perhaps the batting is a little too easy and the bowling a little too tough. Solid other than that.
The best representation of cricket you will find, but that will not mean much to non cricket fans out there. The teams, stadiums and commentary are what all cricket lovers would come to expect though.
A decent list but one that is far too easy thanks to the save system. Not to mention the paltry five points for each of the training modes, which can take longer than a full test match.
Great for cricket fans but not of much interest to anyone else. The game is easy to pick up and play and has an in depth tutorial system, so with a bit of practice anyone can become a master. That is part of the problem though as the batting seems a bit too easy for my liking and wickets seem to be down to user error rather than bowling skill. Give it a whirl but do not expect to be overawed.