Brian Lara International Cricket 2007 Review

Have you ever dreamt of strapping on your pads, trusty willow bat in hand, and then striding out to the wicket to lead your team to a crushing victory with a majestic slog swept six over long off? Probably not, in fact you're probably wondering what the hell I'm talking about. Thankfully this is the game to educate you in the mysterious ways of cricket, a sport known only to a select few worldwide but one that can provide plenty of entertainment once you make your way past the barrage of seemingly incomprehensible rules and phrases.

Cricket - it's self explanatory really.

A basic breakdown of the rules will probably be helpful and I shall try to do my best. Basically the game is broken down into two forms: a one day international or a test match. In a one day game, each team gets 50 overs (to clarify: one over is completed when a bowler has bowled six balls) to score as many runs as they possibly can to determine a victor. Whereas a test match lasts for five days with each team batting twice to get the highest score possible, if the five days end with neither team being bowled out twice then the match will be a draw. Obviously both teams will strive to get batsmen out, either by hitting their stumps while bowling, having them caught when they hit a shot (without the ball bouncing) or having them run out when they scurry between the wickets. Meanwhile the batting team endeavour to score as many runs as possible by hitting the ball to areas of the pitch where there are no fielders present and then running between the stumps - each time they cross they score one run. They can also score four runs by hitting the ball to the rope at the edge of the ground or six runs if the ball is hit over the rope without bouncing first. Frankly, this is a very basic outline of the rules and to be honest no amount of explaining can help you without actually playing the game itself. The problem with such a niche sport like this is that because of the nature of the game it is likely to alienate anyone who is not already familiar with it - it's certainly not a sport that you can pick up quickly.

Thankfully the game has a more than helpful Tutorial option to help out the uninitiated (which is probably the majority of people who made it past the first paragraph) and to ease you into the game. The action consists of three main areas: batting, bowling and fielding, and the tutorial then covers a series of simple instructions and some active participation. The controls are all fairly simplistic and mainly revolve around timed button presses to get the required results. When batting you need to time your shots and direct them between the fielders, get it wrong and you risk missing the ball completely or hitting it straight to a fielder both of which can result in your batsman getting out. If all ten of your batsmen are out then the opposition gets a chance to bat in order to beat your score. The same applies when bowling, you need to decide on the area of the wicket to direct your delivery and then time the pace of the ball for maximum effect. The clever thing about both batting and bowling is that raw power and perfect timing isn't always the way to go - carefully throwing in a much slower delivery when bowling, for example, is a great way to fool the opposition and can often draw them into making a mistake. The fielding aspect of the game is much less interesting as you have a very limited number of options about where you can place your team and there is no way to individually place players, which is a bit disappointing as it would be nice to figure out where a batsman likes to hit his shots and then place a fielder there to stifle him, but sadly its just not an option. It's also pretty annoying that catches are resolved by just stopping a rising bar in the right place, as for the shorter catches the bar moves pretty fast which can make the timing more difficult than it needs to be.

As well as batting, a bit of dancing is not always amiss.

Once you've figured out exactly what you're doing the game has plenty of options for you to take advantage of. You can play a one off test or ODI against any team in the world, or you can go straight for the jugular and enter the World Cup itself. There is also the 2006 Challenge Cup to take part in and a nicely set up online mode where you can challenge your friends to a game. The main problem here is that there are only 16 teams on offer and half of them are amazingly poor, mainly because their real life counterparts are just as bad but it's annoying just the same. Also the different game types and tournaments just offer more of the same with very little variation, once you've played a single game of cricket then you will have experienced pretty much everything the game has to offer. The online mode has also had very few people involved even when the game launched so there is little chance of you bumping into a stranger for a quick game online; basically unless you know someone with a copy of this game then you will be stuck playing solo.

The graphics and soundtrack also leave a lot to be desired. The game made an appearance on the PS2 and it shows, as there is absolutely nothing on offer here that you couldn't have seen on a last generation system. Considering the game only had a limited release then it's understandable that they wouldn't want to spend too much time on development but it's still a pretty poor effort. The players look nice enough while the action is going on, but the animation is extremely poor during the numerous cutscenes and the fact the winning and losing team do EXACTLY the same thing after every game is ridiculous. It soon gets pretty boring to see the same celebration every game, while the losers all huddle together in the exact same way time after time. While the game does have 20+ venues to play in there is virtually no difference to the way each of them looks and plays either, seemingly the only thing separating them is actually the picture you see when selecting where you want to play. With any sports game you are going to use the same animations over and over so it makes sense to make them as smooth and polished as possible and that just isn't the case as the overall presentation is pretty much lacking. Even the menus are dull and uniform, though at least they are functional and very easy to navigate so you can get a game up and running within a matter of seconds. The sound effects are pretty much the same every game, the batsmen make the exact same cry of anguish every time they miss a shot and the commentary tends to repeat itself in a very short space of time. The less said about the menu music the better, as you'll find yourself starting a match just to make it stop.

Australia giving England a thrashing, nothing new there

The major problem with this game is without a doubt the A.I on offer. The computer is ridiculously easy to beat on the lower difficulties and even if you play on the higher levels you should be winning with ease. Once you learn the art of batting it is extremely easy to hit pretty much every shot for a four or six, making the computer’s efforts rather meaningless. Setting your fielders to defensive and bowling in the same 'sweet spot' (called the corridor of uncertainty in game) also means the opposing team can only muster stupidly low scores which can be bettered in a single over. The challenge is just simply lacking. It's also frustrating that your fielders are so incompetent. Most of the time they will stand still while a ball passes within inches of them, only to set off after it once it has long gone. They don't behave as you would expect from an actual player, as they will run in an arc to where the ball will eventually 'be' rather then heading to cut it off. These niggles only cost one or two runs which is nothing in the grand scheme of things but it just comes across as lazy programming.

The achievements are probably where most of the imagination in the game has wound up, as they are a nice mixture of simple tasks and hair tearing frustration. In fact specifically aiming to get a few of these can be a nice challenge in itself and certainly adds to the games longevity, especially going for six sixes or a hat trick of wickets. The only gripe here is that a lot of the achievements can be made a lot easier by just playing slog difficulty and batter away at the hapless computer opposition. It's also a shame that they put in the generic 'grinding' achievement for winning the same tournament numerous times, which soon becomes a chore. Considering the number of trophies, records and unlocks that are available in game it would have made more sense to tie them to an achievement instead.

It's worth noting first up that this game has only appeared in PAL regions up until now meaning that it is pretty much only available in the countries that have actually heard of cricket. This seems a bit of a shame as the game itself is easy to get into and it pretty much does what it says on the tin. Once you've mastered the rules the game is pretty enjoyable for a quick blast. That being said, every aspect of this game other than the playability can only be described as average at best and it seems that only the bare minimum has been done to make the game look and feel like it should. Sports games are always going to suffer from repetition but a lot more could have been done to create more of an atmosphere and make everything look a lot tighter. Basically the decision to buy will come down to whether you like cricket or not and, sadly, for most people that will be the reason it stays on the shelf. It's just not cricket...

Awful repetitive music on the menus and generic oft repeated sounds in the game. Best played with the mute button on.

Pretty smooth animation generally but awful close ups and generic grounds, plus some boring menus don't help.

Surprisingly easy to get into even for cricket novices and good fun to play especially with a friend.

A good selection of options both on and offline, though hampered by the fact that once you've played a game then you don't have much else to discover.

A great mixture of fun challenges that help to lift the game above average, the fact that most of them actually require some kind of skill also helps, though the side is let down by the grinding 8 World Cups achievement which can take hours and becomes pretty monotonous.

The score is an accurate reflection of the quality of the games production but not really of the game itself. Put simply, if you like cricket then buy it if you don't then it's simply not a good enough general game to entice you. There is hardly likely to much competition on the cricketing front in the near future but certainly this game can and should be improved upon.

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