The problem with most cricket video games is that the play is fast-paced, kind of like Twenty20 matches with Energizer bunnies.
Run rates of 20 and above in a Test match are not uncommon, nor are six-wicket hauls in an over, or the wanton use of tail-enders to flog world-class bowlers for sixes.
Uneven bounce: Ashes Cricket 2009 </span>is a solid but inconsistent game.
It’s the Achilles heel of most cricket games. As simulations, they are flawed and can, therefore, be exploited. Just like the “inswinger loophole” in the seminal Allan Border’s Cricket (where a short pitched ball pitched wide outside off stump swung magically like a boomerang past the unsuspecting batsman), the discovery of a winning (read cheating) tactic is enough to break a game for good.
But Ashes Cricket 2009 is on to something. The game, developed by Transmission Games and published by Codemasters, the makers of the Brian Lara series, is the best cricket game in nearly a decade, since the 1999 iteration of Brian Lara’s Cricket. It makes a number of significant changes to the cricket video game, and offers welcome improvement in both the batting and bowling departments.
The earlier Brian Lara games were good in short bursts, but play a 50-over game and the cracks start to appear: stilted animation, repetitive commentary and unintentionally funny artificial intelligence (AI) quirks.
Ashes attempts to fix these holes. The animation is much cleaner and smooth. The commentary has been improved (though it still occasionally annoys), and the AI plays better. It also rewards diligence and consistency over bravado through its “confidence” system. Each in-game player has a confidence level that rises with good performance. Bowl a few balls down the corridor of uncertainty, and your confidence goes up. Get thumped for a four, and it goes down. Fielding has been streamlined as well, with a cool slow-motion effect for catches. Problems with unrealistic run rates persist, but higher difficulty levels partly solve the problem.
The controls on the PC version are unwieldy at first, but the detailed tutorials (hosted by Ian Botham and Shane Warne) get you into the groove quite quickly. All the major forms of the game are playable, and 14 international teams are available from the start. Stadiums from around the world can be unlocked with further play. Hawk-eye statistics show up regularly, and there’s commentary from Tony Greig, Jonathan Agnew and Shane Warne.
While the underlying mechanics are mostly solid, the coating of paint over it is not. There’s a distinct lack of polish throughout the title. Animation quality is suspect, and performance issues in the PC version bring down what is otherwise a visually striking game. The game has official licences only for England and Australia, meaning you’ll have to contend with hilarious misspellings of famous cricketers (Sumit Tenhukkar, anyone?) but these can be changed with the in-game editor. The computer AI is also uneven, with a predilection for taking suicidal runs. Player likenesses are a bit of a joke, Andrew Flintoff looking particularly suspect.
But the flaws with Ashes Cricket 2009 are mostly minor, and nothing a comprehensive patch or two can’t fix. Codemasters has delivered a strong, compelling cricket title, albeit one that could do with some polish. A solid middle-order innings then, but not quite the man of the match.
Ashes Cricket 2009 is available for the PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. The version reviewed here is the PC version, which is available in stores for Rs499.