Codemasters have just released Ashes Cricket 2009, perfectly timed to coincide with the 2009 Ashes Tour. This game is singleÂ handedly filling a huge gap in the games market, as Cricket games are few and far between. Given the lack of choice, will all of theÂ cricket fans out there, starving of video game goodness, be able to fill up on Ashes Cricket 2009? I have no idea, as I am not a bigÂ fan of cricket, but I can tell you what I think of the game…
Having not played cricket since school (and then it was against my will) and never having watched a cricket game in my life, itÂ could be said that I was somewhat unenthusiastic about Ashes Cricket 2009. Still, I will try anything once, so I put the game in theÂ 360 and started it up. What I experienced next surprised me.
From the menu there are a number of options from the coaching, where you can be taught by Sir Ian Botham and Shane Warne, playÂ online, playing across Xbox Live, to the Pavilion, where the player can see all of the goodies they have unlocked. The mostÂ important option, however, is play cricket. This is the gateway into the game and from here the player gets to choose match type,Â difficulty, team, stadium and settings. There are plenty of match types to choose from and plenty of teams to play as. The match types include Ashes 2009 (only playable as England or Australia), One day internationals (either one off exhibitions or tournaments), test match (individual or series) or one off and tournament 20 overs. The teams include licensed versions of the England and Australia teams, and also a selection of other teams including the West Indies, New Zealand and Pakistan. Unfortunately the stadium choice is limited, as most stadiums remain locked until the player has reached certain targets.
The gameplay is where the game really surprised me. What I found was that, rather than being an overly involved collection ofÂ complicated decisions, the gameplay was simple and fun. Bowling is simply a matter of choosing what type of delivery to use, hittingÂ the button at the optimal time and moving the aiming reticule to the best place (ideally aimed at the wickets). The choices of delivery allow the player to decide on the strength of the delivery and also the exit of the ball from the bounce. More options become available depending on the skill of the bowler and his current confidence levels. Then you get a bar similar to those you find in most golf games, allowing the player to press the chosen delivery button again (or a different one, to try and confuse the batter) within the sweet spot. Hit the button too early and the delivery will be flawed, hit it too late and bowl a dreaded foul.
Batting is also justÂ as simple. Press the corresponding button to the type of hit you want to make, use the left stick to choose a general direction andÂ get the timing right, which was not too difficult. Choices of hit are attack, defend or the option to loft it in the air. The final option obviously offers up great rewards with the possibility of hitting a four or six, but it also runs the risk of being caught by a fielder more easily. Using the radar style window in the bottom left allows the batter to choose direction by use of the left analog stick. Trying to aim for an area of the field that is least populated with fielders will reduce the risk involved with using the loft.
The fielding was maybe a little too simple with the player just required to hit the A button to catch it, if their fielder is in the right place of course. It is required to hit the a button at the right time however. Failure to do this will result in fumbling the ball, or missing it all together. The fielding, though uninvolved, actually provides the game with moments of tension, and great fun, during multiplayer. The AI, when playing against the machine, was not bad.Â However, setting the difficulty to hard is only recommended for people with a lot of patience, or who are incredibly good at this game. The confidence system in the game, which I guess is supposed to replicate the stresses of playing in real life, did not seem toÂ have much effect. Batters and bowlers can gain or lose confidence by succeeding or failing at their given task. High confidence results in better batting or bowling, or more options, and the reverse is true also. In practice I found that I could not really seeÂ the difference, besides the missing bowling options.
With commentary from Jonathan Agnew, Tony Greig and Ian Bishop, the game is quite atmospheric, although after an extended session ofÂ playing, their voices do begin to annoy somewhat. Graphically the game looks quite good, but I can’t help but feel that it should have looked better. The animations are top notch, with plenty of variety to entertain during the long games.
I have a feeling that the limitations in the gameplay may well put off some of the cricket experts out there. The game is more of aÂ casual cricket game than a hardcore simulation. The game is best played with a buddy, or across Xbox live, rather than against theÂ AI. In a multiplayer situation, this game is a lot of fun. In single player, there is just not enough excitement to keep the casualÂ market engaged for long, and the hardcore fan may well find the game too simple. Personally, despite my misgivings about a cricketÂ game, I had a lot of fun and even learnt a bit about the game.