It was the Australian former cricketer, Richie Benaud, who once famously said that “Cricket is a batsman's game,” a quote that perfectly sums up our experience of Codemaster’s latest foray into the popular, quintessential English summer sport. Cricket is a sport that is known for its slow-pace, a game in which a clever mix of attacking and defensive play generally wins the day. That doesn't make for the most exciting of sport's videogames, so predictably it’s when you’re behind the crease, an area where the game is usually won or lost, that provides the most excitement and entertainment in Ashes Cricket 2009. As long as you're not expecting a fast-paced and flowing arcade cricketing experience, then fans of the sport should be happy that Codemasters and Transmission Games' latest cricket game does manage to capture the skillful and technical aspects of the sport by offering a measured and challenging game on the pitch.
Ashes Cricket 2009 is the official game of the inaugural summer test series between England and Australia. It features the official teams of these two cricketing heavy-weights, yet it loses some of its authenticity when you choose to play as one of the 10 other cricketing nations, whose licenses are still owned by Electronic Arts. Fans of cricket will recognize many of the stadiums from around the world, including Lords in England, The Gabba in Australia, and Pakistan’s National Stadium and authenticity is re-captured somewhat by the voices of cricketing legends Ian Botham and Shane Warne, who do a great job at commentating during matches, as well as providing some useful tips in the comprehensive tutorial mode.
Away from the main Ashes game mode, which sees England play Australia over five tests, you can partake in One Day Internationals, Test Matches and 20-over matches, as well as indulge yourself in the superb tutorial mode and range of challenges it offers. Alternatively, you can customize matches to suit your needs, or jump into the online arena to take on other cricket-loving players from around the world. The array of game modes is far from spectacular, in fact it’s pretty much the same bunch of modes from Codemaster’s last cricket game, Brian Lara Cricket 2007; though Ashes mode now replaces ICC World Cup mode. However, there’s still just about enough content to ensure longevity long after you've won your first test match, and we’re pretty sure that English and Australian gamers will never tire with trying to get one over on their arch rivals.
Aside from the embarrassingly ugly, cardboard cut-out crowds that line the stadiums, distracting you from the overall polished look of the game, presentation is, on the whole, immaculate. Character models are impressively rendered and animate well on the pitch, whereas the easy-to-navigate interface and well-stocked stat-reports are presented with clarity thanks to the easy-on-the-eye color scheme and large font-size. Replays are also impressive, as are the Hawk-Eye visualizations that have been stripped from the Brian Lara series, giving the matches an authentic TV-produced feel.
Ashes Cricket 2009 should ultimately be judged on the three areas of cricket: bowling, batting and fielding, and it does a decent job in two of the three areas. The simple batting control scheme is intuitive and relies on your skills and timing rather than simply allowing you to smash the ball around the pitch - arcade style. Aiming is accomplished by using the analogue stick to point in the direction you want the ball to go and you're guided by the on-screen radar, which highlights the direction the ball is heading and shows you the opposition's fielding positions. It's all about adjusting your timing to take into account the position of the delivery and the speed of it, and then trying to judge the shot to perfection by choosing the direction and pace that you want to hit the ball. Batting is a lot of fun if you’re willing to play cricket like it should be played and not go for sixes on every shot - you'll end up like we did, being all-out for just 24 runs. If you do score over 50 runs with one batsman, or manage to hit the ball for six into the crowd, it will have taken skill and pin-point precision to do so.
Bowling is much more in-depth, yet very simple to execute. There are a wide range of techniques on offer, including spin bowls, sliders and leg-cutters and there is a degree of skill and thought needed before each and every delivery. Switching bowling techniques and working out the batsmens' strengths and weaknesses to try and catch them out is certainly a highlight and, like batting, if you do bowl a player out it’s a satisfying feeling knowing that it took skill to do so. Bowling in Ashes Cricket follows a similar vein as other cricket games, with a small circular target that you can place in the area where you want the ball to land. There's also a bowling meter and it’s up to you to try and hit the sweet spot to bowl a perfect delivery. Though not as exciting as batting, the bowling mechanic works well and is deep enough to allow you to experiment and try out some of the more advanced techniques.
Fielding is the weakest of the three actions. There is no an option to control the fielders, although you can impressively alter the fielding positions and customize your field in an attacking or defensive role. The mechanic for catching takes the form of a QTE-based action where you have to press a button at exactly the right time. The margin for error is extremely small, frustratingly so at times. Though you could blame the fact that we've played quite a few matches where we've missed half-a-dozen simple catches on our lack of skills, the QTE system is still a fairly dull and unimpressive feature that adds little to the enjoyment of the game.
Our biggest complaint with Ashes Cricket 2009, however, is how tough the A.I. is outside of easy mode. At normal level, batting is very challenging, but still a lot of fun. You need to mix up defensive and attacking play and make split second decisions depending on how the ball has been pitched. Bowling, on the other hand, is extremely tough. Opposition batsmen at normal level are extremely adept at reading your bowls and scoring boundaries and it's really hard to bowl them out. Of course, this could be because we've not mastered the art of bowling, but still it feels a little too unbalanced and more difficult then it should be. On hard difficulty, the A.I. is insanely good. You’ll need the skills of Shane Warne himself to stand any chance of bowling a player out. Ashes Cricket 2009 would have benefited from a bit of A.I. balancing to make it a little bit easier, especially on hard mode, but even on normal difficulty. However, if you're up for a challenge you're certainly going to get it.
Overall, it's clear that Transmission Games has gone a little further than most to deliver an authentic, fairly deep, yet simple to play cricket game that has an accessible control scheme, but still manages to deliver enough depth and challenge to appeal to hardened cricket fans. There are some good features that run alongside the gameplay too, including the confidence building system, which if you perform well, gives you an increased chance of bowling that perfect googly or hitting a six. There's also an adequate range of customization options, including a player and squad editor, which should appease those players looking for a more complete cricketing experience. Despite the few issues we have with Ashes Cricket 2009, it's still the best cricket game on console this year. And though, admittedly, you haven't got much of a choice elsewhere (none in fact) we can't see cricket fans being disappointed with this challenging and tactically-rich game of cricket.
|Ashes Cricket 2009 Review by Steven Williamson|
-The Final Word-
Not the complete package, but still a very competent, challenging and enjoyable game of cricket.