IT’S GENERALLY A CASE OF SLIM PICKINGS when it comes to videogame adaptations of our nation’s favourite sports. Thankfully, Transmission Games has been hard at work putting together the definitive cricket experience for current-gen consoles, which will be with us in time to coincide with the final Ashes tests later this month.
Despite being the spiritual successor to the Brian Lara Cricket series, Ashes Cricket 2009 boasts a completely new engine that’s been built from the ground up. And even though it was fairly early code that I got to check out, the game is already looking splendid. You simply have to see this on a large-screen TV; the attention to detail is striking, and I can only imagine how much better it’s going to look once all the textures and animations have been finalised. Simply put, this is going to be the immersive cricket experience that die-hard cricket fans have dreamed of.
While the game is International Cricket Council licensed, only Australian and English players and stadiums will feature in the game. Even the Hawk- Eye computer system used to digitally track the ball in test matches has been licensed for use in Ashes Cricket 2009.
All non-Australian and non-English players and stadiums, while sporting different names, bear an uncanny resemblance to their real-life counterparts; not to mention that the player can modify each team member’s name if they choose. So, with a little editing on the player’s part, it’s quite possible to play as the Black Caps at Eden Park, although Eden Park will be referred to simply as “Auckland” and will have slight advertising differences – but it will distinctively look like Eden Park. Exhibition matches are also highly customisable, right down to weather, pitch and ball conditions.
The game mechanics are relatively straightforward but with plenty of scope for further depth, which makes it suitable for cricket freaks and casual fans alike. Batsmen can toggle between front foot and back foot (front foot for defensive plays and back foot for aggressive, attacking plays), and you can play either an attacking, defensive or lobbing shot, which is placed using the left analogue stick. Obviously, timing of the shot is also of the utmost importance, not to mention the decision to run singles, doubles or not at all once the shot has been played. Bowlers can select a bowling style (as indicated by on-screen representations of the face buttons) and then try to hit the “sweet spot” on a moving meter to make a successful bowl. But don’t fret that your bowling decisions are being given away by onscreen prompts; you can effectively “dummy” your opponents and change your mind on the fly! Some bowlers can even make “specialty” bowls once their confi dence is up, and while I never got to this point myself, I’m told that these have a much higher chance of success than standard bowls.
Because of the limits of the ICC licensing – not to mention that the game is based on the Ashes test series – the game is rather Australia and Englandcentric. Transmission Games has managed to get some big names on board for the in-game and tutorial commentary, however. Commentary will be provided by Tony Greig, Ian Bishop and Jonathan Agnew. Batting lessons are all tutored by Sir Ian Botham, and similarly, bowling lessons are handled by none other than Shane Warne. Ashes not only supports online multiplayer, but it also supports our-player local co-op with a “two versus two” system. The batting team will control their individual batsmen (right down to calling and deciding when to make a run), while on the opposing team, one player will bowl while the other controls the fielders (which switches up between overs).
I guess the best praise I can give Ashes Cricket 2009 is that, as someone who is only very casually interested in cricket, I’m intrigued and genuinely look forward to having a further bat at the final version.