An interesting mechanic that runs over both batting and bowling is confidence. Your batsmen will start at the crease as “Timid”, and part of your job is to slowly build up their confidence while decreasing the bowler’s. As a batsman you can build up your confidence by spending time at the crease and scoring runs. As a bowler you can gain confidence and reduce the batsman’s by forcing defensive shots and putting him under pressure with good deliveries. Right now it’s unclear just what impact confidence will have on player abilities, but it’s safe to assume the likelihood of getting out or getting hit for a boundary will increase. Talking of fielding, it’s largely governed by the AI, as was the case in Brian Lara, but you can choose what end of the wicket you want the fielder to return the ball to, and there’s a ton of fielding formations to tinker with if you fancy yourself a captain.
Although the mechanics of actually playing the game have been streamlined somewhat, outside of this Codemasters’ hasn’t pulled any punches with its commitment to realism. The weather and the wicket plays a huge part in a test match, as it does in real life. When setting up an exhibition, for example, you’re able to tweak temperature, cloud cover, wind, light, wicket wear and ball types. As a five-dayer progresses, the wicket changes to simulate how it would degrade in real life. But there’s only so much you can alter before a match – pitches are based on a play style that’s tied to where it is in the world. An Indian wicket, for example, will be dry and crumbling, meaning spin bowlers will have a field day putting the ball on mischievous cracks.
All this talk of test match cricket might make you wonder how Twenty20 fits in. Well, 20 over matches are in the game, complete with US-style fanfares whenever runs are scored, but Codies doesn’t have the official license, so can’t actually call it Twenty20. Some fans will inevitably be disappointed by this. Others won’t mind.
Of more concern are the graphics. A lot of animation work is clearly still to be completed, both on the bowler, the batsmen and the fielders. The fidelity of the graphics is solid, rather than spectacular. The pitches stand up well upon close inspection, the player faces are suitably detailed and the clothing’s great, but the game’s got nothing on the likes of the latest FIFA and Madden games. The crowd looks awful up close, too, as you’d expect, but from a distance they’re not too bad.
Perhaps making up for any potential graphical deficiencies is how “official” everything is. Ashes 2009 is the “official game of the summer”, as Codies puts it, meaning all the players’ likenesses are officially licensed, and commentary comes from the voices you hear on telly (there’s ten times as much commentary as the last Brain Lara game). In the coaching modes, Ian “Beefy” Botham and Shane “teetotal” Warne banter with each other as they show you the ropes. Every major team will be included, and the odd special team too (Codemasters XI, for example). On the multiplayer side of things, one versus one online play will be supported, as well as two-player local play, as you’d expect. There are tons of unlockables, too, including stadiums, different bits of kit and live action clips of Ashes matches gone by. It’s clear that anyone looking for a long-lasting and authentic cricket experience will find here.
Ashes Cricket 2009 looks at this stage like a worthy successor to the Brain Lara series. Batting and bowling have been streamlined but there’s enough depth to make it difficult to master. The graphics need some work, but the official licenses should please cricket fans. Watching the game being played will still no doubt be a snorefest, but playing it… well, that should keep cricket fans of all types happy.
Ashes Cricket 2009 is due out on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this summer.