In the summer of 2005 Brian Lara made a triumphant return to video games, with Codemasters' game being addictive and highly enjoyable. It wasn't perfect, but it was the best option cricket fans had. After the entertaining but slightly disappointing 2007 edition on 360, PS2 and PC, the PSP gets its own take on the sport you either love or hate.
Brian Lara 2007: Pressure Play features the official licence for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, and this means that while playing in the official tournament mode you get all the correct player names and stats. Strangely, other than one day matches, your only other option is the new PSP exclusive Pressure Play mode - there is no option to play Tests. Here you take part in little challenges that have been designed to suit portable play. In theory they do, but the problem comes from the lengthy loading time that comes before each challenge. It's hardly ideal given the supposed nature of the game and makes the new mode rather a chore to play.
If you've played any of the console versions of Brian Lara, on the pitch things will seem very similar. Your basic batting and bowling controls are as they were, using a combination of directional stick aiming, timing and power bars. It's pretty simple stuff, but bowlers can bowl various different deliveries and batsmen have the option to move around in their crease, defend or go on the attack. Cricket novices are able to play without any prior knowledge of the sport, but proper fans can work on their line and length, pick out weak deliveries and organise their field to suit the match situation.
Bowling controls are remarkably simple and require little more than placing a marker on the wicket and timing your release to deliver the ball at the desired pace. The various bowler types also each have their own set of special deliveries, so you are never short of options.
'Opposition AI is almost completely attacking in style, no matter what difficulty setting you choose to play with.'
As with batting and bowling, fielding is handled by pressing a button at the correct time, be it to return a ball to the keeper's or bowler's end, or to try and catch a ball. It sounds simple enough, but the timing bar appears suddenly on the screen and comes and goes in an instant. The end result is plenty of dropped catches and some horrific fielding.
Opposition AI is almost completely attacking in style, no matter what difficulty setting you choose to play with. This has two big effects on matches. Firstly, the AI team will score at a ridiculously high run-rate. Secondly, you'll be able to dismiss the entire team in far fewer overs than is usually possibly in real life. So, Australia might score 190, but they'll only have lasted 15 overs. This then gives you an age to trundle along and win the match.
There is a saving grace in the form of multiplayer support, with this PSP version supporting two-player local wireless play. Multiplayer is good fun as it takes away the poor AI and makes games far more realistic, but without game sharing or online support the chances of being able to play against another human player are incredibly slim.
Brian Lara 2007 Pressure Play sports visuals that resemble those seen in the PlayStation 2 game, but it's not a stunner. For some reason the frame rate chugs slightly when a wide camera angle is used, which is shame, but it doesn't affect gameplay, making it more of a blemish than a real problem.
While the visuals are passable, the audio is almost entirely ruined by some of the worst crowd noise I've heard in a video game. And this, aside from the sound of leather on willow, is all you'll hear. For reasons unknown, but most likely to save having to access the UMD constantly and drain the PSP's battery, there is no commentary at all. Cricket is a quiet enough game at the best of times, and on the PSP it feels almost lifeless.
Codemasters' latest cricket effort is enjoyable but flawed in a number of ways, to the degree that it's hard to recommend - especially if you're mainly going to be playing alone. Pressure play is a solid PSP debut for Brian Lara but it's far from the finished product.