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. Now we've moved into the next-gen era and the legendary series has arrived on the Xbox 360 (as well as PS2 and PC). Some spit and polish has certainly helped, but things are largely the same as they were - except England have become worse.
The big news this time around is the official licence for the Cricket World Cup, and this means that while playing in the official tournament mode you get all the correct player names and stats. Of course, this makes playing in any of the non-official game modes rather strange as your sporting heroes lose their proper names, only to be replaced with rather blatant but not license-breaking titles. Still, the World Cup is where the excitement is at the moment, so the official licence can't be sniffed at.
Other game modes include test matches, one day internationals and Twenty-Twenty matches, all playable at a difficulty that suits you. Any Brian Lara veterans will want to start at County or Test level, while newcomers can get some practice in the tutorial mode and practice nets. The lower difficulty levels practically make the game into a completely different sport, but they do allow your average cricket hater to have an enjoyable game.
On the pitch things initially 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 and options really haven't changed, but batsmen can now charge down the pitch (at the risk of a stumping) and fielding seems far more awkward than before. 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.
If you attempt to throw the ball to the bowler's end of the wicket you better be damn sure that you've nailed it, or the ball will bounce past the pathetic player stood over the stumps, giving the batsmen easy extra runs. It's as if international cricketers were never taught how to back up the receiving fielder at the stumps. Having said that, overthrows often result in the AI batsmen losing their minds and in turn produce easy run-outs. Thankfully, these fielding problems don't ruin things, but it's by far the weakest aspect of the game.
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, no matter what type of match you're playing. 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 the Xbox 360 version even supporting Xbox Live play. Offline play is good fun as it takes away the poor AI and makes games far more realistic, but whether you're able to finish an online game or not seems like pot luck due to frequent player disconnects. It's a real shame as without a patch you're only left with offline play as a viable way to play multiplayer matches.
Brian Lara 2007 sports slightly improved visuals over the 2005 game, but even on the Xbox 360 it's not a stunning looking game. The lighting and texture detail in the Xbox 360 release look great, but players simply don't look as impressive as they do in many other next-gen sports games. For some reason the frame rate chugs slightly when a wide camera angle is used, which is really unforgivable given the less than spectacular visuals.
While the visuals are passable, the audio is almost entirely ruined by one crazy fan that insists on howling after every delivery. It's completely nonsensical and quickly moves from being a funny quirk to sound that'll make your blood boil. Commentary is typically bad too, with Gower and co often failing to accurately talk about what's going on.
Codemasters' latest cricket effort is enjoyable but flawed in a number of ways, to the degree that the previous game is actually a better option - especially if you're mainly going to be playing alone. The 2005 edition lacks a few of the extra features found in this year's release, but it allowed you to play lengthy matches that mimicked real-life cricket; the aggressive and often stupid AI in 2007 makes this almost impossible. Played with a friend, Brian Lara International Cricket 2007 is good fun, but by no means good enough to take the trophy.