With the 2006 Ashes series now underway, EA's Cricket 07 will probably seem like a very tempting purchase for the legions of cricket fans staggering around like zombies while trying to maintain a new nocturnal lifestyle. With Brian Lara staying in the pavilion until next year it would have been great if EA had delivered some well-timed cricketing greatness, but that sadly isn't the case.
New this year is the Century Stick, which, as you might have worked out, is responsible for all your batsmen's shots while at the crease. The right analogue stick simply needs to be pressed in the direction you want to play the ball - kind of like you're playing the shot yourself. If you see a space through extra cover, flick the stick in that direction, and assuming the ball is there to be played and you time the shot correctly, you'll hit a boundary or take a few runs. The harder the difficulty setting the harder it is to time shots, and tail-enders can do little more than prod the ball about.
By default that's all there is to batting, with movement along the crease possible until the ball is delivered, and the L1 and R1 buttons (on the PS2 pad) trigger a lofted shot and a run down the wicket respectively. Further control can be added to the left analogue stick, but it's really only for players who understand more than the basics of the sport. This stick can be used to control the foot that you play your shot off, be it the front or back foot depending on the pitch of the delivery.
While not a perfect system, it feels pretty intuitive and can be tailored to suit novices and experienced cricketers. The problem is that the game never feels like real cricket, no matter what the difficulty setting. Play on an easy setting and it's far too easy to lob balls into space for simple boundaries, with the opposing team's captain simply reacting to every shot and plugging the gap, in the process leaving another hole somewhere else on the field. Play on a harder setting, though, and the game becomes a real grind: boundaries dry up and fielders almost always close down little prodded shots that usually score runs in real cricket.
Bowling is nothing more than choosing a delivery type (dependent on the bowler), aiming the pitch of the ball, and then stopping a meter as high as possible before you go over and cause a no-ball. You can throw in some special deliveries now and again, and you get some control over the swing or spin on a ball, but it's not really enough to make you think you are doing anything that requires more than an ounce of skill. What's worse is how I frequently lost wickets that seemed improbable. The ball warps more than the Starship Enterprise, suddenly appearing in a fielder's hands, and at times the ball removed the bails after missing the stumps by a good few inches. Not good at all.
To be fair to EA, numerous game modes are available, with fully licensed English events such as the Liverpool Victoria County Championship, Natwest Pro40, C&G Trophy and the Twenty20 Cup. There are also numerous Australian events, and International tournaments to enter, plus the big one: The Ashes. EA certainly knows how to ride on the wave of excitement surrounding the 2006 Ashes series, and the option to play either the 2005 or 2006 series is there on the main menu. They've even included a number of Ashes challenges, but all of this is deemed rather pointless as the core gameplay isn't all that much fun.
On the field the presentation is decent enough, but players don't really come all that close to matching their real-life doubles, and the commentary team often get things totally wrong, both in terms of who's at the crease and what has just happened. If you want you can create a team of freaks using the player creation tool, and watching them can be amusing for a few minutes, but it's still a few minutes you could spend doing something else.
EA Sports Cricket 07 is another play and miss for EA. The Century Stick works adequately, but the rest of the game falls apart around it. Non-cricket fans will also find little other than two videos to teach them the game, as the nets aren't much use unless you know what you're meant to be doing in the first place. If you need something to keep you going in-between Tests this winter you might be able to extract some fun from the game when played at a low difficulty, but I'd stick with Codemasters' previous Brian Lara game.