There's only one sport making headlines at the moment. Eleven men taking on eleven men on a beautiful green pitch, with a ball playing a major part in proceedings. This isn't a video game based on that sport. This is Cricket 2010, released bizarrely smack bang in the middle of the football World Cup. With vuvuzelas blaring out from inside the stadiums in South Africa and on our streets here in England, has anyone even noticed that there's cricket going on too? Ironically, timing isn't Cricket 2010's strongpoint, and neither are excitement, presentation and polish.
Cricket 2010's big new addition is an over the shoulder camera that attempts to put you into the action. The old broadcast-style distant view can still be used, but by default the camera is in tight on your batsmen or bowler. When batting you can survey the field by looking around, and the feel of batting from that point of view is certainly more authentic, but it's a tad restrictive.
When stood at the crease you've got a plethora of shot options, from off side drives to leg-side hooks, all dependent on the type of ball that's been delivered and whether you choose to play from the front or back foot. You can even opt to charge down the wicket to take on spin bowlers, smacking a lofted shot straight out the ground. Timing is key to everything, whether playing a defensive stroke or trying to hit a boundary, with an early or late swing of your bat often resulting in the loss of your wicket or a lucky escape - edging behind but just out of reach of slip, for example.
20 over matches are where most fun can be had, as the short form of the game promotes attacking play. When you're smashing fours and sixes you don't have to worry about running between the wicket, but when you're playing a cagier game, taking the odd single or two by nudging the ball into a gap in the field is essential. Sadly your limited view when running between wickets makes judging runs tricky, and the option to view your partner doesn't help much either.
When bowling the camera follows your player as he charges in before delivering the ball, but the view of your aiming reticule is severely hampered. With the broadcast camera you get a clear view of where you're aiming, but from the action cam it simply doesn't feel as accurate. With power determined by an on-screen meter, this isn't effected by the new camera. Pace bowlers can swing or cut the ball, while spinners can, well, apply various types of spin and drift the ball in the air. You can do more or less everything you'd want to be able to do, but it doesn't feel as though you have a huge amount of control.
Part of the problem with trying to make cricket work as a video game is finding the fine line between authenticity and fun. The sport, let's face it, is generally a slow, quite dull affair, especially in Test Matches, and recreating 90 overs a day for five days, as players prod the ball about and score at around 3 runs an over isn't likely to thrill many gamers. Go too far the other way, though, and you can smash 20 runs or more an over, again and again. Once you've got the timing of your strokes sorted, sadly Cricket 2010 becomes far too easy.
Fielding once again feels quite automated, with your control limited to pressing a button to catch the ball and deciding which end of the wicket you want to return the ball to. AI here isn't great, with players often slow to move and they'll frequently appeal for run outs despite the batsmen being safe.
Things aren't helped by some fairly sloppy presentation. Character models are decent enough, with the England squad looking somewhat similar to their real selves, but animations are poor and don't blend well at all. Little glitches rear their heads as well, such as an annoying sound bug that means you'll hear your batting partner running between the stumps even if the players have stopped and you're ready to face the next delivery. A sluggish frame rate, despite a lack of anything spectacular going on, is also very disappointing.
There's no doubt that Cricket 2010 is best played against a real opponent, but if you can't play with a friend you can take part in a variety of one-off matches in the three disciplines (20 over, One day and Test Match) or tournaments. In truth, playing alone feels a bit basic, with no career mode and little in the way of player customisation.
Cricket 2010 plays a decent game of cricket, but the new camera brings with it as many negatives as it does positives, and the presentation is still severely lacking. Played with a friend over 20 overs it offers a fun way to spend an hour or so, but there's not enough depth here to keep cricket fans interested over long, drawn out Test Matches - especially when the football's on.