Pimm’s sweating on the table, fours and sixes scrawled on a sheet of white paper close to hand and an outstretched finger ready to point to the sky at the sight of toppled bails: it can only mean another Ashes summer. Should England win (our crystal ball’s cloudy at the time of writing), the inevitable wave of bat ‘n’ ball euphoria will certify Ashes Cricket 2009 as the hottest sporting title until FIFA and PES return. If the Aussies retain the title, Codemasters are hoping disappointed fans will want to rewrite history in their living rooms.
And their attempt is indeed commendable. In-game ugliness aside, the overall presentation is impressive, with interesting commentary, and smart use of Hawk-Eye and infographics between contentious decisions and overs. Picture-in-picture displays are cleverly used to monitor action from out in the field, and the inclusion of record-breaking challenges to unlock both Achievements and kit modifications adds those extra incentives that keep you returning for more.
With more moves than Manchester City’s summer transfer record, the first port of call is Practice mode, where cricket legends Ian Botham and Shane Warne are waiting to share their best tips with you. The pitch annotations and clear HUD icons ensure even the fairest of fair-weather fans can bumble through the motions.
Batting options involve attacking, defensive and loft shots, with the ability to modify each strike with various footwork manoeuvres. Bowling is handled in a similar manner. Shoulder buttons are used to cycle through delivery styles and face buttons then dictate spin, though finer tweaking is needed during the run up too. Most simple of all is fielding. Positions are chosen before each delivery (if you don’t like any of the pre-set options you can create your own), so the only work involves catching and choosing which wicket to target for run outs.
All three positions boil down to one key factor: timing. Time a strike right and depending on the placement and shot type you’ll likely get a boundary; get it wrong, and the walk back to the dressing room is your humiliating reward. Release the ball too late as the bowler and it’s a no ball; too early and the batsman has an easy opportunity for at least four. The exact window depends on a number of factors. The character’s skill is hugely important – Anderson’s ‘perfect’ meter segment is much wider than, say, Strauss’s – as is ball degradation, pitch quality and player confidence.
This final aspect heavily impacts on a match’s ebb and flow. A confident bowler will spin with much greater assuredness and faster pace, setting up frequent opportunities for catches and broken wickets. But a few boundaries will change all that, giving rise to more sundries and bolder batsmen. The system isn’t perfect, however, since a batter stepping up to the crease after a bowling hat-trick is often still classed as fearless. But the most part, it helps you to translate player actions into easily digestible statistics.
Practice makes perfect and in the case of Ashes Cricket 2009 it’s doubly true. While the buttons and timing skills are easily adopted, the methodology behind each play is not so simple. The combination of middling visuals and vague reasoning back in Practice mode makes it difficult to tell which shots are best played when. Balls that look identical often aren’t, and because practice sessions fail to distinguish between these similar situations, early games can be frustrating and boil down to trial and error.
It soon becomes clear that aggressive batting is rarely penalised if your timings are accurate, and the same two or three bowling methods can be used to dismiss most people within a few overs. Flooding the off-side slips with fielders and deftly spinning the ball towards the third man, for instance, often glances an outside edge for easy catches.
And so, once you’ve learned to judge ball speeds from the perspective of both bowler and batter, matches rarely go the distance. A real-world comparison is useful here. At lunch on the first day of the first test in Cardiff, England were at 97/3. At lunch on the first day of the Ashes Cricket 2009 match, however, England needed just 12 runs from the second innings having already bowled Australia out for 89 and 55. (We sure hope the day two spectators were refunded.) The short matches are good fun but they hardly capture the true spirit of test cricket. And given that the name of the game is Ashes Cricket 2009, we’re betting that’s precisely what you’d be wanting…
Aug 10, 2009