The world of video game cricket has been around for well over a decade, delivering us an array of truly diverse titles, from Brian Lara Cricket ’96, to the more recent Flash phenomenon, Stick Cricket. However, the mere fact that the sport of cricket is an almost unknown in the United States and parts of Europe has alienated huge markets for gaming developers.
Ashes Cricket 2009 attempts to open up that market for new gamers to experience the wonder of our colonial sport. But does Transmission Games defy all expectations and hit this title for six? Or do they merely cower before the in-swinger and hit the ball onto their own stumps?
See? Bad cricket puns already!
When you first jump into the game you are met with an opening screen incredibly similar to that of Ricky Ponting Cricket 2007, which, funnily enough, was developed by Ashes Cricket 2009 publisher, Codemasters.
This may very well disappoint fans of the genre who were hoping to see massive overhauls and additions to the latest cricket instalment. If Transmission Games can’t even make an improvement on the main menu, what could they have possibly done to the game’s mechanics?
That, unfortunately, is a question many cricket fans may be asking themselves after they purchase this title.
For beginners, though, the lack of improvements over two years is unlikely to pose a problem. In fact, there is a lot to like about how Ashes Cricket 2009 teaches newcomers to master the game. There are three deep tutorials for players to partake in: Batting, Bowling, and Fielding, all containing a handful of important lessons for players to widen their abilities. Both Shane Warne and Sir Ian Botham have lent their voices to the tutorials, which is a lovely touch, especially when Warney calls you out for losing your wicket.
Jumping into a game without properly learning how to use the controls is a hazardous endeavor that will ultimately result in your demise, even on easy settings. Taking half an hour to properly master all of the intricacies and tactics will go a long way to making this game a more-than-one-play experience.
Codemasters slated Ashes Cricket 2009 as being the biggest and best title of the cricket franchise to date, but for all their talk they still failed to deliver on arguably the most important variation in the modern game: Twenty20 cricket.
Okay, sure, they advertise on the back cover that you can compete in International twenty-over matches, but without the flare of the big introductions and boisterous fans that have become so inherent in Twenty20 cricket, the matches simply end up feeling like shortened One Day Internationals. And don’t even get me started on the absence of the Indian Premier League.
Which brings me to my next point: official names. While the Australian and English players are officially licensed, with correct names, stats, and uniforms, every other country in the game boasts carefully hilariously altered caricatures of their players; an excess of bobbleheaded cricketers can be quite disconcerting.
This lack of professionalism has been a hindrance on every cricketing game to date. Perhaps some gamers will have no problem adjusting to the ridiculous names and excess use of turbans, but for me it felt like playing Pro Evolution Soccer – you simply cannot immerse yourself into a reality that fails to believe in itself.
The most irritating part of the game, without doubt, is running. The developers somehow got it into their heads that it would be a good idea to be able to queue your running. So, if you press the Y-button twice, you will attempt to earn your team two runs.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, somewhere along the lines something went wrong. After you hit the ball into a gap, you instinctively press the run button. However, the delay time on the run button is so immense that players will find themselves hitting the button a second time, just as the player begins running.
Naturally, you think to yourself that you mustn’t have pressed the button hard enough the first time. Wrong! More often than not you will be run out for attempting a second run, even after the wicketkeeper or bowler is holding the ball.
It takes a lot to frustrate me to the point of trying to break my controller, even playing through Braid I never once got to the point of attempting to decapitate my white, buttony friend, but the running element in Ashes Cricket 2009 absolutely did the trick.
Despite these setbacks, the actual gamplay can be quite rewarding when playing with a friend. Single player against the AI easily becomes tiresome and bland, especially when playing a series of five-day Test matches. However, the improved batting and bowling experience, including how your player is holding up under the pressure, and having this affect their performance, is a big thumbs up for cricketing games of the future.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the problem. Ashes Cricket 2009 excels at a handful of things, but fails miserably at others, making it just another biannual cricket title pumped out under time constraints.
I was still waiting for something special to happen that would elevate my opinion of this game. Maybe a streaker? Or the umpire getting hit in the face by my square-leg drive? Disappointingly, neither of these things happened, and the unremarkable visuals were starting to make my eyes water.
Bowling animations are choppy, and batsmen don’t look much better. While taking a catch in super-slow-motion is unique and exciting, it does little to lift the overall static look of each match.
Thankfully, there is a saving grace to Ashes Cricket 2009. Multiplayer. If playing with a friend makes the game passable, playing online makes it a must-rent, if not a must-buy. There really isn’t anything better than jumping into a slog-fest with a Pom on the other side of the world. Something incredible happens when playing sports games online; they suddenly take on a whole new element of difficulty and entertainment, and Ashes Cricket 2009 is no different.
Hardcore fans of the cricket franchise will undoubtedly pick up this game for retail and, if they aren’t as fastidious as I, may very well become enchanted by its intricacy. For beginners, however, I can only recommend that you rent it and play online. While multiplayer is a magnificent accomplishment in the world of sporting games, single player is simply one big flaw.
Simply put, the graphics are not worthy of an Xbox 360 release. All of the grounds are licensed, but there is only so much you can do with a stadium.
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One Day Internationals are great fun, especially online. However, Test matches are excessively long, and Twenty20 feels like a rip-off without the Indian Premier League.
Despite the sickeningly repetitive title music, the on-field calls, sound effects, and aural environment all mesh to create a pleasant gaming atmosphere. The commentary is top-class, however I would have liked Shane Warne to appear more frequently, if only to add diversity to a sometimes-dull commentary panel.
For traditional cricketing enthusiasts who enjoy the length of a five Test series, there is a great deal of time you can commit to this game. The question is: would you really want to? Online play is where the true longevity lies.
Ashes Cricket 2009 is a rent-first, buy-if-you-dare title. There is a lot to like in its online capabilities, but for a game that promised to elevate the cricketing genre to stellar heights, it has fallen far, far, short of the mark.