There have been a number of cricket simulations throughout the years, most of them fiddly and awkward affairs that relied on the gamer having a fairly solid knowledge of the game, the rules and the unique terminology surrounding it.
Brian Lara Cricket was probably the most accessible and therefore successful game but Transmission’s Ashes Cricket 2009 changes the playing field altogether with a simple and well thought out control method that feels perfectly natural to apply.
Ashes 2009 includes all the official rosters for the current English and Australian cricket sides as well as other national teams such as the Black Caps and Proteas which are available and playable in non-Ashes modes of play. While the players are all present in name, their likenesses certainly leave a lot to be desired. I recognised Ricky Ponting, just, but to be honest he looked like some generic gaming character who had killed Ricky, eaten him and decided to wear his face as a meat mask.
When I chose the Black Caps, I had absolutely no idea who the player representing them was – he was wearing white, with a black cap, so I suppose that’s a start. Let’s just say that if you’re looking for player likenesses as seen in EA’s FIFA or Madden then you’re going to be bitterly disappointed – and the character models in the crowd are even worse. But don’t let that put you off playing Ashes 2009 because you’d miss out on a really well made title in terms of gameplay.
As you would expect, it definitely pays to work your way through the tutorial before diving into a match. Sir Ian “Beefy” Botham and Shane Warne talk you through the basic shots and why/when you should play them. Botham comes across as calm and patient in the tutorial, but Warne starts to get a little bitchy if you keep failing to complete the current task – which really does make you try harder just to stop him repeating himself and shut him up before he pulls out the lovely hair he’s had replaced strand by strand.
The tutorial will show you how to play front and back foot attacking and defensive shots which is as simple as pressing RB or RT, one of the face buttons to choose the shot type and the direction using the left stick. You briefly get to see where the bowler is placing the ball so you can choose the appropriate shot. The bowling itself is just as simple; face buttons choose the type of delivery and pressing a shoulder button will allow for three different variations of that delivery. Initiating the delivery brings up your standard power/timing meter and pressing the face button in the sweet spot will obviously throw down the ideal bowl. While all this is happening, the left stick guides the direction and length of the delivery. It sounds complicated when put into words but in practice it works seamlessly.
For the most part, fielding is all taken care of by the AI and you get a nice little picture-in-picture of the active fielder doing his thing. If you see there is a chance of a run-out then you can simply override the fielder and choose which end to throw to. Catching is a completely manual affair and extremely rewarding due to its high level of difficulty. If a catch is on then the camera zooms in to the catching fielders perspective. Looking up at the ball, you will see it has a red halo around it which means there’s no chance of taking the catch. Wait a bit and the halo will turn orange, meaning there’s a chance of catching it and then on to green for what seems like a split second, which is the sweet spot for making the catch stick. Get it right and it’s a genuine fist-pumping experience.
Just as in the real game, success in both batting and bowling is based on your level of confidence as much as it is on skill. If a batsman misses a handful of balls or hits them straight to a fielder then his confidence level will drop and pressure will mount to start scoring runs often forcing a careless shot selection. It’s the same with bowling, get hit for a few boundaries and finding the ideal line and length becomes harder. It’s accurate little intricacies such as this that makes a big difference.
Whether it’s a quick 5 Over match or a full Test Match, Ashes Cricket 2009 caters for you. As the name would suggest, you can even play every ball of every test match in the Ashes Series if you’ve got a bit of spare time on your hands. You are able to ‘simulate’ a number of overs at any time, which seems to calculate your progress on your average run-rate at the time of choosing to simulate. This negates earning trophies, achievements and unlockables though, so be warned. There’s online play too, but to be honest I’ve struggled to find opponents even at peak traffic times.
There’s no denying that Ashes Cricket 2009 is the most comprehensive cricket sim on the market. It looks average at best but the core game mechanics have been pretty much nailed.