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Hoping to capture the Ashes fever of recent English success, I found Ashes Cricket 2009 performing at its best when staying away from the Test matches and concentrating instead on the shorter form of the game. The unofficial 20/20 matches were often thrilling and memorable, especially when played online. But maybe the whole Test match experience might be best left to the real thing.
When I was growing up, the Ashes test series always captured my imagination the most. I remember setting my alarm at 5am just so I could listen to the last few overs of play from Melbourne or Brisbane. In recent times the 2005 series was the most dramatic as England won back the Ashes in dramatic style. So I was excited to get the chance to play a game devoted to that special series and see if they could capture the tension, drama and excitement that the best form of cricket could offer.
On the whole I found the individual mechanics of batting, bowling and fielding to be good. It takes a slightly different approach with the batting as timing is now far more important to the success or failure of a shot than in other games. It took quite a while to get accustomed to its style as I was playing shot a lot later than I really planned. This is one aspect I found pretty realistic as I usually have a hard time hitting the ball in real life and only get bat on ball to see it edge away into the slips if I'm lucky. But once I had this new mechanic nailed down I found it easy to stroke the ball into the covers or deftly flick the ball over the slips. The feeling of doing this correctly was very satisfactory and at the higher difficulty level it was very akin to hitting that sweet on-drive in real life.
This satisfaction left me in no doubt that batting is the best part of the game as bowling and fielding are very similar to that of Brian Lara or EA's Cricket 05. It's difficult for me to see what they could've done better when simulating both of these aspects of the game. In real life bowling can be a hard, long and a rarely rewarding experience, much like fielding can be as well. One change is the appearance of some quicktime events. This is the only way I was able to take catches in the game and although pressing the correct button when the ring around the ball turns green sounds easy, the game didn't make it that way. There were several times when I knew I pressed the button at the right time and still fumbled the ball like Monty Panesar on a bad day.
Because of these problems I found getting through even a single test match at the easiest difficulty a demanding trial. Despite enjoying the batting it became a real chore to start bowling over after over to the opposition and rarely getting the chance to take a wicket. This is all of course, realistic - except for the ridiculous aggressive attitude the batmen took to my bowling whatever type of match I was in. This odd mix of arcade style play in a realistic Test match situation did nothing to encourage me to play the game properly. Only on one occasion did I manage to push a test match into a second day and that was only because I made a concerted effort to bat for as long as possible. It's very discouraging to put all that work in to play along with the simulation only to have the game make a mockery of it when I came to bowl myself.
Despite enjoying the batting it became a real chore to start bowling over after over to the opposition and rarely getting the chance to take a wicket.
What would've made this a little more bearable is if the presentation of the game could've matched the television coverage any buyer of this game would be watching. Ashes Cricket does a decent enough job with Jonathan Agnew, Shane Warne and Ian Botham among others, all lending their commentary 'skills' to the proceedings. But the visual presentation is dull and lacks any kind of cohesion to make it feel like a proper presentation or give it a sense of authenticity. I'm not too fussed myself about making this a proper 'Sky Sports' sponsored game, but I think it would have been wise to either go for bare-bones realism or glam it up a bit more.
With this being my experience of playing a Test series I decided to give the more arcade version of cricket, the 20/20 tournament, a try. This short form of cricket is the newest and most exciting form of the game and it lends itself perfectly for a videogame. With short and explosive innings of only 20 overs each, the onus is on the batters to hit as many runs as possible at maximum risk. Although the idea of doing that for local team is the stuff of nightmares, it fits the gameplay of Ashes 2009 perfectly, despite the lack of any special presentation to make it feel part of an overall experience.
Taking 20/20 online eliminated all of the annoying flaws that dragged the majority of the game down and it's here that Ashes 2009 shines the most.
In this mode the game gave me short, hour-long sessions that were exciting and realistic. The problems with the A.I. were still present but thanks to the chaotic nature of this type of match, it didn't matter so much. Taking 20/20 online eliminated all of the annoying flaws that dragged the majority of the game down and it's here that Ashes 2009 shines the most. There have been very few experiences with online multiplayer that have come close to replicating the thrill of playing a friend over Live and every match would nearly always come down to the last over or last few wickets to win the game - just like it should do.
This footnote to the game makes Ashes 2009 a strange beast. It's got a lot of feature going for it - like the exhaustive training modes with added challenges, the entire Ashes tour for 2009, & the ability to play any one-day or 20/20 form of the game. It even has an editing system in place to alter statistics and names as you deem appropriate, although I think this feature will be best used in the PC version of the game rather than the console.
But what the game lacked was any gripping presentation or incentive to keep me playing. Part of this could be down to the amount of time needed to play the Ashes series properly, but I firmly believe that simulating Test cricket is an impossible task for a videogame to realistically achieve. What I'd like to see is a far more arcade experience, with an approach similar to The Bigs - a crazy arcade-heavy version of Baseball. For the moment Ashes Cricket 2009 will suffice, but like my batting and fielding on hangover - it barely does the job
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