Support David, click to buy via us...
It's May, it's sunny, and in many sporting households, including mine, that means the heady aroma of linseed oil is in the air and once again there is a massive bag to trip over in the hallway. That's right, the cricket season is upon us and what is more, this is no ordinary year, this is an Ashes year! In the wake of the recent announcement of an Ashes 2009 game to coincide with this summer's series, I'm taking a look back at the most popular cricket game currently available on the 360 - Brian Lara's International Cricket 2007.
When doing this kind of retrospective review of an old game it's generally not that fair or helpful to spend too much time talking about graphics and other aesthetic elements, as they are very unlikely to be able to live up to the expectations we have of the latest releases. As such, I intend to focus on the gameplay and the ways in which BLIC 2007 interpreted the game of cricket for its audience.
Looking back at BLIC 2007 and listening to the latest news from Codemasters gives me lots of hope for the upcoming Ashes 2009 game.
Released just over two years ago, the appearance of BLIC 2007 coincided with the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup held in the West Indies - cue lots of brightly coloured menus and a cringy reggae soundtrack. With sports like cricket, releases that tie in to major tournaments are almost always going to be the only profitable strategy. However, asis often the way, many hardcore fans felt BLIC 2007 was somewhat hamstrung by the closeness of its association with the ICC World Cup. At the time, Test cricket was seriously on the decline, but the hopes were that the one-day and especially 20/20 formats would regenerate the game and open it up to new fan bases. As such, the developers of BLIC 2007 made the decision to design the look and feel of the game with an obvious emphasis on limited-overs cricket.
Starting out there is a thorough, if pretty slow and dry, tutorial section to steer you through the gameplay basics - exactly the kind of thing that you have to expect from a niche sport title - but when it comes to it, the entry level is set very low and the game is really too easy. Even on the harder settings it becomes possible with a minimum of practice to hit huge amounts of boundaries with most batsmen from the better teams. While as you lose wickets it does become trickier to get the ball away, in most situations the damage is already done by then.
It is equally easy to bowl tightly with little need for much variation once you've been playing a while. These factors, combined with the emphasis on the World Cup format (like it being the only mode with proper player licences) essentially make the game fairly one-dimensional. While bowling generally becomes a boring chore, batting is mostly a smash fest.
I just find as a keen cricketer that overall it cannot deliver the delicate, subtle elements of the game that I most enjoy, or recreate accurately the all-important changes of pace that inject cricket with its dynamism.
Don't get me wrong, there is fun to be had here, but it is mostly in a multiplayer scenario rather than a match against the computer. Certainly something that I have never got from BLIC 2007 is a sense that the subtleties of the game I love so well are being adequately transposed. Despite the tendency towards the short games, it is possible to play longer versions - although as no domestic teams are included Test matches are the only multi-day option. However, the game play simply does not adapt well to the intricacies of the longer format. There is not enough nuance built into the game engine to make it worth while investing the time and energy involved in crafting out a true Test innings at the crease, or bowling skilfully and tactically for a day and a half.
Also, when you're fielding, as well as the pretty tedious processes of actually bowling, most of the potential for skilful captaincy is overridden due to the overwhelming sense that finely-tuned field placements and complex bowling plans are unlikely to be significantly more effective than a more generic approach. Add to this the acute frustrations of the quick-time event style fielding mechanic whereby when the ball goes near a fielder you have to stop an on-screen gauge in the middle by pressing one of three buttons depending on whether you want him to catch it or throw it in to either the keeper or the bowler's end. Seeing as this all happens in a fraction of a second, it is pretty widely identified as a weak element in the game which is more likely to encourage people to turn to auto-fielding than to try to master the manual option.
BLIC 2007 is not a bad game, but I just find as a keen cricketer that overall it cannot deliver the delicate, subtle elements of the game that I most enjoy, or recreate accurately the all-important changes of pace that inject cricket with its dynamism. I can't help but feel that by going all-out to emphasise the more exciting limited overs versions of the game in an attempt to broaden the appeal, Codemasters ended up reinforcing the stereotype of cricket as a static, mono-paced and pretty boring sport.
However, looking back at BLIC 2007 and listening to the latest news from Codemasters gives me lots of hope for the upcoming Ashes 2009 game. For a start, it's been confirmed that the old engine has been scrapped in favour of a complete re-build, designed at increasing the flexibility, broadening the range of shots and movements and really making the most of the next gen consoles' capabilities. It also appears that while elements like the quick-time events remain, the producers have listened to the feedback about how poorly they were implemented previously.
For me the biggest source of hope comes from the fact that although this new game is still tied to a major event, the Ashes is a Test series which should make for much more of an emphasis on the small details that make the longer version of cricket such a wonderful thing. No doubt 20/20, World Cup, ODI and perhaps even IPL modes will feature prominently, but I'm hoping that having the Ashes at the heart of the game will make for a more rewarding experience for those, like me, who want to really dive in deep.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: