The release of Ashes Cricket 2009 right now may seem strange – it’s a funny time to release a game, slap bang in the middle of the summer gaming slowdown, but in the case of Ashes there’s definitely no better time for the game to land.
Right now, the actual real Ashes Tournament is taking place and Cricket has actually been promoted to be important enough to be front or back page news, rather than a sport sitting in the shadow of the Premier League.
Indeed, Cricket’s return to the front of the public consciousness explains the existence of Ashes completely – some might wonder why after years without a new cricket title it’s suddenly showing up – it’s all about the timing.
The previous Cricket game was in the form of the Brian Lara series from Codemasters and Ashes is based off the Brian Lara experience and from the same company.
Those familiar with the Brian Lara games will understand the gameplay of Ashes almost instantly – in terms of gameplay they’re strikingly similar. Players will find themselves having to fill the three roles in cricket – batting, bowling and fielding.
Batting is a matter of timing and execution – you’ll have to pick where your player stands, when he swings, and what kind of shot he swings with. Your control over positioning is limited – just up and down the crease – but with somebody bowling at you larger movements are unnecessary anyway.
You must quickly shuffle your position and then choose from shots that are mapped to the face buttons – some shots will send the ball flying high, while others will defensively keep the ball low and slow. You can send it flying quickly in an offensive shot, too.
This seems awfully simple but once you’re comfortable with this the game will ask more advanced techniques of you. You’ll have to decide if you will take a shot on your front or back foot by use of the triggers which has an effect on your success. If you’re feeling particularly confident you can even move down the wicket to meet a shot with both triggers. The number of options when batting is satisfying and makes it fun to play.
The bowling is a big change from the Brian Lara series and is definitely the hardest aspect of the game to master. Actual bowling is handled by the face buttons this time – each button corresponds to a different ‘type’ of bowl, with one press starting the bowl and another ending it with a meter to gauge your press – much like serving the ball in most tennis titles.
It’s a lot more difficult than your average service in a tennis game, with that meter determining the accuracy and the power of the bowl. Bowling consistently is rewarded by increased confidence for your bowler, which will open up options for more advanced bowling techniques.
While not entirely useful against the CPU, you can even fake-out what type of bowls you’re going to be coming at the batsman with, a nice addition that is a particularly effective against another real human.
Fielding is the most disappointing of the three areas of cricket in the game. While it is undoubtedly the most boring role to take in real life in the game fielding feels almost automatic, with catches determined by QTE-styled timing actions.
Everything about the gameplay in Ashes Cricket feels solid and feels like a marked improvement over the Brian Lara series, while still noticeably related to those titles for anyone who has played them.
In terms of modes the fully licensed, official Ashes Tournament itself is playable alongside the unlicensed One Day and 20 over matches and a challenge mode. Player likenesses seem to have been negotiated in some cases but not in others – some are incredibly close and others nowhere near.
Only England and Australia are officially licensed, with the traditional ‘similar names’ edits going on for the other nations. The game mercifully features a character editor, so those names can be set right for hardcore cricket fans.
The visuals are notably better than the Brian Lara games but it has to be remembered that it’s almost three years since the last title in that series – and this isn’t what I’d call three years of improvement.
Animations vary from wonderfully realistic to horribly stiff and wooden, and in general the game presentation feels lackluster compared to other sports titles on the market. The commentary is repetitive and dull and the crowds are downright bloody horrible.
There are little pockets of light in this dark, though – the sound is well designed with the general, subdued noise of a cricket crowd recreated well here and the occasional flashes of lovely animation a bright hope for what could be accomplished next time.
The multiplayer is simple but all you could really ask for in cricket and the difference between the subdued action of a full test match and the exciting Twenty20 is nicely nuanced and true to the real sport. It’s a fun foray into the world of cricket, and while it’s not perfect in certain areas it really comes into its own like when you play with other real people.
In spite of presentation and licensing troubles, Ashes Cricket 2009 is still a fine cricket game and definitely a step up from the Brian Lara series of old. The changes that have been made are all mostly welcome though this game doesn’t feel like two and a half years’ of improvement.
7 / 10
Version Tested: 360