Review: Ashes Cricket 2009 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Ashes Cricket 2009
Developer: Transmission Games
Publisher: Codemasters
Genre: Sports
Release date: 08/07/2009 (UK)

To many Englishmen, the first sign that summer has arrived is the unmistakable sound of leather hitting willow as the cricket season begins. Now Codemasters are attempting to capture the magic of the jewel in the cricketing calendar; the Ashes in video game form. For those of you not in the know, the Ashes is cricket’s most famous rivalry between England and Australia, held biennially, alternately in the two countries. Five Test matches are played over the summer, with the winners taking home a replica of the famous Ashes urn. This summer’s series was won 2-1 by England in a thrilling climax at the Oval, can Ashes Cricket 2009 compare?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

Ashes Cricket 2009 has all three different varieties of cricket in the game; Test, one-day and the up and coming Twenty20 cricket. The Ashes series is fully licensed with the names and likenesses of England and Australia’s players represented. The other major cricketing nations are represented, but you’ll have to settle for the likes of D Vittare rather than Daniel Vettori. You can edit the names if you wish, but I’d still prefer it if Codemasters had forked out for the licences for a few more of the major nations. However the game is called Ashes Cricket 2009 for a reason and this is where the main focus of the game lies.

If you don’t have a spare four hours to play out a five day Test, you can customise a one day game with a minimum of five overs per inning and play a game in half an hour. As well as one-off matches you can also set-up one day and Twenty20 tournaments, but as there are only twelve nations in the game, the earliest they can start is the quarter-finals.

If this all sounds confusing, don’t worry as there are a series of tutorials you can work through to learn the basics of the game. Ashes legends Shane Warne and Ian Botham present these Legends Coaching sessions which have basic and advanced levels. When these are completed there are a few tricky Legends Challenges to try and beat. The obligatory create a player option is also present.

One thing I would have liked to have seen is for Transmission to take more advantage of the Ashes licence and expand on the Legends Challenges as these are enjoyable but over far too quickly. Apart from that there are a good number of modes at hand to cater for everyone from the young 20Twenty enthusiasts to the die hard Test cricket stalwarts.

Story/Modes Rating: Good

This is one part of the game I felt was a bit off; the character models are very much hit and miss. I’d find myself able to identify Stuart Broad but then staring at another fielder wondering who on earth it was meant to be; England captain Andrew Strauss for example, looks awful. With only the Ashes players officially represented in the game, I find it hard to believe they couldn’t all be spot on likenesses. The stadia themselves look ok, but the crowds remind me of the 2D graphics seen in a PS2 game.

Presentation is an important part of any sports game these days, but Ashes doesn’t live up to the standards set by EA Sports. Hawk-Eye looks great, but the other on screen graphics and score cards are a bit basic. For the next game, I’d like to see a tie-in with Sky Sports or ESPN to make things more authentic. It’s not a big thing, but to real cricket fans, statistics are an important part of the game and there just aren’t enough here.

You can choose to play at different times of the day, but weather is always preset which is a bit of a shame (Although matches in England would probably get rained off anyway).

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

Sound may not seem like an important part of a game based on cricket, but as any batsman will tell you, the sound of the ball edging off the bat is the difference between a long walk back to the pavilion or an elongated stay ay the crease.

The commentary team of Jonathan Agnew, Tony Greig, Ian Chapple and Shane Warne is a first rate selection, but do get repetitive after a while, especially over the course of a five day Test. There are only so many times I can stand to hear Shane Warne explain the effectiveness of the hook shot before wanting to hit mute. I’m not expecting five days of irrerevant banter a la Test Match Special but a few more lines wouldn’t go amiss.

The sound effects themselves are all very good, if a bit on the quiet side, while the crowd noises seem to vary from murmured chattering to unintelligible chants.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

There are three different methods of control, depending on whether you are batting, bowling or fielding. Let’s look at each in turn.

Batting is easily the most fun and easiest to master part of the game. Who doesn’t want to smash a six over the boundary and watch the crowd point to the skies? The field layout is shown in the bottom left of the screen, and a cone is used to aim your shot in the direction of your choice. Holding down LB or LT results in a shot played off the front or back foot. Shots are played by pressing one of the face buttons, X is defensive, B plays a lofted shot while A is an attacking shot. Y sends the batsman running.

The difference between hitting the boundary and being bowled for a duck is down to timing and which difficulty level you chose (easy, normal or hard). On easy, it’s quite possible to smash the bowlers all over the pitch, but if you do make the step up to hard you will find batting a real challenge. Transmission have done well to keep the batting controls simple, with different types of shot being chosen automatically depending on where you hit the ball rather than hitting a complicated set of buttons.

Bowling is where things get a bit trickier, with the number of different types of delivery one bowler can use can number potentially going into double figures. Choosing your style of bowling from swing, straight etc is done via the shoulder buttons, once you’ve done that, it’s time chose your delivery type from the face buttons. Depending on whether you’ve picked a spin or pace bowler, the types vary accordingly from the doosra to an off cutter.

When the bowler starts his run up you then have to hit the relevant face button again to pick the delivery speed from a thermometer type metre, being careful not to let it stray into the red at the top, or a no ball will occur. It’s possible to try and confuse the batsman by starting off with one delivery, but hitting a different face button afterwards to change what type of ball is bowled. You can spin or swing the ball using the trigger buttons.

Sounds simple so far right? The tricky part is trying to figure out where to aim the ball on the pitch, which is done by moving the left stick as the ball is bowled. Depending on where you aim, the reticule will change colour, with dark green being the best area to bowl at. The trouble is, unless you have some knowledge of cricket, it’s hard to know where to bowl. I’d consider myself reasonably clued up, but in my first over on easy, I got hit for six on the first ball and conceded twenty odd runs from the over, with all my deliveries being in the “Ëœbest’ dark green area! Novice cricket fans may find this disheartening, but if you persevere, there are certain parts of the pitch that if hit with the right ball will almost always lead to a wicket being taken.

Fielding brings the inevitable quick time event; as the ball flies through the air, a circle surrounding it changes colour, if you hit A when the circle is green, the fielder will make the catch. Pretty much everything else on the fielding side is automated, except for choosing which end to through to when the fielder picks the ball up. I found that the player animations made running players out difficult as the fielder would take an age picking up the ball by which time the batsmen were home safe. The only time I actually managed a run out was when the AI was stupid enough to go for a run when the ball was reaching my wicketkeeper. Changing your fielder’s positions is done by flicking the left sick, with a number of presets in place and the ability to create your own custom field placings.

Player confidence also plays a factor in the game; consistently hit the boundary and your players confidence will increase, conversely if your bowler keeps getting knocked for six his confidence will fall. Low confidence bowlers will lose a delivery or two, while batsmen will perform better at high confidence. It doesn’t have a huge effect on the game, but it’s a nice touch.

Overall, Ashes plays a pretty good game of cricket, the AI could definitely do with some polishing; when batting you’ll often be gifted with far too many no balls and the CPU does attempt too many reckless singles in Test cricket, but this doesn’t spoil what is an enjoyable game for cricket fans new and old too much.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very good

5. Replayability

After playing your first Ashes series, I can’t see many people except die hard fans replaying this mode, but with the ability to play one day and Twenty20 modes and the fact that no two games are ever the same, I can see this being a favourite to pull out for a quick 5 or 10 over match with friends.

There is a raft of stuff that ranges from stadia to player clothing to be unlocked from achieving certain gameplay milestones.

Replayability Rating: Enjoyable

6. Balance

The three different difficulty settings do a good job of ensuring everyone has a chance of getting want they want from the game; those who just want to have a quick slog will be happy on easy, while those who care about tactics will be challenged by the hard setting.

The AI has its moments of stupidity but doesn’t cheat, so there’s never a feeling of playing against an invincible opponent. Obviously if you have zero cricket knowledge, things could get a bit tricky, but the tutorials do a good job of easing in beginners.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

In all honesty, there’s not much here that hasn’t been seen in previous cricket games which isn’t surprising considering this is a spiritual sequel to Codemasters’ Brian Lara International Cricket 2007. As cricket is a game with rules dating back 250 odd years, innovations are somewhat few and far between and the game reflects this.

Originality Rating: Below average

8. Addictiveness

I stuck this game on at about 7pm, started the first Ashes Test and only realised it was midnight when I started falling asleep. At first, I really didn’t think it would be possible to play an entire Test in one sitting as it would just be too boring, but as I kept telling myself “Ëœjust one more over’, England had taken a 1-0 series lead before I knew it. Completing the entire series and collecting the achievements will definitely keep you busy for a good while.

Addictiveness Rating: Very good

9.Appeal Factor

The appeal of this game will depend a lot on where you live as you read this review; if the answer is England or Australia, then it’s quite likely you’ll be interested in recreating or changing the fate of the Ashes series. As the game has yet to be released outside these countries, I don’t think there will be a stampede to pick it up if it does get released, which is a shame as it makes a nice change from the usual sports games and their annual updates.

Appeal Factor Rating: Decent

10. Miscellaneous

Trying to get an online match did take a while; with the game only being available in a couple of countries, it may not be the most heavily populated online game around. The few games I did play online were lag free.

If you enter the Pavilion in the main menu, you can see all the unlocks and rewards you’ve achieved so far and also see methods for unlocking things you don’t yet have.

Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Good
Graphics Rating: Decent
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Good
Replayability Rating: Enjoyable
Balance Rating: Good
Originality Rating: Below Average
Addictiveness Rating: Very Good
Appeal Factor Rating: Decent
Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable

Short Attention Span Summary

Ashes Cricket 2009 is a game that won’t sell as many copies as the other sports titles on release this summer, but definitely has a lot to offer, especially to the target audience of cricket fans who are often ignored by the likes of EA Sports. A Test match lasting five days may seem strange to many, but Ashes does a good job of recreating it for the true cricket fan, for whom this is probably a must buy. If you’re looking for a souped up arcade game, then this might not be up your street, but if the idea of cricket intrigues you, this may be worth a look. If Transmission can improve the graphics and acquire some more licences, we could be looking at a six, as it is the game falls just short of the boundary.



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