"Time your strike too early and risk catching an edge that will be easily collected by the awaiting slips. Too late, and you could miss the ball all together, giving it the chance to whip your bails out of the ground. Either way, poorly timed shots may lead to you tucking your bat under your arm and taking the long walk to the pavilion. Something that Lara's Cricket captures to perfection."
EmP: What do you know about cricket?
Viridan Moon: Ummm... You have a mallet, and you hit a ball through wire thingies stuck into the ground.
EmP: That's croquet.
Viridian Moon: ....oh.
This is why Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 is a PAL exclusive release. And let's get straight to the point -- it's a good one.
For instance, it's much better then its only real competition thus far: the overly-complex mess that was Cricket 2005, EA Sports' stab at the genre. While that game was happy to throw all the tactics of the game out of the window for a spot of button mashing, Lara's gives you two important factors that help distinguish its superiority: instant playability due to a simplistic and engaging interface and the decision to give timing the same importance that the real game does.
Imagine, if you will, standing aside the wicket with willow in hand while charging down the crease at some speed comes a pace bowler. The ball is pitched off-stump, and you take a swing at it. Time your strike too early and risk catching an edge that will be easily collected by the awaiting slips. Too late, and you could miss the ball all together, giving it the chance to whip your bails out of the ground. Either way, poorly timed shots may lead to you tucking your bat under your arm and taking the long walk to the pavilion. Something that Lara's Cricket captures to perfection.
I think you get extra points for hitting the cricket ball into the goal. They call that a six. ~ Bluberry
And while our American chums scratch their heads and wonder what the hell I just said, the more informed cricketers amongst us will be relieved to hear this. Most games following this sport are happy just to let you slog the ball away as you please, but things are done differently here. Each button on the pad lets you access a different shot, be it a full slog into the air or a defensive deflection straight to ground -- all the options are there. Also worth a note is the fact that your timing is recorded by a small meter displayed in the bottom left hand-side of the screen. Swing the bat too early and it will remain empty, too late and it will overfill. Learning how to strike the perfect ball is made all the easier when the game is happy to point out what you did wrong with your last shot.
Not the only help you'll get from this system, either; your batsman also has a confidence meter that rises and decreases depending on his performance. Knock the bowler away for a handful of boundaries, or sweep away a few convincing bowls consecutively and watch the meter soar. With a full meter at your disposal, slog shots have much more chance of sailing away for sixes and fours rather than dropping into the awaiting hands of an inconveniently placed fielder. Of course, miss a few balls, find yourself pinned down or get hit with a painful-looking bouncer and your confidence meter will plummet while the bowler's meter rises.
So as you can see, the meter also comes into play when you bowl. Tying the batsman in knots with cleverly-placed balls and claiming wickets will ensure your bowling confidence meter is always maxed out. Not only just this give your deliveries an extra bit of zip, but a full meter unlocks your bowler's 'special bowl'. This works differently for each style of bowling: pace bowlers will be treated to a dangerous-looking bouncer, whilst those employing spin with see the ball's rotation improve dramatically. It all adds up to making the batter's life all the more miserable and increasing the chances of getting him out.
Something that can be done in many ways. The most straight forward is obviously to bowl them out, outfoxing them with a clever ball that slips past their defence and splatters the wicket. LBW's are also present and in a rather clever touch are sometime called incorrectly by umpires as flawed as their real-life counterparts. Those familiar with the 'Hawk Eye' system employed by Sky Sports in their coverage will be pleased to see the same system recycled in the video game. A computer simulation of where the bowl would have gone if it had not hit the pad shows after every LBW, allowing you to see if it stuck true to the line and if it would have taken the stumps. Sometimes clear LBWs are turned down flat while this afterthought system might show the ball was going to happily whistle over the bails of an unfortunate batter who had been dismissed from it. Adding in this artificial 'human error' makes the whole thing feel that you can catch some breaks should luck be on your side -- something relevant in any sport you might care to mention.
I once saw a flash movie of some game of cricket being overrun by man-eating gophers. I recall nothing else about the game ~ Dragoon of Infinty
Careless batters could also be caught or run out, dismissals that can be comfortable paired together seeing as they share the same method. Let's say that an aggressive batter has tried to whack the ball for six, but hasn't quite got all of it. The ball sails high, tracked anxiously by the nearest fielder that might just have a shot at catching the rouge sphere -- but he needs your help to do so! Just as the ball reaches the awaiting hands of the fielder, a speedometer-like icon appears, asking you to stop a hand that scrolls through it at some speed as close to the centre as possible. The nearer to the centre you stop it, the better chance you have of making the catch.
This works the same with run-outs. A fielder collecting the ball still needs to whip it back to the wicket-keeper and to do so, you need to once again stop the pin as close to the middle as possible. This will ensure that the ball whizzes right at the stumps where an awaiting 'keeper can catch out any batter who may have timed their running poorly. The system doesn't seem to work so well in this respect when compared to the catching, as the ball will always travel to the wicket-keeper rather than right at the stumps. It would have been nice to catch slower runners out with the split-second you would have gained from hitting the stumps with a dead-aim throw.
Forgivable perhaps when playing against a chum or three, but much more punishing when taking on the slew of computer controlled teams in any of the plethora of games and options Lara's throws your way. Because should you be brave enough to pick a higher difficulty level, you'll not only find shots requiring almost perfect timing to get a sold hit on the ball, but your opposition batters will have no intention of leaving the crease while their bowlers don't care if you leave the field via an out or in a body bag. The learning curve between the various difficulties is steep -- be warned!
And while it may not have the big licensed-backing that EAs crumbly attempt has, it does have something more important; heart. The rest of the bases are covered smoothly too, the characters (with slightly misspelt names as to apease the lisence Codemasters could not capture) look like who they are supposed to be, while recognisable voices like David Gower and Ian Bishop wax cricket commentary from above. While it isn't the perfect cricket video game, Brian Lara Cricket's first next-gen outing is certainly the best this generation has to offer.
This year, anyway.
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