"No matter the skill setting of the team you're playing, be it mighty Australia to pitiful America, there's about a 50% chance that they'll either be an LBW awarded or the ball will smash into the bails. Either way, look to bowl out entire teams for under 50 runs."
Reviews like this one can be really simple, especially when you've a pre-existing template to work from. Sure, they get a lot of flak, but God bless the annual tradition of rehashing your biggest sport's franchise and including only minimum updates. It might suck for the consumer, but it means a simple copy & paste job for us reviewers.
So, working from the last Brian Lara's Cricket review, the first order of business is to make fun of my American chums over AIM and then publish it!
EmP: So, what do you know about cricket?
Viridan Moon: Oh no, not this time! You wait there while I log on to wiki!
**EmP has logged off**
If this is proof of anything, it's proof that the same thing rehashed without significant change is going to been seen and called just that. Unlike a lot of the developers that bang out sports games rapid fire (EA -- looking at you) Codemasters seem to have acknowledged this somewhat -- even going so far as to take a two-year sabbatical instead of the customary one between titles. In doing so, a lot of the questions thrown up over Brian Lara's 2005 have been answered. 2007, however, just inserts more queries of its own in doing so.
On paper, the new edition is leaps and bound above its still-fun-today aging sibling. So much of what worked two years ago is still present; batters and bowlers both come equipped with confidence meters that rise and fall depending on their performance, and special actions are unlocked upon filling them. Bowlers can suddenly unleash blistering bouncers, conjure up anti-swing or plop the ball down right at the opposition’s toes, while the batter can dance down the crease, allowing him to wallop the ball before it hits that danger area. Playing well keeps the meter full, but a bowler being slogged for six or a batter being pelted with painful body-shots soon sinks it right back down.
Batting is still all about timing. Swing the bat too early, and you'll not hit the ball cleanly, giving the fielding team the chance for an easy catch. Too late, and miss the ball all together, risking it whizzing through your guard and smashing into the bails you protect. Timing aside, you still need to decide which kind of shot to play. Do you pad a dangerous looking ball to the ground defensively, or do you try to swat it away? Perhaps you'd rather just put your bat through the ball and smash it out of the ground?
For all the options you have to bat, you have just as many when you bowl. Like batting, different buttons on your pad are designated to differing bowls, be them straight up pace, to fading bowls off-wicket or direction spin leading away or towards danger spots. Tricking the batter with the flight of the ball is the key to success; make them think they have an easy slog, then spin it towards the wicket and force them to make a split-second alteration. Likewise, don't bowl the same ball at them constantly if you don't want to be smashed all over the ground. Clever bowlers mix up the speed of their bowls, suckering in eager batters with a line of fast balls only to offer up a slower delivery which sees the would-be slugger swing early for a perceived shot that was never there. These are all things that 2005 did well, yet 2007 goes and does better.
It's no longer as easy as it was to smash everything for six; the timing has to be nigh-on perfect, the confidence has to be high and the positioning of you batter has to be smarter. Fielding has improved alongside this, forcing players to always be ready. A nicked shot flying into the slip doesn't give you ample time to prepare. It's right there and it's dropped just as quickly as it's noticed. A panicked smash of the catch button will oft serve you no good, as each catch needs to be timed right to collect. Fielding teams need to keep their wits about them at all times less they lose the chance to send a batter walking back to the pavilion. Even the painful habit of only being able to attempt a run-out by throwing the ball to the 'keepers end has been rectified, and with a squeeze of a trigger button, the ball can be sent back to the bowler, instead. Moreover, fielders near enough will aim right for the wicket instead of just tossing it to the man at the stumps. A good throw will more than likely lead to a run out; a poor one will see the ball fly off into the distance, letting the runners gleefully rack up a couple more runs.
The depth is there to be able to mimic the actual sport as closely as ever. You can bowl to your field's strengths, you can achieve more control over the environment and you need to always be turned on to make the most of any situation. Pad up against a friend and you'll find a game that surpasses the original with room to spare.
Playing against the computer will give you no need to employ all the new and clever little nuances. All you have to do is plonk the ball at the opposition batter's feet and hurl the ball as fast as you can. No matter the skill setting of the team you're playing, be it mighty Australia to pitiful America, there's about a 50% chance that they'll either be an LBW awarded or the ball will smash into the bails. Either way, look to bowl out entire teams for under 50 runs.
This can be avoided if you're playing a human opposition who will happily take such straight bowls and whack them right back at you with the contempt it deserves, or if you put the difficulty up to the very highest setting. But, even then, winning your tests is a matter of time, not of skill. Even your own team's AI suffers: through a ball back to a wicket keeper and he'll whip the bails of irrespective of how long the batter's been back in his crease. Even if he's been there a good half minute, he'll still appeal like a loon like someone who cant grasp the most basic rules of the sport.
Silly things like this take the shine off the game. You can excuse the incorrect spellings of the players name thanks to EA's (inferior) cricket title holding the contract for all the players’ names and likeness as EA games are wont to do. This leads to players like Ian Bell being known as I.Ball and looking very little like him. The overall lack of polish hurts it, making the game look and feel incomplete.
I've long since quit playing against a CPU team I bowl out within a few overs and outscore in one, but I still play Lara's 2007 often enough when I have a rival gripping the second pad. When you can play against someone where you have to use the game's best features (and someone not shy about throwing them right back at you) then there's a great game to be played. Sadly, there's simply no other way to play this title competently.
**EmP has logged on**
Viridan Moon: There you are! So, cricket, right?
Viridan Moon: Cricket is a bat-and-ball sport contested by two teams, usually of eleven players each.
EmP: If I can just stop you?
Viridan Moon: No! The bowler, a player from the fielding team, bowls a hard, fist-sized cricket ball from the vicinity of one wicket towards the other. The ball usually bounces once before reaching the batsman, a player from the opposing team.
EmP: Yeah, that's great, but...
Viridan Moon: But? I see how it is! Put out because you're not making me look like an uncultured American pig this time, eh?
EmP: No. Well, yes, that too, but the review's finished. I penned it while I was hiding.
Viridan Moon: But! All my research!
EmP: Sorry! I can use it as an awkward conclusion, if you like.
Viridan Moon: Bah. Bah! Well, I guess there's always next year, right? It gives me time to make myself look more informed!
Hopefully it'll also give Codemasters more time to fill over the flaws in what could have otherwise been a fantastic game.
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