I have been following this title for quite some time now, ever since EA attempted to corner the Cricket games market with the rather slapdash attempt that was EA Cricket 07. I had hoped that Codemasters had learnt from their mistakes on previous BLC games - However, I am not overly convinced that they have released a credible, let alone finished, product.
Hopefully I can put forward a balanced yet constructive review that will help you decide on your purchase. I will start by breaking the game down into its different components.
Presentation wise, this is a slight improvement on BLC. The game itself looks relatively "pretty" when played on an HDTV (having bought this for my Xbox Elite). The grounds are well designed which is a plus.
The players for both England and Australia (being the only licensed boards) are easily distinguishable. Obviously I would be a fool not to laugh at some of the 'depictions', such as James Andersons oversized jaw and the somewhat warped features of Mitchell Johnson - but on the whole a good effort.
Unfortunately, the game lets itself down graphically in a number of areas.
Firstly the bats are WAY too oversized for the players. Movement is also an issue and the level of detail put into motion capture could have been improved a lot. Fielders and batsmen alike run in "jittery" fashion, the bowling actions aren't impressive and look as if a child is throwing a ball in the back garden. Some shot movements also appear "unnatural" and aren't as fluid as you would expect or normally see in a real-life game. Finally, to see a bowler hurling the ball down at 92mph+ and having the ball simply "loop" slowly in the air off of the edge to the keeper is somewhat of an annoyance.
Codemasters have exceeded themselves in acquiring the vocal talents of Aggers once again and added the likes of Beefy (Ian Botham), Warney (Shane Warne), Ian Bishop etc which is an impressive addition to this title. Its nice to have different commentators in each match which can (or should) increase the lifespan of the game and not force you to play in silence once you've heard the same clichés over and over (ala previous EA/BLC games).
I have started to detect notable repetitions creeping in from time to time, but I am sure that it won't agitate the masses as much as it did in the past. The commentary, or should I say comments/one-liners, put forward by Warney in the training mode can be aggravating after a while though...
"Codies" have aimed/attempted to give Ashes Cricket 09 a more lifelike gameplay style compared to BLC. A very pleasing aspect to this is shot placement using the analog stick, which allows you to, if timed correctly, pierce the infield with aplomb. It is also down to the user to choose which foot to play the shot from (back or front), which will determine what type of shot is played - it is also important that the player is able to read line and length of each delivery to make this selection a lot simpler.
Fielding controls have been greatly enhanced with two new systems. Firstly the "quicktime" event for catching, where the player must time a button press in order to catch the ball, as viewed from the fielders perspective. At times this can be tough, but you can't expect to catch everything now can you? Also, the user can use the right stick to choose which end the fielder will throw to, which is vital if one of the opposing batsman is struggling to make his ground.
The training modes are well set-out and provide depth (rather than simply a net session), and it gives the player a chance to hone their skills and shows how to really make the most out of each facet of Cricket, be-it Batting/Bowling/Fielding.
AI, as in most games, sadly lets the party down... From ridiculously aggressive batting (even in test matches), to some unbelievable bowling choices by the computer (over-the-top with the amount of yorkers, I counted 28 in a row against me the other day!), as well as slow to react fielders (not throwing the ball in for what seems like an eternity) - the game just feels as if it was patched together and the kinks weren't ironed out during testing.
Perhaps my final point on this subject would fall under another heading, but it can be subheaded as "Realism". It pains me to see wicket keepers diving full stretch in front of third slip off of a spinner to snare a split-second diving catch. To see the likes of James Anderson/Stuart Broad (who bowl around 88-92mph in tests) bowling at 80mph in the game makes me feel as if this was a real botched job and that those in charge had no real affiliation with the subject matter they were working with. There has to be some form of fluidity to the way the game is played and depicted in comparison to the real thing.
Apologies if the above goes on-and-on, I just feel a little let-down with the final product that Codemasters have set upon the world. As an avid cricket fan and player, I just wish that one company can put the time and effort into releasing a credible title that doesn't feel like a cheap cop-out.
Graphics/Pres. - 2.5/5
Sound/Comm. - 3.5/5
Gameplay/AI - 2.5/5
Online/MP - 4/5
OVERALL - 3/5
If I was to give any advice, I would say that if you want a game that you can pick up and play every now and then for a quick Twenty20/One-Dayer and have no real issues with authenticity/realism then this is the game for you...
...If you are however, like me, someone that wants something more than an arcady simulation (an overpriced version of Stick Cricket if you will), then I would strongly point you towards renting this before parting with your cash (sorry Amazon!)
The question would be asked, why can't the likes of EA put this type of game in the hands of the developers of such pretty and well presented titles such as Fifa/Madden/NBA - the answer to this unfortunately is that they do not feel it would make as much money for them, which is a vicious cycle as with every half-baked Cricket game that is released, the less chance these big companies have of enveloping the market.
HERE'S TO HOPING!!!