Brian Lara International Cricket
Much like the West Indian team itself, the collective hopes of cricket videogame fans are pinned on Brian Lara...
PS2, Xbox, PC
Cricket is, and has always been, the red-headed stepchild of sports gaming. Lacking a sufficiently fervent fanbase (relative to, say, the global appeal of football, or massive following of most any US sport -- American Football et al.), digital recreations of the sport have seldom been anything more than perfunctory. 'Half-assed' would be something of a euphemism, in fact.
In the interim, EA Sports' attempts have grown increasingly sadistic, perhaps in a bizarre experiment to determine just how much pain and disappointment a desperate cricketing populace can endure before succumbing in disgust. Foisted upon a forgiving fanbase (beggars can't be choosers, after all), their bi-annual abominations have been everything from laughably ridiculous to just plain broken; infested with bugs to the point that were it a living creature, it would have to be taken out back and... well, 'euthanized.'
You can perhaps understand then, why this new iteration of Brian Lara Cricket is greatly anticipated; it remains the one viable source of hope for videogame fans of the sport. In terms of features, Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 is about as comprehensive as a cricket videogame is ever likely to be: all major and minor international teams are represented, albeit with fake player names (bar Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, the cover athlete for the Australian release). Players can participate in one-day and test matches as well as World Cup and Champions Trophy tournaments. And everything from an exhibition match to a single test series to an entire world tour can be contested. There are even Challenge events that require players to compete in classic matches and attempt to rewrite the history books. The sheer depth of choice is staggering.
Of the many modes on offer, one that players will quickly become intimately familiar with is the Create/Edit Squad mode. Without the necessary licenses in place, all players, save for the abovementioned, feature mangled derivations of their real names. Likewise, the player models bear only minor resemblance to their real-life counterparts. That the developers opted for a decidedly less realistic take on player likenesses is not in itself a problem, that the players all resemble hideously malformed trolls, is.
While this can't be fixed quite as readily as player names, it is something we can endure. Hardened by years of abuse, cricket game enthusiasts are nothing if not a resilient bunch. What really chafes, is the game's inconsistent presentation. The Hawk-Eye-like analysis is a welcome, if frivolous touch. The canned interactions between bowler and batsman (when playing and missing a delivery, for example), however, are not. They're insipid and pointless and only serve to highlight the average animation. The camera angles employed are typical of contemporary TV coverage and were it not for the awkward segues, would serve the intended purpose well enough.
Commentary, arguably one of the most important facets of any sports game's presentation, is woeful. Cricket commentary is, by its very nature, difficult to emulate. The length of a typical cricket match demands the need for a proportionally significant amount of chatter between commentators, the range and depth (and banality) of which could never hope to be recreated properly in-game. Even so, the commentary, cobbled together with inane comments, 'insights', and canned banter grows overly tiresome rather rapidly. To their credit, Codemasters have at least gone to the lengths of securing the services of no fewer than five commentators -- Jonathan Agnew, Tony Greig, Bill Lawry, David Gower, and Ian Bishop. Kudos for that. But then, almost unbelievably so, their tone and delivery is even more soporific than in real-life.
Limitless patience too, is a trait found in your long-suffering cricket game enthusiast; the common view being that if the gameplay holds together, everything else can be tolerated. In this respect, Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 is both hit and miss (pun not intended). Batting and bowling are handled well enough, offering just enough skill and variation to both aspects of the gameplay to make for matches that are fun, and at times even absorbing. The modicum of fielding interactivity (players must correctly time a button press to throw or catch effectively) does just enough to involve the player without making the whole concept needlessly complicated.
The vagaries of the sport are all present (inside edges, for example, do happen, though rarely) and a sweetly timed cover-drive will set the heart aflutter and fill you with just a touch of smug self-satisfaction. So there's something there. The gameplay is far from perfect, but it offers just enough to prove somewhat gratifying. That Swordfish Studios have managed to recreate much of the core gameplay, and still overlook so many seemingly obvious aspects of the sport, however, smacks of laziness, lack of ability, or apathy. Whatever the reason, it's unacceptable.
But why is it then that we must put up with all manner of oversights, omissions, and downright stupid design choices in order to glean just a touch of enjoyment from the game? Things like not being able to throw to the bowler's end. Ever. Things like watching the keeper idiotically break the stumps when the batsman has long since made his ground; fielders who always throw the ball back to the keeper (What, no-one holds onto the ball anymore?); wides that aren't called correctly in one-day matches. The list goes on. And though these may sound like nitpicked details, they could have easily been remedied, and their presence ultimately detracts from the game.
What makes it worse is that these are all things that should by now, after years and years of making the same mistakes, have been learned by developers. These seemingly small errors drastically affect the ambience and immersion of the game, making it feel contrived, robotic and more prosaic than it need be. Half the time it simply feels as though you're going through the motions, as it were. Cricket is a fascinating sport, one that is filled with layers of complexity, strategy, and skill. You wouldn't know it from playing any of the games currently on the market though.
Brian Lara International Cricket 2005 is a middling recreation of the sport. The good, for the most part, outweighs the bad, but one is still expected to stomach far too much in order to enjoy what little good is present. Patience, it is said, is a virtue. But when it comes to cricket games, it's a necessary evil. Play this if you must' It's the best cricket game currently available on the console, but that speaks more to the level of competition than it does to the quality of the title itself.