Codemasters' last cricket game was also developed by Transmission Games, which previously brought us Brian Lara 2007 Pressure Play on the PSP. Since then, the Melbourne-based studio has been designing Ashes Cricket 2009 from scratch for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Producer Jamie Firth gave us an exclusive first look at the game ahead of this summer's biggest clash.
As the name implies, Ashes Cricket 2009 features fully licensed versions of the English and Australian international cricket teams, as well as unlicensed teams from a range of other cricketing nations. All of the test-playing nations should be in the final game, and Codies has promised a robust player and team editor, combined with plenty of generic heads, to help you get team likenesses as close as possible. Given that the English and Australia selectors are keeping the final Ashes sides under close guard, the exact lineup in the game has yet to be confirmed, but expect to see 23 players in each squad, covering all of the usual suspects. We saw models of Ponting, Vaughan, Prior, and Sidebottom, all of whom were instantly recognisable.
The stadiums are also looking rather detailed, and with 18 stadiums from 12 nations, there should be something to please most fans. England and Wales get to play on Lords, The Oval, Edgbaston, Cardiff, and Headingley--the five grounds set to host 2009 Ashes tests--whereas Australia has the Melbourne, Brisbane (The Gabba), and Sydney Cricket Grounds. Other locations span India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, and Zimbabwe. The atmosphere will change depending on the conditions of the match and locations. For example, Firth said that the test crowd at Lords is somewhat staid at the beginning of play, with the crowds filling up the stands throughout the day.
Pitch options will also be based on their real-life counterparts, so if you want to play on a crumbly pitch, you'll need to play somewhere warm such as Sri Lanka or the West Indies. Other pitches, such as Brisbane, will be baking hot and hard in the height of summer. You'll be able to tweak the wear of the pitch from the typical wear on day one, through to the fifth day of a test. Thankfully, there'll be no delays for rain or bad light but, for instance, you're more likely to have cloudy, cool weather in milder climates such as England. Weather will also affect performance, and a really hot day can affect stamina. Players will regain some of this via tea and lunch, but the heat during the course of a long day in the field will certainly take its toll.
The Ashes, regular test matches, one-day internationals, and Twenty20 matches will all be available in the game as well as the option to create custom tournaments. There's also a Classic Moments mode in which you can replay historical scenarios with current players, using Hawkeye data that allows for the paths of actual test balls to be accurately emulated in-game. There are three levels of difficulty that essentially change the timing window that you have when batting or bowling. Recent changes to the game have been incorporated into Cricket 2009, such as Kookaburra's pink night-match ball, batting powerplays, and the free-hit rule included in Twenty20 matches. For those who don't have the time for a full test, you'll be able to simulate entire matches, batting or bowling sessions, and overs. We didn't get a chance to see any multiplayer, but Cricket 2009 will support up to four players in offline matches, with two batsmen, and two bowlers taking alternate overs. Online multiplayer will be a straight-up head-to-head match, with all of the different modes and teams supported. You'll be able to customise player stats and uniforms in offline matches, but this won't carry across to online play.
Making a return are quick-time events. Some fans found that catching was too difficult in Brian Lara, and this has been tweaked this time around. You'll still need to hit a button at the precise time, but the window of opportunity, represented by an onscreen gauge, is more forgiving. Although you'll be able to move fielders around and make catches, the majority of fielding is automatic, leaving you to focus on batting and bowling. Firth told us that the team has made major advances to bowling since Brian Lara, with the biggest difference being changes to the bowling-pace gauge. Instead, the gauge now represents the delivery of the ball, with four colour zones representing deliveries that are too late, edge, spot on, or too early. Bumpers change the type of bowl: swing, cut, or reverse swing. It was also revealed that only certain players will be able to perform reverse swings, based on real stats.
Cricket 2009 has what appears to be a thorough training mode called Legends. Presented by real-life legends Sir Ian Botham and Shane Warne, the mode runs you through basic and advanced bowling, batting, and fielding techniques. Each section has numerous skills to master such as when to defend, attack, and run as a batsman. The mode also aims to reinforce the sometimes technical terminology that the game uses while teaching you how to incorporate more advanced techniques into your game. Lessons include, for example, when to change your batting for fast and spin bowlers, and when to lead with your back foot versus front foot.
Transmission has completely rebuilt the franchise's engine from scratch because the developers wanted to make use of the graphical potential of the 360 and PS3. In development for two and a half years, the game is starting to come together quite nicely and given the limited worldwide appeal of marketing should please the majority of high-definition sports fans.
Adding to the authenticity of the game, Codemasters has secured the commentary of Tony Grieg, Ian Bishop, Shane Warne, Ian Botham, and Jonathan Agnew. The TV-style commentary won't react to every play but will focus on big events such as scoring fours and sixes, and will include plenty of banter about cricket, including potentially in-depth monologues from the outspoken Tony Grieg. Bishop and Grieg have appeared in the series previously and recorded new commentary for Cricket 2009. Diehard England and Australian fans will be pleased to know that there are two different themes for the menus that can be toggled to your preference, complete with team colours and classic anthems including Channel 9's cricket theme for those down under.
Ashes Cricket 2009 will be taking the crease on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC this June. A full interview with producer Jamie Firth will be featured in an upcoming episode of Start/Select.