Bugs and glitches mar an otherwise fair attempt at bringing the gentleman's sport to consoles.
- Accessible but nuanced gameplay
- Strong competitive multiplayer modes.
- Tough to find players for online matches
- Inconsistent difficulty scaling against the CPU
- Fielding bugs and glitches ruin chances of wickets.
AU Review--Australia and England's long-standing biennial sporting clash continues, this time in video game form, in Ashes Cricket 2009. While this title marks a reasonable attempt at capturing the look and feel of this gentleman's game, its inconsistent difficulty and bugs make it less of a screamer catch in the deep, and more of a fumble at silly mid-on.
The game is divided into four game types: Ashes offers five-day, five-match tests between Australia and England using the current real-world player roster; Test play features the same five-day matches as Ashes mode but lets you choose from 12 competing nations; One Day International (ODI) is a slimmed-down version of Test cricket with 50 overs of play per team; and 20 Overs, the most recent addition to the sport, provides fast action-oriented play.
While 20 Over games rely on fast scoring and big totals to keep you interested, the slow, calculated pace of Test games are more akin to chess. Ashes Cricket 2009's five-day Test matches give dedicated fans of the sport the opportunity to play out entire games in almost real time and take their team to victory ball-by-ball. Single-player matches against the CPU's unpredictable difficulty are at best challenging and at worst frustrating. Even at the easier difficulty it's not uncommon to get carted around the park for overs at a time while bowling a conservative pitched-up line, or to receive nothing but over after over of yorkers while batting.
Offline cooperative play lets you and a friend take on the CPU as you trade the strike, build a solid run partnership, and then bowl up a storm taking turns with the ball. It saves you needing to pass the controller, but it's certainly not as entertaining as straight head-to-head play, and you'll still butt heads with the game's spotty difficulty. Competitive offline multiplayer is the most compelling mode because it cuts out the irregular game AI and sees you and mates duke it out as a score is set and subsequently chased. Online you'll be able to test your mettle in both friendly and ranked matches in the various disciplines. A distinct lack of online players means you might be searching for a while to find a game, but once you do, the experience runs smoothly.
Dependable bowling is key in every game of cricket, and the bowling controls here are as simple to get your head around as placing the cursor indicating your line and length where you want the ball to go and selecting the delivery type to begin your run. Once you hit the crease, you'll need to time a button press on the accuracy meter to determine the usefulness of your bowl. Raising the game difficulty increases the precision required for you to hit the effective part of your accuracy meter as the zone shrinks in size considerably. While the bowling mechanics are simple and you'll be up and rocketing your bowls down the pitch in no time, there's also subtlety to be found here. Deliveries that swing towards or away from batsmen have different cursor types to the basic straight and slow balls. Since your aiming remains free until the ball leaves your hand, you can start your run with the marker in one place, only to change it up and bowl a completely different type of ball by moving it to a new location and hitting the corresponding delivery button. This becomes particularly useful to try and deceive both AI and multiplayer batsmen, who think they know what to expect and then get a surprise as the ball leaves your hand.
Rotating players during long bowling spells to manage stamina keeps your best and brightest from wearing out, but you'll also need to keep an eye on each player's mental state. Confidence is determined by how well you're striking the ball as a batsman and how well you're bowling and being played as a bowler. Being belted around the park while bowling will take its toll by reducing the number of different types of deliveries in your arsenal that you can throw. Streaks of successive hits raise your confidence level as a batsman, while poorly timed swings will reduce your performance at the crease, making you less likely to strike the ball sweetly.
Batting successfully in Ashes Cricket 2009 relies entirely on nailing your timing. Swinging too early will leave your stumps exposed, while going late will see you edging shots and risking being caught. Since pace varies between bowlers, getting comfortable with timing is a case of getting your eye in by playing at shots once you're in a match. To help you with the basics the game features a celebrity-voiced tutorial mode with Sir Ian "Beefy" Botham and Shane Warne, and while the training tips are useful to help you get used to front and back foot strokes, the pair's soundbytes are wooden and stilted, and the tips are repeated far too often. Once you've completed the basics in the tutorials, you might want to have a crack at the challenge modes included that focus on achieving batting and bowling goal. These include hitting six consecutive sixes, taking five wickets in 10 overs, or bowling Warney's now legendary leg break in the 1993 Ashes series to dismiss Mike Gatting. They're a good break from single- and multiplayer games, but there aren't nearly enough of them included, and they offer little replayability.