Created by self-confessed statistic nuts, for statistic-nut cricket enthusiasts, International Cricket Captain III (ICC3) gives you the chance to steer your team to victory across several different cricket modes and teams. Players act as the manager of a cricket side, managing a budget and ultimately trying to build the best cricket club they can. ICC3 certainly has its merits as a sports management sim, although some irritations with the gameplay and a hideous graphics engine hamper the experience quite a bit.
There are five gameplay modes available, with the first being a full game mode. This mode lets you control a county cricket side, with a view to moving into captaining an international cricket team. The next mode, county & international, lets you captain both a county and international team of your choice. Here you can help train new talent, and with a keen eye and hard work, turn a virtual unknown into a cricketing legend. If you fancy yourself more of a big hitter and want to manage only proven players, there's the international career mode, which lets you take control of a side of your choice. The campaign sees you playing all the major cricketing nations, and also covers World Cup matches. The match series mode lets you set up your own custom One Day International (ODI) matches and tests, pitting your team against the strengths and weaknesses of some other nation. The last--which is the one that would best suit newcomers looking to wrap their mind around the sim-management gameplay style--is World Cup. Here you get the chance to relive three classic World Cup matches from 1999, 2003, and 2007, all of which were dominated by Australian teams.
You don't actively control your batsmen, bowlers, or fielders on the grass in ICC3, instead taking control of their play style via sliders that let you raise or lower stats like aggressiveness when batting, and ball line and pitch when bowling. When at the crease, you'll also need to adjust aggression by taking into consideration your players' comfort levels and form in previous matches. The chance of even your top-order batsmen being bowled or caught on single digits is high if you're swinging at wild bowling by ramping it too fast without getting your eye in. That said, playing a defensive, over-controlled game will see your team throw away the chance at runs, with maiden overs zipping by. Bowling is much the same as batting; give the batsman a couple of scoring shots, then fire down a pitched-up screamer and try to force them to play back on their stumps. Variation is the aim of the game, and while you don't have to contend with focus, your bowlers can only bowl so many overs before their stamina depletes. Resting a bowler is usually a worthwhile tactic, and saving one of your sprightly quicks for the tail can get you some decent bowling figures without conceding runs.
As is the case with most sports management sims, this is a game heavily rooted in and primarily focused on statistics and strategies. If that floats your boat, then this title has some redeeming features, graphical mediocrity put aside. ICC3 features updated stats from CricketArchive for the entire roster (accurate to the start of this year), allowing you to plot players' season and career form. The 2007 version of the game also includes a new ball-tracker tab, giving you a visual heads-up on the swing and pitch of all your deliveries for the over, and allowing you to correct the line to suit the conditions.
We came across a couple of odd niggles with the game in our play, specifically with the odd, questionable LBW decision with the ball pitching outside the line and swinging back. Likewise, you're able to set various field placements for your bowlers from a set list, but even a fairly tight field is often broken by what looks like only moderately hit shots. By far our biggest concern with the game, graphics aside, is the penalty for not playing matches. While you can train your team and then compete against various others, each game comes with the option to either skip or play the match. Skipping will take you to the next menu with an outright verdict and score, while playing the match gives you the option to swap bowlers in and out, change their line and length, and bat until you reach their posted target or set your enemy a score to chase. The big problem here is that you're penalized by skipping matches; a large message appears before each skip, warning that by not playing, your team will not perform at its peak. Given that this is, after all, a simulation management title, we were disappointed by the penalty the game imposes on players who choose to not go the last step and control individual players on the field. Training and maintaining the health of your players is paramount to success, and to be put at a severe disadvantage after putting in all the pre-game training if you opt not to take the field is a low blow to the player.
ICC3 includes Internet play, giving players the chance to put their custom teams head-to-head against other online contenders. It's also the only way to play with someone else because there's no two-player mode in the career. Here you'll be able to take to the field and show off the young talent you've put through your rigorous offline training. The service had problems: We couldn't even connect on our first few attempts. When we finally did get on, we were told we needed a saved game with an established county team to be able to play. The error messages pushed us to the official ICC forums, where we didn't find any answers to our online-play woes.
While obviously not a requirement of a simulation title such as this, the graphics in ICC3 are severely underwhelming, even for a game of this sort. Playing the game in windowed mode makes the character models and environments appear sharper and the animations slightly more natural; full screen, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. The animations are jerky, texture corruption and artifacting is rampant, and unfortunately, the highest-resolution textures in the game appear to be the Taito Legends house-ads dotted around the boundaries of the ovals you're playing on. Character models are all identical, with only the team uniform, skin tone, and hair differentiating them. The lack of articulation in the mitten-handed models of the umpires means they can't even convincingly give you the finger (index) when you're out. Like the 2006 version, in-game audio commentary is provided by former cricketer Jonathan 'Aggers' Agnew. There's a reasonable amount of variety in the audio if you choose to play the matches, although you'll get over the recycling of clips pretty quickly if you're playing long test matches.
International Cricket Captain 3 is a reasonable effort, and as a sports simulator, it has all the fundamental components for a good game. The learning curve is about on par with other titles in the genre, although the poor graphics and a few issues with the design of the gameplay tend to hamper what is an otherwise decent effort at a team micromanagement title. Sim aficionados should be right at home with the menu systems, player trading, and training, while the field controls are laid out well and easy to adjust. Previous owners of the series may find this version to be more of the same--either providing them with updated stats for what they love, or disappointing those wanting something a bit more.