Just as EA's Cricket 07 was released late last year to capitalise on the then-upcoming Ashes Series, Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2007 (or Brian Lara International Cricket 2007, if you live in the UK), from UK developer Codemasters, is being unleashed right in the middle of another major tournament: the ICC Cricket World Cup currently being held in the West Indies. The timing is apt, and not only because of the game's official World Cup licence. With its focus on easy playability and simple controls, International Cricket 2007 certainly feels more like the limited overs version of the sport--quick, exciting, and with a focus on big hits and high scores. The game's lack of comprehensive Test Match or Tour options as well as real player names only appearing in the World Cup mode may irk cricket tragics, but others looking for a more accessible game to play with friends will find plenty to enjoy.
Limited overs encounters form the crux of International Cricket 2007 (better known as Brian Lara International Cricket in the UK). While you're given the option to play one-off Test Matches complete with the requisite two innings per side, most of the modes in International Cricket 2007 revolve around the One Day experience. The game's flagship mode is the actual ICC Cricket World Cup tournament itself, which features all of the 16 finalists' teams as playable (and arrayed in their real-world tournament groupings). As well as the ICC Cup, last year's ICC Champions Trophy event held in India also gets its own dedicated mode, and once again features all eight teams that were involved. From here on in, the list becomes bare--you can set up custom Test Matches, One Day Internationals, or Twenty20 games, but the bad news is that only 16 teams--the teams in the ICC World Cup--are available to choose from. There are no tour modes, there are no domestic competitions--basically nothing outside of the official One Day tournaments and custom matches. Working in its favour, however, is the fact that cricket really isn't that widespread a global sport (come on--own up to it, cricket fans). So while only 16 teams are playable, the world's biggest and best cricketing nations are represented (as well as minnows like Ireland and Canada). What will probably annoy fans more is the game's lack of real player names for modes outside of the ICC events--no doubt an effect of International Cricket 2007's ICC-only licence. That means while real player names are used in the World Cup and Champions Trophy mode, they mysteriously take on strange pseudonyms in any other game modes. (Australian paceman Brett Lee becomes B. Leap, for example).
It's been two years since the International Cricket series last made an appearance, but anyone who was familiar with the previous games should be able to pick up and play the 2007 version almost immediately. Codemasters' additions to gameplay have been fairly minimal--batting has been improved with some new shot types, ball movement has been tweaked in bowling, and fielding has been bolstered with the ability to throw to either end of the pitch. Perhaps the biggest addition is online play for the PC and Xbox 360 versions, as well as global leaderboards and achievements with the 360.
Batting is done using a combination of button and control stick movements--it's not as immediately intuitive as EA Cricket 07's century stick system, but it certainly won't stump anyone who's ever played a sports game previously. Ground shots and lofted shots are assigned to different buttons, while sweeps have been mapped to the 360's shoulder buttons. Direction is chosen via the left stick, with a small minimap of fielder positions appearing in the left-hand corner of the screen to indicate which direction is safest. As with previous International Cricket incarnations, timing is a key element in batting--mistimed shots result in missed swings at best and easy catches for fielders at worst. Good timing isn't that hard to achieve, however--even at the highest difficulty setting (the game has four), slogging big fours or sixes are routine, although the task does admittedly get harder with lower-order batsmen.
Bowling is similarly easy to get the knack of. Bowlers--whether pace or spin--share four delivery types, which can be selected during the bowler's run-up. The location the ball will first land on the pitch is set using the left stick, while a power meter that rises as a bowler approaches is used to determine pace. Special deliveries (such as yorkers) can be bowled once a bowler's confidence meter is filled (by performing consecutive good deliveries that don't end up being slogged to the outfield). Bowlers can also shift the direction of a ball in midair to further bamboozle a batsman, although the size of the shift depends on the skill levels of individual bowlers.
Compared to the relative ease of batting and bowling, fielding in International Cricket 2007 is a twitchlike affair which takes some practice. Just before an in-game fieldsman is about to catch or throw a ball, a sliding meter pops up above his head. You'll need to press the appropriate button while the meter is at its middle to ensure a catch sticks or a throw back to the stumps is straight above the bails. The meter itself moves rather quickly--sometimes too quickly to be able to react in time. Compounding this is the fact that it's also difficult at times to tell whether your fieldsman is going for a catch or a throw back--and since you have to press a different button to perform a catch, throw to the wicketkeeper's end, or throw to the bowler's end, that moment of uncertainty almost always ends up being costly.
All this adds up to a game of cricket that most gamers should be able to pick up and become competitive with in a short amount of time. Those normally bored by the sedate pace of the real-life game will find the big hits and arcadelike feel of fielding to their liking. Computer opponents won't be much of a challenge, however. At lower difficulty levels, it's almost laughably easy to trap a computer batsman for an LBW, or bowl them completely. The game's highest setting, Test Match, is where most gamers will find themselves playing, although even there it can be a breeze to knock over opponents.
Thankfully, real-life opponents are never far away, with International Cricket boasting robust online functionality through Xbox Live. Options here are pretty stock-standard--you can join or host your own matches, with the ability to set specific gametypes or over limits. Probably the most exciting option is the ability to set up a tournament with 15 other players. Playing through Live was a pretty smooth experience--although we did get noticeable lag just before bowling or batting. The game would freeze for about a second just before your bowler releases a ball, or if you're batting, just before the bat strikes the ball itself. It was off-putting, to be sure, but playable nonetheless.
International Cricket 2007 is the first cricket game to date to be released for the Xbox 360, and while the visuals are solid, they're far from spectacular. Player models look rather unrefined, and very few actually look like the real-life players they're supposed to be representing. Movements mainly look good--bowlers approach the crease in a realistic way, while wicketkeepers and batsmen display a nice set of animations. Fielders look a little worse, particularly when running towards a ball, where they look like they're not quite connecting with the turf underneath them. And while the stadiums in the game look good, the crowds are best left ignored--they're almost Legolike in their blockiness. On the commentating side, International Cricket 2007 features well-known names such as Tony Greig and Bill Lawry, although the lack of colour and enthusiasm in Lawry's commentary is almost embarrassing to listen to.
Cricket, as its most ardent supporters will no doubt admit, is a complex game to understand for the uninitiated, and Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2007 is a fine attempt to translate it for a more mainstream gaming audience. It's fun to play, but mainly because it's quite easy to master. A few more gameplay modes would have made International Cricket an easy game to recommend over EA Cricket 07; but as it stands, it's a pretty even race.