Brian Lara International Cricket 2007 Reader Review
As a cricket fan, you tend to have to take what you're given as far as video games are concerned. While cricket is hardly a niche sport in a global sense (a fan base of around a third of the world is a pretty big niche!), the fact that it isn't particularly well-represented in most of the worlds largest video game markets inevitably means that cricket fans are less well served than those who follow football, or even baseball. Nonetheless, even with this proviso in place, the latest game in the Brian Lara series can still only be described as a let-down.
On paper, the latest iteration of the Brian Lara series seems to have a lot going for it in way of content. Not only is it the official game of the 2007 World Cup currently taking place in the West Indies, but the game also recreates last year's champions trophy and includes a variety of online modes - something missing from the last update of the game. Unfortunately, even before you've left the menu screens, the limitations and oversights in the game's design begin to shine through. One unforgivable design choice, for example, is that the player has to manually save their own profile. Every time a player unlocks something (be it one of the many trophies, or one of the photos in the game's gallery) the player is reminded that he must remember to save his profile. Why doesn't the game do this automatically? Even worse, the game still doesn't have a properly designed test match championship. while the structure of the one day tournaments is authentic enough, it is still impossible to play proper test series' which, for a cricket game, is unforgivable. For the uninitiated, the one-day variant of cricket is a relatively new invention in the world of cricket. For many people, the test match (a five day long grueling test of patience, ability and strength of character) remains the only true form of the game, so to not have it properly represented is a major oversight.
Of course, as annoying as presentation woes are, all can be forgiven if the game plays well - and, indeed, initially BLIC 07 feels like a great improvement over its predecessor. In particular, it would appear that on first glance many of the errors of '05 have been corrected - fielders can now throw to both ends of the wicket and the player is physically responsible for taking all catches, for example, while the batsmen are now capable of playing the all important sweep-shot and have the ability to charge down to wicket to try and smack the ball over the bowler's head. However, for every issue which has been addressed, it seems like the developers have added a new one. While the AI batsmen wouldn't run themselves out in '05, in '07 they have a habit of taking stupid runs which they have no chance of making. In baseball terms, their running is the equivalent of a batter trying to steal a base while the pitcher is facing him and holding the ball ready to throw.
Worse still is the fact that many issues haven't been addressed and, as a whole, the game is far, far easier than '05. One of the problems with the Brian Lara series is that it fails to communicate the difficulty of being a batsman. In real life, a batsman has to see the ball, decide what it's doing, decide whether he's going to play at it and play an appropriate shot in the space of a second. In Brian lara, however, no ball is unplayable and (unlike in real cricket) most balls can be directed to any part of the field. The only thing that matters is the timing - and even on the hardest difficulty setting this is far from difficult. In my first test match my team went to lunch having the scored 330 runs. In a real test, they'd have been happy having scored a third of that.
Worse still, is the fact that bits of the game that were broken still haven't been fixed, such as the atrocious AI. A crucial part of bowling in cricket is bowling to a plan - the captain places his fielders in the parts of the ground where the individual batsman likes to score his runs, and the bowler tries to bowl the ball at an angle where the batsman can only hit it to a fielder. Even on hard, the AI inevitably fails to place fielders where you score your runs (expect to sweep the computer's spinners for 5 overs at about 20 runs each before it works out it needs to use a fielder to cut off the boundary) and will happily serve-up the ball in the same spot time and time again, even if he keeps going for 4. Although Brian Lara is still a fun little game, it fails to recreate the art of cricket in any meaningful capacity. Its like a driving game which promises 100% realism yet leaves the player unable to control the gear changes, the acceleration and the braking.
Worse still, little effort appears to have gone into the game's graphics and sound. Although it just about qualifies as next gen material (thanks, largely, to the lighting and resolution), the player models are very similar to the PS2's and the half-baked player likenesses often fail to resemble their real life counterparts. Although the authentic crowd sounds are a nice touch, any good will is immediately lost when you realise that the commentary is taken almost word for word from '05 - even keeping some of the bizarre bugs. If you bowl badly as England, for example, expect to be told that 'that was an expensive over for Australia'.
Overall, Brian Lara Cricket is the best cricket game on the 360, so in that respect it is still recommended to cricket fans who are desperate for a digital representation of the game. This is not exactly a compliment though - after all, Brian Lara is in fact the only cricket game on the 360. Realistically, BLIC 2007 feels like a cynical exploitation of my (and others') love for cricket. Although Codemasters have done well in some respects, namely the online modes, the rest of the game feels like a reheated version of BLIC '05 with slightly improved graphics and the difficulty turned right down. Considering the ease with which many improvements could have implemented (such as batsmen not losing confidence when they decide to leave the ball), this is totally unforgivable - as is the fact that whole areas found in '05 (such as the 'classic match' challenges) are missing. In a sense its difficult to work out who this game is really aimed at. While the game is still good fun to play, there doesn't seem to be enough content to satisfy the casual cricketer yet the game itself is not in-depth enough to sate the hardcore fan.
6 / 10