Version tested: Xbox 360
Sports sims give me big problems. A very large question looms into view: Why?
Role-playing games exist because a lot of people want to transport themselves to a post-apocalyptic landscape, shoot malevolent zombies, go on insane quests for medieval bling which will grant them special powers, or just lose themselves in the land of Whojamaflipponia. Strategy games are there for all those people who never got to have their hands on real power (although it is questionable whether anyone playing Sim City or Tropico would actually want to be Boris Johnson) and we do not need to be rocket scientists to understand why Tomb Raider was so particularly successful with 16-year-old boys who had recently discovered the auto-erotic experience.
In short, most games give you a place to go and an experience that you can't get any other way without great difficulty and/or expense. But sports games are a simulation of something we can actually do for real, for quite a lot less than the cost of most computer games, and get more enjoyment out of it. Of course, not everybody is going to face Brett Lee in a torrid 20/20 floodlit game at Lord's, but trying to deal with Mr Lee's yorkers and inswingers by thumb and forefinger dexterity, on the Xbox screen, comes a long way short of actually playing the game (as I do) at the elevated level of the Dulwich Cricket Club 6th XI.
This latest incarnation of the cricket sim does nothing to dispel my belief that Cricket remains a truly wonderful game to play and watch. However, International Cricket 2010 does not even get you half way there and, in fact, left me (a Level 2 cricket coach) with a worrying feeling that anyone who has never "wielded the willow" or "turned their arm over" on the green sward would be unlikely to try after dabbling with this pale imitation of the real thing.
For the beginner, a lengthy and frustrating time with the game's tutorial awaits you. Wading straight into a game will leave you confronted with a whole lot of unlikely bright green circles on the pitch and some bewildering HUDs which change considerably whether you are batting or bowling and then change again if you are bowling slow or fast, seam or swing, leg spin or off spin.
That said, the tutorial is nothing if not comprehensive: for the batsman, all the conventional shots are available for you to try. You are urged to check for gaps in the field and keep them in mind as the bowler approaches. The aforementioned green circle appears as the bowler begins his run, just on or past a good length (if you are practising the front foot drive) and short of a length if you are essaying the pull shot or the back foot drive.
The green circle tells you where the ball will pitch: if only these green circles were available when Dulwich 6th XI bat. Imagine batting against a bowler who draws a green circle on the pitch so you know where he intends to bowl every ball before he's bowled it!
The bowling is all about timing your instant of delivery so you can avoid bowling no balls and bowl at the stumps. A delicately poised pointer operated by the joystick tells the player if he is going to bowl a good length ball on the stumps and a meter tells him (or her) the optimum moment to let go of the ball: too late, and it's a no ball, too early and it's a short wide ball! Swinging the ball necessitates you controlling the seam's direction, never easy in Cricket, but virtually impossible in IC 2010. Slow bowling is sub-divided into off-spin and its attendant variations (including the "doosra") and leg-spin.
Fielding, the activity you spend most time doing in a real game of Cricket, is dealt with in a more truncated fashion: you are told that when a catch goes up, a circle will appear on the screen which will change from red to amber to green: click when the circle turns green and you hold the catch. Sounds easy enough till you realise that the amount of time the circle is green is shorter than a size S T-shirt from Primark. This runs entirely contrary to the cricket coach's primary mantra: "Watch the Ball". Do that, and you will not hold a single catch in IC 2010.
The tutorials are "locked". You must complete one stage to move on to the next. Your reward for completing the batting tutorial (i.e. batting for five overs without losing your wicket and demonstrating to the AI you have reached a level of "confidence") is access to the advanced batting tutorial and a chance to play in new stadia, unlocked by your progress.
Learning curves are steep and daunting, but then again, learning to play Cricket itself can be as easy as climbing a thorn tree with an armload of eels. It is a capricious game with no respect for reputations: ask the great Sir Don Bradman, who needed one run to retire with an average of 100 in his last Test Match and found himself bowled out for a duck by a man from Birmingham.
Armed with everything you have learnt from these demanding tutorials, you move on to the matches themselves: all the options are there. One Day Internationals, 20/20, Test Matches and a Codemasters invention: a tournament called "Round Robins".
A packed Lord's saw your correspondent, playing as England, lose to Australia in a 20/20 floodlit game. Jonathan Agnew and Shane Warne provided the often inappropriate commentary. Inevitable, I suppose, in a computer game.
OK, so I am an old git who has not got his head round the 20/20 format yet (even on the Xbox), so let's give the five-day game a whirl. As a friend once said to me: "The difference between 20/20 and a five-day Test Match is the difference between a passionate five-day love affair in a country hotel with good food, fine wine and great sex, and a quickie in a darker corner of the pub car park at chucking out time after six pints of Old Jake's Bumburning Bitter."
I am offered an unlikely number of home and away teams: Do I really want Bermuda to play Canada for five days? The stadia on offer are perhaps a little less comprehensive; Codemasters just couldn't see their way clear to realising Toronto Cricket Ground for the great unwashed. This is a pity, as it would have been great to see the sightscreen moved around by tethered elks or moose and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrolling the boundary.
I finally opt for India to play Bangladesh in Kolkata for five days. I am asked if I wish to "edit" the team. This proves a mighty difficult task. Tendulkar has been replaced by a new player called Tenhukkar, Sehwag by Sehwak and so on. Clearly, Sachin and the boys knew what their names were worth and it was too much for Codemasters. Somehow, our poor impoverished English and Australian cricketers managed to agree a price with Codemasters and allow their real names to be used.
India get off to a fine start but, again, the same old ennui that I experienced in the 20/20 game finally gnaws away at my resolve: I want to be out there playing the real thing, not literally "twiddling my thumbs".
Of course, there is an argument that, in the winter months or when rain stops play, International Cricket 2010 might fill a gap for the real addict. But it resembles the real thing as much as Howzthat!: a once-popular game played with two tiny hexagonal metal bars with runs scored and 'Howzthat!' engraved on one bar, and methods of dismissal or 'not out' on the other. Great fun, and considerably more portable than IC 2010 and the Xbox, but, ultimately, just not Cricket!
5 / 10
Jim Barclay is a Level 2 cricket coach and recreational gamer. Occasional capitalisation of the word Cricket is the author's own.