Sigh, a good walk ruined. Oh, hang on, that's the other one. Ah, the comforting sound of leather on willow, long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, 'Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist'. And Freddie Flintoff going to the Prime Minister's house while shitfaced live on telly, and Girls Aloud playing at the Twenty20 final (which is easily the best thing that ever happened to the sport). Yep, cricket, the nation's favourite sport last summer (and maybe still, what with the terrible rugby results over the weekend and Steve McClaren's uninspiring performance as coach of the England football team).
But while cricket is still just about hanging on to the wave of popularity that engulfed it after England won the Ashes in 2005, EA's Cricket is still just about hanging on to the Byzantine inaccessibility that stopped most people from enjoying the last one. Which means it's especially forbidding for people like me, whose dalliances with cricket are confined to a position on my primary school's cricket team (as scorer) and owning one of Graham Gooch's old bats (located under my stairs).
See, Cricket 07 is pretty much business as usual for EA's sequel-making machinery. The company's evolutionary approach to making sequels means that the game is still probably only of interest to people who enjoy programming satellite navigation systems using a harpsichord. Well, people who enjoy programming air traffic control systems using bagpipes anyway - it is slightly different.
Different, but still baffling when you fire the game up for the first time, because there’s still no tutorial. Instead, there are, still, some practice nets, where they say helpful things like ‘the ideal line for a fast bowler is on or just outside the off stump’, or something about slips. Which actually isn’t that helpful if your experience of cricket is confined to a position on your primary school’s cricket team (as scorer) and owning one of Graham Gooch’s old bats (located under your stairs). What does ‘off stump’ even mean, and what’s a slip?
Sure, the game of cricket can get pretty complicated, and obviously I’m an idiot for not knowing this stuff, but would it have been so difficult to include a tutorial covering the basics of the game for those who might be interested in finding out how to play it? Tiger Woods doesn’t require you to know a sand wedge from a five iron, and it’s a better game because of it. Gears of War doesn’t require you to know how to fix a suit of power armour. It’s possible to talk about the complexity of cricket itself as if it’s some sort of justification for developing a poor game, but internet games like stick cricket have shown that, ultimately, it’s possible to boil the sport down to something totally straightforward and still fun. More significantly, the Codemasters Brian Lara series has shown that it’s possible to produce a cricket game on consoles that’s not totally inaccessible.
It’s not like EA hasn’t tried to make Cricket 07 more appealing to the layman. The publisher has been making a lot of noise about its Century Stick (TM and R and Copyright and all that sort of stuff) control system, for example. It’s a ‘groundbreaking’ control scheme that’s supposed to simplify the art of batting. During EA’s last trip to the crease, you had to remember the buttons for a bewildering number of possible shots, most of which were pointless apart from defensive strokes. Now, thanks to the Century Stick (TM and R and Copyright and all that sort of stuff) control system you just have to flick one or both analog sticks to select your shot, most of which are pointless apart from defensive strokes (if you have a dual-stick pad, obviously. Otherwise you’ll be selecting your shots using the arrow keys).
Certainly you don’t have to sit with the manual on your lap, like last time, but it’s scant improvement if, as a cricketing neophyte, you don’t know which shots to play, or when to play them. And the game mechanics themselves are still a bit of a numberwang style mish-mash of moving bars and things. Bowling pretty much consists of choosing a delivery style (like the one that sort of curls a bit, or one that bounces, and other types which presumably all have special names), then choosing your aim, then stopping a moving power bar before you end up bowling a no-ball, which happens a lot more often than it does on telly. Batting consists of timing your shot and targeting at the moving, pulsing reticule that indicates where the bowler’s aiming, before pressing some combination of the two analog sticks and hoping that the ball ends up not going near a fielder (because you don’t quite understand how the aiming works or how fielding works, and there’s no tutorial to tell you). It’s hardly the heady intoxicating rush of seeing some boozed up cricketers on an open-topped bus.
Obviously EA’s got all the proper player names and badges and stuff, and Freddie’s on the cover, and there’s music (but it’s not very good). But the big new addition, for those who don’t mind the lack of a tutorial or the number of defensive strokes you’ll play is the Ashes section. In addition to the full gamut of international and domestic (English and Australian) games and competitions, the Ashes has a menu entry all of its own. It allows you to play a one-off series or entire tour from last year or this year, but, more interestingly, it has a series of challenges based on the actual events of last summer’s Ashes tour. So you might need to score 50 runs with Pietersen, just like he did in real life or whatever. Which would be a really neat idea, if the game itself weren’t so poor that you wouldn’t want to bother.
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