Ah cricket. The gentlemanly, English past time of thumping a red ball across the village green, while onlookers sip on their Earl Grey and nibble at cucumber sandwiches. In reality the professional game has progressed far from that idyllic image, into a tense game without margin for error, played out in front of large crowds. Which is fortunate really, as I doubt Brian Lara International Cricket 2007 would be around if it hadn’t. Which brings us onto the game, which has been gracing our consoles since 1995. Published by Codemasters, Brian Lara ’07 offers a very enjoyable cricket experience, and its timing couldn’t be better, being released during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007.
As with any sport simulation, this game definitely benefits from the player knowing something about cricket. Codies have done a good job to make the game accessible to anyone however, with a comprehensive tutorial mode to guide you through the controls. The mode is broken down into groups of lessons on batting, bowling and fielding with Jonathon ‘Aggers’ Agnew, so you’ll at least know your doosras from your square drives and what to put down the corridor of uncertainty. On completion of these you should be able to play a few matches without getting hammered, and you’ll get some achievements for it too.
For a cricket game to be up to much, it has to manage to balance the three elements of the sport: batting, bowling and fielding. Batting is generally done well in most cricket games, and BLIC ’07 does a commendable job. The control system is intuitive, with the left stick being used to choose your intended shot direction and the A and B buttons for the low or lofted shot modifier. Should you fancy some showboating you can also ‘dance down the wicket’, i.e. whack it by stepping down the pitch, by adding the left trigger, or sweep with the bumpers. These shots are all relatively easy to pull off, but their success in a match is dependant on how you select them and your timing. Failure to do so will end up in your batsmen losing confidence, and worsening your timing even further. Confidence is a vital part of the batting gameplay. A batsman with maximum confidence will slog a bowler left, right and centre, whereas one with no confidence will have you biting your fingernails (figuratively) with each delivery they face. Scoring was still rather easy on even the highest difficulty—getting runs at rates of eight or nine runs per over isn’t exactly realistic, especially when you’re playing as England.
Bowling in BLIC ’07 is average. It offers a good amount of options, consistency and control. Unfortunately it is also incredibly unforgiving and has a few bugs that can easily be exploited by the savvy player. Bowling is a very technical part of cricket, with the bowler required to choose the right line, pitch, speed, and amount of swing/spin among others. This is represented well in Brian Lara, but it is hard to actually master the controls to become consistent enough to win matches, especially if you have no clue about cricket in the first place. When starting the bowler’s run-up, a target reticule will appear, representing the approximate pitching point of the ball. You then set the pace of delivery with the classic ‘power bar’, with you needing to hit the peak of the bar to get it in the spot you wanted. This can get annoying when you want slight variations in pace, and the ball ends up getting smacked for six because the ball pitched in the wrong place. Admittedly there are slow balls you can bowl with the Y button, but this isn’t enough control for the hardcore cricket fan.
There are also some very unrealistic parts to the bowling. In cricket, the Holy Grail for seam (fast/medium pace) bowlers is swing, with only the best bowlers of all time controlling it with precision. This occurs when the ball, one half shiny; one matt, turns in the air—which is hard for a batsman to play. In BLIC ’07 you can literally swing the ball round corners, with even average bowlers. This is annoying to a point, as it allows you to bowl Yorkers that curve right around batsmen, giving an easy wicket. The margin for error is also incredibly narrow, so it is definitely recommended that you spend time in the nets (practice mode) before tackling the game proper.
The final aspect to BLIC ’07, fielding, is a disjointed experience. The CPU automates the running, so all you have responsibility for is the field layout (where your fielders stand), catching and throwing the ball. Setting your field is a dark art in some respects, with the player needing to carefully balance attacking and defensive positions as well as adapt to the batting team’s strategy. There are 30-odd preset fields, which can be set per batsman on the fly; a custom field option via the pause menu is also available, if you are so possessed. Stopping risk meters similar to Top Spin performs both returning and catching actions. Except rather than being user-executed, catches especially will take you by surprise. The catching meter passes incredibly quickly, and response times of less than a second are required to make many catches. This does preserve some realism, as most fielders will have little warning of a ball to catch, but then they don’t have to wait for the camera angle to switch. Another annoying point to the fielding is that you always have to use the throw meter to return the ball, even when you don’t need to return it with any urgency. This means any casual play on your behalf, which often is a natural reaction to on-screen action, results in mis-fielding.
The best feature in the game has to be the co-op mode. With a mate you can partner up in the batting and bowling, to get the real experience of the cricketing partnership. You will whittle hours away with this mode, which has definitely set a precedent for all concurrent cricket and maybe sports game to follow. Live play in this title is standard fare for the seasoned 360 gamer, with general exhibition matches and even a full online world cup mode. The length of the games does limit you slightly, and most gamers will stick to six over games; the potential is there for some monster sessions however.
One of the weirdest things about BLIC ’07 is the licensing. For some reason the players are only licensed for the ICC competitions, and not for exhibition matches. You would have expected blanket licensing if they were going to bother at all. Madness. The graphics in the game are also similarly weird, while they’re quite good, they also suck. Some of the player models are very good, but there are random players that look nothing like their counterparts. For example Flintoff looks like he just crammed his face with dunkin’ donuts and still has the cream filling on his cheeks—not to mention Anderson’s Mohican which jumbo jets would have to avoid in real-life. The stadiums are also rather lacklustre, with little detail and plenty off matte textures, with the crowd coming off the back of a cereal box. One nice feature is the day passing, and the different lighting effects this brings, mind you you’ll have to play for a few hours to notice this outcome.
The atmosphere that the developers have created in the game is awesome, especially at the world cup. Capturing the West Indian spirit of the crowds, you’ll hear the carnival fever as the players cavort around the pitch. Along with this, you also have the mandatory, satisfying clunk of leather on willow that many a cricket commentator reminisces about. Talking of commentary it is, as always, a mixed bag. The usual play-by-play comments are generally dull, and often incorrect, but the colour commentary offered by pundits such as David Gower is great for the cricket fan. Not only do they offer some fascinating historic references between overs, but also drop hints every so often about how to play the more advanced facets of the game.
Overall Brian Lara International Cricket 2007 (apart from being a mouthful) is a solid simulation of the sport. It offers something for everyone, from the casual to the hardcore fan, and has some excellent components in its gameplay, especially the co-op mode. It’s let down by a few technical issues, and the lack of player licensing in certain modes irritated me. The graphics are rather shoddy also, but I find that doesn’t affect the experience, much. Definitely a must for all cricket fans out there though.
Originally Written By: Ali Owen