If you're a fan of cricket - and we're assuming that since you've been good enough to put aside five minutes of your time just to read about an Xbox game based on the love it/loathe it summer sport, then you must be a fan - there's probably only one question you're asking. To wit; which is better: EA's Cricket 2005 or this, Codemasters' Brian Lara International Cricket 2005. And while a quick glance at the respective scores might suggest an open and shut case in Brian's favour, it's actually a good deal more complicated.
The thing is - brace yourself - Electronic Arts' Cricket 2005 is actually the better game. It looks better, it features more teams and competitions, it has greater depth, and the general all-round presentation is superior. And yet Brian Lara still scores higher. Why? Because while Cricket 2005 insists on alienating newcomers with its frustratingly difficult to master batting system, Brian Lara is perfectly tailored for those looking to pick up and play a few overs with friends. With a simplified set of controls and a perfectly tweaked playing mechanic based on nearly ten years of previous Lara games, anybody with half a mind to grab the willow will soon be knocking out the sixes or bowling the perfect yorker. To put it another way, Brian Lara is simply the more fun of the two.
It makes a big difference. Instead of thrashing frantically about in front of the stumps, desperately wrestling with the controls in an effort to squeeze out more than 20 runs in a single innings (as was the case with Cricket 2005), Brian Lara lets you rack up an actual cricket score, while still offering plenty of challenge on the higher difficulty levels. If we worked in PR, we might even call it "the best Cricket game on Xbox... ever!"
And if all you're after is a simple cricket effort to knock about with until the football season kicks off again, Brian Lara is ideal. But if you're after the complete cricket package, one that offers a truly broad range of clubs, competitions and options then it's a game you'll probably find a little on the lightweight side.
In its favour, Codemasters has managed to bag the official ICC rights to the Cricket World Cup and Champions trophy, including all the official teams, venues and player names (although, bizarrely, if you're not playing in these specific tournaments all the player names revert to rubbish rip-offs, like M Triscathack and A Flantiff). Beyond that there's a fantasy World XI Challenge in which you have to beat a Planet Earth team using progressively rubbish Test sides, Double Wicket - essentially ultra-quick, two-over matches - and the option to set up a user-defined Tour or League. And with only 14 national sides to choose from and no club sides whatsoever, that's a limited selection at best.
Brian Lara does its best to redress the balance, with a moderately comprehensive reward-and-unlock system, offering trophies and memorabilia for reaching specific targets. But unless looking at grainy, sepia-toned photos of old men with beards and white caps gets you hot under the collar, it's hardly knee-trembling stuff. The opportunity to put yourself into one of the teams and play through a basic career mode is a good deal more fun, but it's also woefully under-developed, which is a shame.
Aesthetically things are pretty basic as well. In a world of photorealistic sports games, this is not what we expect a high-profile Xbox cricket title to look like. Player likenesses are passable at best, embarrassing at worst. We're not Nasser Hussain, but if we were, we'd probably sue. And why is the commentary so unremarkable when it boasts the supreme talents of David Gower, Bill Lawry and Jonathan Agnew among others?