What with it being the onset of winter, it seems a bit of a daft time to release a game of the nation's favourite/most hated (delete depending on how England play) summer sport, yet that's what EA has done with the latest version of EA Sports Cricket.
Much like the real England team's fortunes in recent years, EA has given its cricket franchise much more care and attention, placing it on a par with the FIFA and Tiger Woods titles which traditionally sell by the truckload. The improvements are numerous, and all play their part in ensuring EA Sports Cricket 07 is much more than some bland, crippled sports tie-in.
Commentary is absolutely top-notch, with the combination of Mark Nicholas and the silver-tongued cavalier that is Richie Benaud providing their dulcet tones and a completely natural-sounding commentary to proceedings. Phrases are occasionally repeated, but it's all so seamless it's hardly noticeable. Sound effects, too, give a real sense of atmosphere to the game, with appropriate bat swooshing and ripples of applause making the game among the best around for nailing how a sporting event actually feels.
That atmosphere carries over into much of the gameplay, where control of your batsman's blade has been moved to the right analogue stick in much the same way as Tiger's golfing swing in recent years. And as with the latest Tiger Woods game, it makes for a very intuitive experience. The left stick shuffles your batsman along the crease and onto either the back or front foot, while the right stick allows a greater degree of subtlety and timing with your shot selection.
The furious stabbing of X or Triangle of older versions is gone, replaced by a more fluid motion; L1 allows you to swing the bat Freddie Flintoff-style, although there's more chance you'll send a ball down a fielder's throat, so you must make sure that your batsman's confidence (marked by a meter in the top left of the screen) is high and your own timing is right before trying it.
It's a fine balance, just like the real thing. But while the batting is excellent, the bowling leaves a little to be desired. Just like in real life, the real fun lies in walloping balls into the car park, not in setting field placings or deciding whether it's cloudy enough to deliver out-swingers. Luckily there's an autoplay option if you want to skip to the end, although the training nets are a good way to indulge in a bit of no-strings swinging.
Compared to batting, bowling just feels too simplistic. It's not enough to upset the balance of the game, however. With the combination of EA's slick presentation (even though the players look nothing like the real-life ones) and its great new batting system, this is loads more fun than being hit in the 'nads by a 90mph screamer for real.
The rejigged control system makes all the difference - the best willow-and-leather knockabout around
- Brilliant, intuitive batting system
- Excellent commentary and sound
- Perfectly recreated cricket 'feel'
- Bowling and fielding is boring