Each and every summer down here in Australia, most sport fans, even if 'fans' is a stretch, enjoy the cricket, whether it be on the television or whether they actually go and see a live game. It has become an Australian tradition, from the World Series tournaments to the infamous 'Ashes' series with England. Even in Winter when our team is over in India or similar half the country keeps tabs. With this said, a modernised computer game based on Cricket has been in huge demand, and the folks at EASports and HB Studios have delivered with Cricket 2004, but for the majority of fans, a name is nothing, they want gameplay. Can Cricket 2004 PC finally give the cricket fans out there solid computer action?
First things first, Cricket 2004 has a lot of game modes, similar to its fellow "HB Studios" title Rubgy 2004. These include the World Series, Knockout, ING Cup, Pura Cup, International Tour and the County Championship. Oh, and not to forget the Practice Nets, which is more than just a practice arena, it is in fact a really good way to get use to bowling and batting aspects, such as timing and shot selection. A voice-over will let you know how you're doing, providing tips along the way to improve your skills.
Again, as with Rugby 2004, Cricket 2004 features plenty of official elements, such as over 1000 players from 56 teams, and 61 stadiums around the world. HB Studios seem to pride themselves in making their sport titles officially accurate, and if there is one great thing about Cricket 2004, it is the fact everything but bat brand names seem to be official. Hopefully a future version will have official branded bats, as the absence does have an impact on the game's authenticity, especially when some batsmen can be identified in real like by the type of bat they use.
Speaking of identification, Cricket 2004, while featuring plenty of real world players, fails to effectively visually replicate these real world players. This is basically due to the somewhat poor graphics and visuals, which doesn't stop at rendering the players in a blocky fashion, but also creates blurry textures, the crappy cut out crowds and the awkward disjointed animations. Unfortunately for Cricket 2004, expectations for graphics in today's gaming world far exceed what is being offered here.
I was hoping Cricket 2004 would make up for the visuals with the audio, but again, I was disappointed. While audio is not really a huge factor in this game, such aspects as the commentary need revamping almost completely. Back again is Richie Benaud, a prestige Australian cricket commentator, along with Jim Maxwell, but unfortunately, their commentary skills are not given justice in Cricket 2004. The main reason for this is the disjointed nature, when mentioning dynamic values such as the score in a sentence, it is really very easy to point out the end and beginning of a new sound recording. On top of this, the commentary is very scarce, often you will play for minutes on end without hearing a peep from the commentators, which is a very eerie and empty feeling when it comes to sporting games.
When it comes to the actual in-game gameplay, Cricket 2004 gives mixed results. To start, batting is reasonably impressive once you get the hang of it, and when I mean that, I don't mean after a few sessions in the practice nets, I'm talking about quite a lot of getting use to. If you don't time your shots right, they will probably go nowhere fast, and in a lot of cases, they will pop up in the air resulting in an easy catch for the fielders. However, once you do start getting a feel for the batting game, you will notice that the dynamic batting control offers a vast improvement to the series. When the right shot is chosen, depending on where the ball is and how fast it is going, the runs start to tack on very quickly, and often there is more than one good shot to play for each bowl, giving the batting aspect of Cricket 2004 reasonably good flexibility.
However, the same success can not be granted for the bowling. As it would seem, no matter who your are opposing, good bowling means absolutely nothing in Cricket 2004. Often I would bowl "the perfect length and line" only to find my delivery ending up in the car part three blocks outside of the stadium. No matter how hard you try, the computer controlled batters will simply slog you silly. In fact, in the entire time while playing Cricket 2004, I only managed to get a bowling wicket (caught or bowled out) twice, the rest were run outs. I'll admit I could probably use some more practice, but there is no doubting that the bowling in this game is incredibly difficult.
If there is one thing that is good about bowling, and this applies for the batting too, it is the simplicity of the controls. Nothing more than a few button presses are needed for the bowling, and once you have lined yourself up properly, only a direction button with one of the three included swing types are needed to bat. These swing types include front foot, back foot and a general block shot, all of which can be combined with a direction for complete control. All in all, the control subsystem is not bad, as the execution is very easy, it is just the execution relevant to the in-game action that is hard, which is more of the gameplay's fault.
It isn't like Cricket 2004 is a terrible game, I just think it could have been better, and hopefully in the coming years, it will be better. For the mean time, Cricket 2004 PC is a great Christmas or summer-time distraction while you wait for the next test match to start, or while you wait for the action to come back due to rain. Don't expect too much from it, it is a pretty simple game really, but I think most cricket fans should enjoy it. From a low budget and small development house, I'd certainly call Cricket 2004 a pretty good effort. I could think of better things to do with my time, but then again, I could also think of worse.
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