When it comes to cricket the video game world is a very barren place. Despite Cricket being one of the most supported games in the world, in terms of video games it really hasn't had much to crow about for the past decade except for one series, Brian Lara Cricket. Codemasters have trusted Swordfish this time with the job of bringing the sport to the consoles and they come with great pedigree having worked on a previous Rugby title and also the sublime Jonah Lomu Rugby. Ricky Ponting cricket should be the game that brings Cricket some credibility in the gaming world and we recently went hands on with a build to see where it's up to.
Ricky Ponting Cricket's main focus is offering a lot of variety to the player and you will get that in spades. As well as One Day Internationals and Test Matches, Codemasters have also licensed the ICC Champions Trophy which has lead to some truly weird licensing for the game, but more on that later. The game modes are customisable as well with overs, weather and other options available for change but perhaps the best option of all is 'save anytime'. Fifty over and five day tests are no longer impossible due to a lack of save game, so purists will love that feature.
Of course the sport of Cricket involves three main tasks; batting, bowling and fielding and Codemasters and Swordfish have put in a level of interactivity unseen thus far in the genre. Bowling is fairly easy to do although it can be difficult to get the ball exactly where you want it to go and batting is more enjoyable. However it's not a case of being more enjoyable because wickets don't fall often as in other games, it's a case of the engine and animations are done so well that hitting that big four or six is actually satisfying - it's like playing Pro Evolution Cricket. Fielding is also interactive with a meter coming on screen. How fast it moves is determined by how hard the catch is get it on the line and it will be taken. This also works for incoming throws - again, hit the line, and the ball will be over the stumps and a run out may ensue.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is just how much of a simulation the game is trying to be. While there is a mode called Slogfest where you can belt six after six, it doesn't happen very often in other modes. The game is all about risk and reward. Do you go for the big six and hope you hit the middle, or play the safe shot through the covers? This is a decision you make every ball and timing is everything. Hit it on the meat and even the perfect ball will be sent through to the boundary but miss time it and the perfect shot can end up spilling to be a catch. This is what makes the game so brilliant and why cricket gamers should be so excited. It's also aimed to end the boredom that can set in for casual gamers with cricket gamers.
Now the licensing issue. It gets a bit complex here and a bit stupid as well - Codemasters would agree I'm sure. In the ICC Champions Trophy mode all the real teams and players are featured but in other modes only some of the teams are officially licensed for players. So Australia has fake names such as Jason Guisseppe (we found that hilarious) but the English still appear to be officially licensed outside of ICC which comes as no surprise. Codies have also licensed every major cricketing ground from around the world and accurately modeled how they play in terms of pace and spin.
The graphics are looking great although in terms of player likeliness they seem more like caricatures as opposed to being close to the real player. This is obviously because of licensing issues. It has a sort of realistic/slightly cel shaded look to it but combined with the animation it does look great. One area which is really impressive is the sound. Depending on who is playing will depend on who commentates and thus far we've heard David Gower, Johnathon Agnew, Tony Grieg, Bill Lawry and a West Indian commentator. This is absolutely brilliant and gives the game that little edge in authenticity.
Rick Ponting Cricket is coming out just before the season starts in Australia and should be a cracker of a game. From our short play test we're quite excited to see the final product and to get stuck into a lengthy Ashes series. If you want the best simulation model of cricket around then Ricky Ponting Cricket will probably provide it later this year.