Risk and Reward as Codemasters bring back cricket! Weâ€™re honest at TRF. Rugby games are our main priority. But letâ€™s not beat about the bush, we all remember back to our youth, when there was only one truly iconic sports game in the mid 1990â€™s. Brian Lara Cricket. I know I personally have had hours of my life sapped away hitting off drives for 4 and trying to win the trophy for Warwickshire in the challenge mode against Sussex, needing 19 from the last over! Of course, times change. Brian Lara 96, arguably the biggest time vacuum of the Lara games, was almost 13 years ago now. It could be successfully argued that the series has failed to take the step up from the original Mega Drive series. Whilst I would say myself that that would be a touch unfair on the PS1 offering, Brian Lara Cricket 1999, and even to a large extent Brian Lara Cricket 2005, the cricketing community has perhaps not had the game it has been craving for a long time. Perhaps the most criticised game of the series was the 2007 version, which suffered from a lot of complaints from fans. However, good news cricket fans: Codemasters have listened to you, and the result is the most mouth watering cricket game Iâ€™ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to be invited by our good friends over at Planet Cricket to a trip down to Codemasters HQ in Leamington Spa. A massive and hugely modern building, this mass of gaming nostalgia and forward thinking is located in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps this is wise considering the growing interest in the rejuvenated Formula 1 series, access to which we were all flatly denied! But of course, future projects are always a distraction. We were there for one thing, and one thing only. Ashes Cricket 2009. Whilst the name of the great batsman has gone, the desire to create a realistic yet accessible cricket game is well and truly still in place. We are often quick to point the finger of blame at people producing the game, but if you donâ€™t like this game, you canâ€™t go pointing on this occasion because there is a genuine desire to listen to feedback and incorporate suggestions. There is also a team that genuinely love cricket. Can there be a more important requirement? Thatâ€™s up for debate â€“ what isnâ€™t is the size of the projector screen on which we were given our demonstration. I didnâ€™t ask what the official size was, but take it from me, itâ€™s not too much smaller than the extension for a house. Itâ€™s the biggest bit of kit I have seen outside of a cinema. It was immense. I wouldnâ€™t get it through my front door I donâ€™t think! In front of this screen, we took our seats, and we saw the words â€œAshes Cricket 2009â€ on the screen, inviting us to press Start. We would have happily have done this immediately, but instead, we sat and talked with Team Ashes Cricket. It was an interesting and insightful discussion about the ins and the outs of the game, the feedback from Planet Cricket and how the game has been made. On the next gen versions (there is a Wii version, I have played it, but I will bring you another TRF exclusive about that at a later date) there has been a total overhaul. The engine, which was perhaps at the end of its life and had been maximised in use, has now been totally replaced. Ashes Cricket 2009 has a total new engine. This enables way more use of the next gen capability and as Iâ€™ll explain later, makes full use of it. We talked in detail about Lara 2007. Iâ€™m not going to go over that, as if youâ€™re reading this I am almost certain youâ€™ll have played the 2007 version and youâ€™ll be all too aware of the issues surrounding the game *rips stumps out.* It gives me great pleasure to know that Codies acknowledge the mistakes they made and accepted entirely that the 2007 venture wasnâ€™t what it ought to have been. I was very impressed by the honesty all the way through my visit. No excuses, just honest answers. AI was a key part of the discussion. The computer did not react well to the situations it was put in on Ashes 2007. Playing an ODI or a 20 over match was almost assuring you of a win because the computer didnâ€™t know, seemingly, how to set a target, and how to chase it down effectively. Whilst Iâ€™ll discuss the matches I had later, I just want to assure you all that this is something Codemasters have worked on vigorously and was a key part of the re-designing of the game. There was a real desire to ensure it was a realistic situation that the computer reacted to well. Codemasters also spoke of the need to target all spectrums of the gaming audience. Whilst the Wii version will obviously target that market, the next gen versions need to grab the interest of all corners, including genuine cricket fans. The need to harness the interest of the casual as well as the hardcore gamer and individual sport fanatic has been addressed massively. Layers of the game have been added and are available to use should you wish to do so. For example, there are vast arrays of field settings (including that for limited overs cricket, Chris Gayle fans) that the computer can automatically pick for you. However, you can go into more detail and pick your own field as per normal. The average Joe Soap, who â€œdoesnâ€™t like cricket but likes that 20/20 thingâ€ will likely never see this screen. But for the enthusiast, itâ€™s there and you can tinker to your heartâ€™s content. Finally, we got to settle down and see some of the game and chose our skin, which was obviously England. You have the facility to choose a skin for whichever country you wish to do so, and this will use different music and different colours depending on the country chosen. The Legends Challenges mode is an interesting take on the tutorial, teaching you the basics of the game via challenges from Ian Botham, and then some feedback from Shane Warne. It really does just teach you the basics, e.g. leaving the ball. Youâ€™ll be glad to know that leaving the ball now has a double barrelled effect on your confidence levels. If itâ€™s a good leave, your confidence will go up. If itâ€™s a ropey leave, your confidence will go down. Little things like that go a long way to making a more realistic experience. All this is related to the feet movement, which is extremely important in this game and especially important for your confidence. Needless to say, there is no finer sight in cricket than watching someone come down the track and wallop a ball for 6 straight back over the bowlerâ€™s head. The feet movement has been refined and feels more intuitive. The Legends Challenges will stand you in good stead for the rest of the game as it shows the basics of batting, bowling and the new catching system. We also had a quick look at the kitbag and stadiums, items that need to be unlocked. Iâ€™m not saying how itâ€™s done, but it certainly gives the game a lot of replay value. Ah yes, the new catching system. I have mentioned â€œrisk and rewardâ€ in the title of this and I am going to go back to this hereâ€¦ goodbye catching bars, hello colour coding. Allow me to explain. Batting has been refined, as has bowling, but there is a level of familiarity with them from previous games. But the catching has a new system and I think itâ€™s a brilliant idea. It encourages risk and reward, and hereâ€™s how. When you hit a catchable ball, welcome to The Matrix. Time will slow down as the ball goes towards your fielder. Before you ask, yes, the catcherâ€™s vital statistics are considered when taking a catch. Itâ€™ll be harder to catch with Panesar, for example. So, the ball is hovering in the air and is surrounded by a colour. Red means that if you press X (A on the 360, I was on the PS3 with giganto screen for most of the day) at that moment in time, youâ€™ll drop it. Amber means that youâ€™ll have a 50/50 chance. Green means youâ€™ll pouch it. So, as the ball is going through the air, you make your decision and press X. Do you take the risk of waiting for the ball to get close to you before making your move, or do you go for the reward of green and press the button at the first opportunity of greenness? Thatâ€™s down to you. Risk and reward. It is by definition of a quick time event, but I never grew tired of it, even when I kept putting them down! Itâ€™s a thoroughly addictive addition, almost mini-game in stature. The same system is in place for catches from behind and at slip, but these are harder, as they generally are in real life. It FEELS like real cricket â€“ youâ€™re keeping your eye on the ball until the very last moment and until it has been safely pouched. The â€œrisk and rewardâ€ system is also in play for bowling and batting. The colour coding system represents your timing for batting and is an important part of the game. Mistime it and youâ€™ll mishit it and possibly get an edge. Time it well and youâ€™ll pick a gap providing youâ€™ve aimed at it and moved your feet well. Time it perfectly and it should go to the ropes depending on the outfield. Do you wait for a tiny gap for the green window of opportunity for the perfect shot but risk an edge, or do you go a bit earlier and scamper a couple of runs? Risk and reward. Same goes for the bowling â€“ hit the small green area and itâ€™s a good ball, undercook the power too much and it should get carted away, overcook it and itâ€™s a no ball. Considering I smashed away a free hit for 6 in a later 20/20 game, then itâ€™s best to avoid no balls at any cost! Risk and reward. But how does all this look? Admittedly playing this on a projector screen at an incalculable amount of pixels would likely sway anyone, this game looks fantastic. The player likenesses are very good. There are one or two that could be better but thatâ€™s not exactly something of critical importance. England and Australia are licensed, other teams have the usual array of names that can be edited at will. The stadiums are accurately detailed and a lot of effort has gone into ensuring the pitch and the conditions suit the stadium. Old Trafford isnâ€™t in the game, so â€œmonsoonâ€ conditions arenâ€™t applicable either! As well as this, the stadiums have unique crowds. So in Jamaica, I heard the familiar chimes that accompany games in the West Indies. In Lahore, the annoying horns (but they arenâ€™t that noticeable and donâ€™t effect game play). At Lords, quiet chatter. It all sounds great. Visually though the game looks a treat and every different animation has been lovingly created. Every shot looks like a textbook shot, unless youâ€™re dealing with a number 10 or 11 who look like they are going to get out any ball. For me though, the superstar within the graphical element was the pitch. It looked absolutely superb, realism of the highest order. A crisp, day one pitch looks exactly like it should. A day 5 pitch the same, it is full of cracks and if you play a full test match footmarks will begin to appear on it as well. We didnâ€™t have time for a full game over 5 days obviously so I couldnâ€™t test this but the engine can handle it, I know that just by looking at it. After watching a 5 over match in action, it was time for a spot of dinner and a drink before reconvening and making use of the afternoon as we wanted to. Me and Cymro scuttled across to the Wii and had a 6 over match. I am not going to say too much about the Wii version at request of Codemasters, but Iâ€™ll tell you this â€“ itâ€™s an outrageous amount of fun when thereâ€™s 2 of you! So, PS3 pad in hand, I sat down in front of the Gigantotron 2000, and I played Ashes Cricket 2009. I started off with a 6 over one day match, and we put it on easy. Unbeknownst to me, Mr Rudge had been practicing on Lara 2007 the night before, so when I lollopped in to bowl, rusty after years of inactivity, I found myself being hit all over the park. After an early wicket for myself, playing as England, Ricky Pontingâ€™s wagon wheel begun to represent some sort of red-tinged New York city skyline as monstrous six after six was launched into the stand. He completed his century, no mean feat in 5.2 overs. I wasnâ€™t bowling badly â€“ just with a bit of naivety against someone who knew what he was doing. Rob posted 159-3 off six overs. Ponting eventually got run out but the game didnâ€™t contain a â€œmoan about sub fieldersâ€ feature. Sort it out, Codemasters! Run outs are largely automatic, but you do choose which end to throw to. And again, fielding ability comes into it. Choose the right end and you might get a run out. With a run rate of 29 an over, I rolled up my sleeves and set out to chase down this mammoth target. And what a brilliant start I made â€“ pressing Triangle instead of circle and coming up with a magnificent leave. My batsman was confident (this is displayed on the HUD as youâ€™re running in to bowl/waiting for said ball. The batsman/bowler name is displayed following whichever one of five different levels of confidence they are at, ranging from timid to fearless. I invented my own when I edged the next ball to the keeper â€“ gutted! I was up against it as it was but when you know youâ€™ve lost after 2 ballsâ€¦ not nice! I did launch something of a comeback though and clubbed 26 off one over, but still fell 52 short of my target. I had got the hang of it by that time and was ready for the next game. Youâ€™ll be pleased to know by the way that this match was on easy. Therefore everything was based around hitting the ball as hard as possible. That ball, by the way, being the Kookaburra pink ball. Quality addition. This standard of play is aimed for the casual gamer, the ability to pick up and wallop sixes here and thereâ€¦ just play a game on easy. However, there is some immense difference between the different sorts of matches as I found out. We messed about with a custom six over match, but me and Rob then decided to take the West Indies and Sri Lanka on a test match extravaganza, on a day 5 pitch. The pitch shows different wear and tear, itâ€™s clear to see. A day 5 pitch has plenty of cracks and looks to be the haven of a spinner. And youâ€™d be right, but more of that later. Test matches attracted a lot of criticism in the last outing, with people able to finish matches before lunch on the first day. Play this on normal or hard, and youâ€™re going to finish it in the same timescale as a real life test match. The difference between the different types of cricket is massive. If you try and launch the first ball over mid on for a six with the first ball, it would need to be a stinker of a delivery for you to do so. Your batsman needs to play himself in or thereâ€™s a good chance heâ€™ll be walking before long. Test cricket is slow and deliberately so â€“ it is as realistic a test match as Iâ€™ve ever played. I tried hitting a few boundaries and kept getting out or profiting from dropped catches from Rob, of which there were very few. I played Chris Gayle in and it did start to get easier. The timing meter became better and better as time went by. Just like real cricket- you need to play yourself in. The better batsman, of which Gayle is one, get away with more if they mistimed shots but itâ€™s not recommended. Things were going smoothly, until Rob decided he wanted to check out Muraliâ€™s action. He pitched the ball onto the cracks. If you do it in the vicinity of a crack, the odds are that the ball is going to deviate a bit, in Muraliâ€™s case, quite a lot. It was almost unplayable at times. I didnâ€™t help myself by taking a suicidial run with Gayle and getting him run out coming back for the second. You can now queue up runs with a click of Triangle when the option is active, and I thought I was on for a second. I was wrong. Rob threw back to the keeper and my despairing dive (which you can do depending on the context of the situation) was enough to get referred to the third umpire. This was quite spectacular â€“ Gayle jammed his bat on the floor whilst diving, but it bounced up in the air and didnâ€™t land in time. Thus I was out. I was very impressed with that. Not with having my best player run out, obviously, but with the physics surrounding the bat and its contact with the floor. I was soon all out. Whilst Murali was spinning the ball well, I am not very good at this game by any stretch of the imagination. Iâ€™d give anyone a game of PES or FIFA, but cricket games, or my native rugby? Iâ€™m not the best. The fact I was out for a low score doesnâ€™t mean itâ€™s too easy for the bowling team, itâ€™s because my timing was off and I kept edging behind. Rob however also suffered the same difficulties as me when he opened his innings, he didnâ€™t play himself in and I took several early wickets including a peach of a Yorker. However, a partnership took us back to stalemate and he passed my total eventually and marked me down for an innings defeat â€“ he was spot on! A day 5 pitch causes havoc. I didnâ€™t get to play on one against the AI but on hard that will be tough and I mean that very, very sincerely. We then took our Kookaburra pink ball onto a 20/20 match. Again, I suck, so I was skittled out for a low total but took advantage of a free hit to hit the ball into the pool in Jamaica by advancing down the wicket to an attempted slower ball. It went many a mile. The difference between this and the test match was again very evident. The idea behind this form of cricket is to smash the ball out of the park, and it makes it easy for you to try and do so. But I canâ€™t play spin, like I canâ€™t in real life, and Rob chased my meagre total down in 8 balls. My last bit of Ashes Cricket 2009 action until the game is released and I race to the shops to buy it, was to watch a match Lazy Chestnut was playing. He was taking on Australia on hard in a test match. He was getting a right good hiding. I decided to have 5 minutes against the AI. I warmed up Monty and got him bowling at Simon Katich, 82 not out. Two balls in I got him to top edge a top spinner, straight down the throat of mid off. That was as good as it got for me though because for the next 4 overs I bowled I got carted everywhere. The AI is good, I can see that much even from 10 minutes with it to myself. Beating the game on hard is a challenge and I would imagine achievements and trophies will be having their highly pointed ones based on hard. I watched Rob take on the AI on hard, he had difficulty and didnâ€™t even take a wicket. A small victory for me seeing as he gave me a right shellacking in every other game we played! Everything about the game is impressive. The honesty of Codemasters and their wonderful hospitality is something that cannot be underestimated or undervalued. This was not a â€œtell us how great this isâ€ session, this was a â€œwhat do you think?â€ session. No amount of fabulous sandwiches or Paniniâ€™s and an endless supply of soft drink would make me say I like something that I donâ€™t. I cannot emphasise enough how good I think this is going to be. Itâ€™s going to match up to Lara 96, which swallowed large chunks of my youth. Whilst I didnâ€™t get to test online for obvious reasons, if that is done right this game will be getting played to death by all of us for a long time to come. Itâ€™s fun to play 20/20, ODIâ€™s encourage big hitting and test matches are very much a war of attrition. With a Wii version in tow as well, this is going to be a fantastic cricketing summer. I canâ€™t wait for the game to be released, and I sure as hell canâ€™t wait to get my revenge on Rob via XBOX Live! Youâ€™re going to love this, cricket fans. Screenshots to follow.