First and foremost, a confession -- I'm not a cricket tragic. I understand there are intricacies to playing the game, a long and rich history to draw upon, and all manner of minutiae supporters rejoice in. But frankly, apart from the occasional One Day match, cricket is boring (expressions of outrage can be emailed here).
In my defense, I challenge anyone to tell me the last time they sat through all five days of a Test Match and didn't once think, "Gee, a little excitement wouldn't go astray". If I wanted to sit and watch long periods of back and forth play punctuated by the occasional few minutes of excitement, I'd sit in on a Senate Inquiry (please limit your vitriol to 50 words or less).
Which leads me to Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2005, Atari and Codemaster's latest take on the gentleman's game. And surprisingly, I liked it. Quite a lot. Now that's high praise indeed considering my earlier rant.
Most of what makes Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2005 so appealing is its excellent control scheme, which allows you to take on the tasks of batting, bowling and fielding with almost arcade-like ease. Which is not to say the game is a slog-fest -- while the controls make the game easy to pick up and play, there's plenty of depth below the surface in both attack and defense for true cricket tragics to delve into.
Batting is straightforward -- the controller's different face buttons act as different shot types such as a straight drive along the ground, a slog into the air or a defensive stance. Bowling is equally easy. After starting a bowler's run up, players simply choose a delivery type (straight, leg or off spin) and select where on the pitch they want the ball to initially land. Speed is determined by a sliding gauge -- players need to select their delivery before the gauge slides into the red for maximum speed. And fielding is the easiest yet. After selecting your field formation from dozens of preset combinations, fielding is automatic for the most part. To make things more interesting, throwing back to the wicketkeeper and catches are accompanied by a swinging meter. Pressing the X button while the meter is still in the green zone results in a catch or a throw straight over the bails. Miss the green and you'll drop the ball.
These three elements make for a game that's easy to play if you're an amateur but gets increasingly difficult as your skills (and your opponents) improve. Batting isn't just about pressing a button -- players need to time their swing correctly, as well as keep an eye on the field formation to see where it's safe to direct the ball. When bowling, plenty of variety in both pace and delivery need to be served up to be able to get past a batsman's defences. Field formation can also easily make or break an innings, so care needs to taken when deciding on what formation best suits your bowling attack.
Gameplay, however, doesn't feel even across the board, as batting definitely seems easier than bowling. Once you get your timing right, you'll have great fun trying to slice the field up with well placed shots. When it comes to bowling, however, it almost feels more like luck than good play when you do get a batsman out, particularly at the higher difficulty levels.
Another major plus for Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2005 is the amount of gameplay that's crammed onto the disc -- there's plenty of cricket here for fans. As well as exhibition matches (such as Tests or One Day affairs), there are several real world ICC tournaments to compete in. Tournaments include the ICC World Cup, the Champions Throphy and the World XI series. Players can also set up their own tournaments, so those still nursing a broken heart can replay the Ashes and ensure victory for Australia.
The official ICC stamp only goes for the ICC tournaments, however, which means that real world player names will only appear in those matches. If you play outside of the ICC games, you'll find your teams filled with players such as A Gelchrast and G MacGrith. It's a minor annoyance, but one you can easily solve thanks to an in-game option which allows you to change their names.
But not only can you change names, you can also create a player from scratch and assign strengths and weaknesses, RPG-style. Once created, you can insert your player into any national side to take on the world's best.
And in a plus for fans, Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2005 also has a Challenge mode, which lets players relive some of the sport's greatest matches. Some of the highlights include the very first Ashes Test, the 1938 Bodyline Test and the tied Test series between Australia and the West Indies.
The look of Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2005 is generally impressive. The graphics certainly aren't eye popping, but player movements have been mapped accurately and look quite realistic on the field. The commentary is for the most part interesting, although the commentators sometimes disregard major events (such as a wicket falling) if they're in the middle of some preset dialogue.
Niggles aside, Ricky Ponting International Cricket 2005 is one of those rare sports games that's enjoyable for both novices and fanatics alike. So while I won't be watching Australia take on the Windies and South Africa this summer, I will be playing the sport through my PS2. Who knows? I may end up being a cricket tragic after all.
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