iblog-youblogEA Sports' Cricket series has bumbled on for a number of years now, struggling to impress even the kindest of critics. Just like Tubby Taylor when he was on the rack in 97, it's been poking around at the crease and doing a woeful job of it. Some could blame pitiful development budgets or a dev team who couldn't really give a crap about some little niche sport from Down Under; but whatever the reason, EA Sports just haven't fielded a decent Cricket game in absolute yonks.
Finally, that's changed. Now, we're not saying Cricket 07 is the best thing since Herschel Gibbs dropped the World Cup, but there are enough improvements in this year's effort to make it a much more enjoyable game than the last few put together.
Oiling The Willow
One of the reasons this version of Cricket works that much better is the decision to go with an analogue stick batting system. Dubbed the Century Stick, the concept is that it gives you an intuitive way of choosing where to play your shot - you just tip the stick in the desired direction. The degree of tilt you add to the stick influences the power in the stroke, so a gentle lean should theoretically just knock the ball away for a single, where a decided push results in a more forceful drive, cut, pull or hook and so on.
You also influence the shot your batsman will play by holding L1 to add loft (when attempting to hit the ball over the top of the field), or R1 for advancing down the crease if you decide to attack something short or slow. On top of that, there's also a foot selection option (which is thankfully an automated thing, unless you go into the options and switch it over to manual). This forces you to choose whether your batsman will play on the front or back foot, which again requires more shoulder button pressing. Ultimately, it's a bit fiddly to want to bother with, but at least it's there for those who are sticklers for detail.
Because there's only a couple of seconds when the ball is bowled to decide which shot you're going to play, pushing the stick to "hit" the ball is just so much more intuitive than having to remember which button on the controller has the stroke you want. The timing required in your shot has been made a little more forgiving too, so your entire team won't get out for zero the first time you play.
Running between the wickets is still just a matter of tapping the Circle button, where two taps will immediately make your batsmen push for a second run. Because of a permanent PIP display in the corner, you can always see if it's worth the risk. The AI is still extremely accurate in the field - we saw only one dropped catch after a week of play on the medium difficulty - but there are occasions when you get overthrows and fumbles which is good to see.
Your batsman also has a confidence meter that you need to monitor when he first gets to the crease. If you try to play wild shots from the get go you're more likely to get out cheaply, so a conservative start is needed to warm you up into a slogging machine.
We do like the fact that hopeless batting bunnies like Glenn McGrath tend to catch the edge of the bat more often, or loop the ball up into the air off simple straight bat shots. There's a much larger degree of error with the inexperienced batsmen, so you really have to work to get your runs on the board, just as those blokes have to do in real life.