The EA Sports juggernaut comes in two distinct forms. The first, and most well-known, encompasses their big name franchises: FIFA, Madden, NHL etc. Big budget productions that understandably dominate their genres owing to their stellar production values, exhaustive licenses and the household names promoting them. The jury is out as to whether these games actually represent the very best in terms of gameplay in their respective genres, but in terms of popularity and (importantly as far as EA are concerned) sales numbers, they are typically far and away ahead of their competitors.
Then there is the second form. This encompasses EA Sports’ lesser known franchises, or ports of their main games onto less popular consoles. Usually sharing the slick presentation of their better known counterparts, these games are typically lacking in anything like the same polish, often being highly derivative and more arcade like than true simulation. These includes their boxing games, NASCAR titles and anything they have ever bothered to release on a Nintendo console.
Take a guess which group the EA Sports cricket games best fit into.
In truth we could have chosen any EA Sports cricket game to review, since they’re all pretty much alike, aesthetics aside, but we chose this one because it has Brett Lee on the cover and we just can’t say no to a pretty face. The series has been a haphazard affair thus far, with versions appearing in 2004 and 2005. Much like English cricket in general 2006 was passed over altogether, before another version came out in 2007. Since then, nothing. It’s almost as if EA has run out of ideas of what to with the licenses it owns and has put the series on gardening leave for the foreseeable future.
The series has been characterized (we talk of it in the current sense since we assume there will be more iterations one day) by top class presentation, featuring an impressing array of international and domestic teams to choose from, with big name commentators covering the action (think Richie Benaud, Jim Maxwell and Jonathan Agnew). It also, unfortunately, has been characterized by frankly appalling arcade style gameplay where run rates of 12+ an over are the norm, no matter what the format, and graphics that whilst quite good compared to other cricket games on the market, are a good few years behind industry standards, and certainly paled in comparison to EA’s other big name publications.
EA Sports Cricket 2004 stands as emblematic of the series as a whole. The package itself is impressive, in that it features nearly every cricket nation playing in the world, even including ‘A’ teams of some of the major nations, as well as the domestic teams from both England and Australia. You could play through a Test series, ODI series, the 2003 Cricket World Cup, or play through an entire domestic season. The game also contained nearly every international cricket stadium in the world, 61 in all, as well as boasting real time weather effects and changing pitch conditions. Pretty impressive no?
The problem, as always with second rate EA Sports games, was that the execution was shoddy. The graphics and animations were horrid. From a distance everything looked ok, but up close it fell apart badly. Likewise the big name commentary duo of Jim Maxwell and Richie Benaud quickly became grating when the same soundbites were repeated over and over again. It’s not often that you can say that either of those two have sent you rushing to turn the volume off, but that was the case here. Being generous, the crowd noises were at least not bad. The game claims that they “change to reflect peaks and troughs in the game”, but if they do we couldn’t hear it. It would have been nice to have English crowds fall asleep during particularly quiet periods, or Australian crowds become drunker, but there is none of that here.
As for the how the game plays itself, uninspired is the best we can offer. Batsmen have a confidence bar that builds up with every successful shot, and declines with every air swing, but its influence on the game itself is minimal. The problem is that the arcade style of the game renders any such nuances redundant, as the majority of shots race away to the boundary, no matter what the batsman’s confidence or match conditions. Bowling is utterly horrid, as good balls are repeatedly dispatched to all corners of the ground meaning it’s pretty much a case of continually placing the ball in the same position and hoping for the best. Subtle this ain’t.
Since Test matches careen along with the same run-rates as ODI games (T20 cricket doesn’t feature as it obviously wasn’t around yet. What happy days those were in retrospect), there is really little difference between the two. It would take a masochist of the highest order to sit through an entire Test, let alone a 50 over ODI. Given how the game plays, there is simply no point. Even if you happen to be playing against another player, rather than the ridiculously inept AI, both batting and bowling are a completely hit and miss affair, devoid of any actual skill.
You might have gathered that we don’t like this game much, and in a way our disgust is more a result of how the game tantalizingly promises to be a decent cricket game, before falling on its arse owing to simple design errors. As an interesting post-script, there actually is a pretty decent game of cricket to be had with EA Sports Cricket 2004. More than decent actually. If you happened to own the PC version, you could modify the hell out of the .ini file (or better yet download an already modified version) until it actually resembled a cricket game rather than an arcade style slog-athon. All of a sudden a batsman’s confidence actually mattered, and shots had to to be timed to perfection to achieve full reward. When modified the game actually played better than any since Shane Warne’s Cricket ’99, and considering its updated graphics and playing rosters, was probably even better than that game.
There is something highly ironic in the fact that it required the fans to essentially rewrite the game before you could get proper game of cricket out of it (if you happened to own one of the console versions you were screwed though). It was as if the developers tried to do their very best to hide such potential as well as they could. In any case, they certainly weren’t paying any attention to what fans actually wanted, as the following two games in the series continued its theme of arcade style action over proper gameplay.
Admittedly 51allout is hardly in a position to accuse anyone of wanton hubris, but we would like to point out that it’s probably the developers not paying any attention to what the fans actually wanted as the reason why no new versions in the series have appeared in the last half a decade.