Cricket 2004 - Preview
The standout date for all cricket gaming fans in 2003 is drawing near, for the ever popular EA Sports Cricket franchise is about to expand yet again, with the release of Cricket 2004 for both Playstation 2 & PC.
The EA Sports team are no strangers to the making of Cricket titles, in fact this will be their 6th attempt at creating the ultimate cricket gaming experience.
To fully understand the massive improvements made in Cricket 2004, one first has to understand the flaws which plagued it’s predecessor, Cricket 2002, a game which was received well by the general public, yet copped quite a barrage from the die hard cricket fans, the people who these games after all are made for.
The game was initially appealing due to the flexible controls, realism of tournaments & the amount of detail which had clearly been put into the various stadiums.
However it soon became apparent that the game lacked depth & replay value, with only 22 stadiums and 5 different tournaments available, there was also no facility for updating the international squads & not a hint of any domestic teams in the setup.
It also became apparent that the product had several minor yet terribly irritating problems in the area of gameplay, the first & certainly the most significant of these was the apparent lack of batting skill differences in various players, it was just as easy to score runs with Glenn McGrath as with Sachin Tendulkar, certainly not something which went down well with cricket fans.
There was also the mediocre difficulty levels the game implied, it was easy to the point of boredom to score at a rate in excess of 20 an over, yet the opposition batsman could easily be kept in check simply through the continued bowling of the yorker.
There were also the less obvious yet every bit as irritating features such as the keeper not fielding the ball even when there was no one else within 50 meters, the fact the opposition bowlers never bowled no-balls & the lack of edges.
The frame rate was also incredibly sluggish on occasions & the player animations left a lot to be desired.
However Cricket fans can rest assured that all these & more errors will be corrected in Cricket 2004.
The first & most significant improvement is the inclusion of domestic teams from Australia & England, as well as the ability to play out all the domestic competitions such as the Pura Cup, C & G Trophy & the County Championship (although unfortunately there will be no 20Twenty Cup included).
Fully up to date squads of 20 players will be provided for all domestic teams.
Imagine the hours of replay value domestic teams will add to the experience, after all, FIFA games have included domestic teams for years so its only fair the Cricket franchise should get the same treatment.
Another incredibly exciting new feature is the addition of a full player editor, this feature will include the ability to edit every aspect of a players appearance & playing ability, it will allow gamers to update international & domestic squads as new players come onto the scene as well as edit players skills & ratings should they not agree with the presets, one could put him/her self into the game should they wish to.
However as Andrew Wilson, the producer of this latest EA title says “be prepared to spend some time on this feature”
Another massive improvement will be the inclusion of form & injury in the game, players will be injured during the course of a season (certain players are more likely to be injured than others due to their fitness ratings) and will consequently need time off, players will also suffer form slumps & periods of good form, all of which will affect their on field performances.
Gamers will have the ability to take a test team of their choice on tour to different parts of the world, they will then be able to partake in warm up matches against domestic sides before going head to head in a test series, all the while players will be suffering injuries & form slumps which should increase the realism ten fold compared to the previous game.
There will also be a mode similar to the franchise mode of NBA 2003, which will allow gamers to tour the world with a domestic team of their choice, signing & trading players from other teams.
A further vast improvement from the previous edition will be the ability to track statistics for every player in all matches (much like in Brian Lara cricket 99) rather than over the course of a single tournament like in Cricket 2002.
If players chose they may take charge of a domestic & test team at the same time, selecting players to go on tours while attempting to win the various domestic competitions (similar to International Cricket Captain series).
The graphics & player models have all undergone significant transformations, player height will now be a factor (unlike Cricket 2002) and a fresh round of motion capturing has been done with the aim of improving realism from the previous edition, while the frame rate & jerky player movements should now be cured thanks to the Renderware engine utilised in the game, we are also promised better player face capturing than was apparent in Cricket 2002, where several players looked absolutely nothing like their real life counterparts.
Another area of massive improvement is the addition of a further 53 stadiums, boosting the overall number from a modest 22 to a phenomenal 75, including just about every ground to have hosted an international cricket match & several domestic grounds from Australia & England.
However all these features would mean nothing if the gameplay had not been upgraded significantly, and thankfully it appears this is one area which has been given plenty of attention.
Firstly the players skill ratings will now play a much bigger part in deciding how they react to different match situations, for example a more aggressive batsman will try to counter attack after the loss of early wickets, while a more defensive individual will concentrate on preserving his wicket.
There is also the ‘confidence meter’, according to Mr Wilson certainly one of the bigger drawcards boasted by Cricket 2004 as far as gameplay is concerned, quite simply the higher a batsman’s confidence, the better he will time the ball & the more great shots he will play on the other hand low confidence is likely to mean more edged shots & less timing, the confidence meter is dictated by the batsman & bowlers form, their respective skill levels & the amount of time the batsman has been at the wicket, for example Stuart MacGill facing Shaun Pollock will have very low confidence, while Matthew Hayden facing Mark Butcher will have very high confidence levels.
Several other bugs such as the keeper’s fielding inability & the ability to just tie down an end with yorker after yorker have been fixed, as well as possibly the most important aspect of gameplay, the AI.
One looses count of the occasions when playing Cricket 2002, that the CPU captain would bring on a part time bowler in the 6th over of a test match or thereabouts, often ahead of a strike bowler, for example when playing against Australia the CPU would often bring on Steve Waugh at first change, ahead of Jason Gillespie, Mr Wilson assures that this to has been fixed.
All in all Cricket 2004 looms as an essential purchase for all cricketing buffs, certainly a class above its predecessor in Cricket 2002, aswell as a solid investment for all sports fans in general.
The game will be released in Australia & New Zealand around December 17 2003, with a release due in the UK sometime early in 2004.
An official website will be launched within the coming days.
Written by David Hoitink