This week’s Retro Respawn has been a bit of a struggle for me because there really isn’t a lot I can say about Brian Lara Cricket for the PlayStation. Like most writers and critics, I usually do better when a game is either really good or really bad. I can either wax lyrical about why I loved a certain game or seethe with unburdened rage about how much I hated it. Either way, there’s something substantial there that I can really get my teeth into.
Brian Lara Cricket doesn’t slot into either of those categories, although there’s certainly more good than bad on display. It’s a solid cricket sim with a decent number of options but a distinct lack of teams to play with. Graphically, the game looks pretty good for a late 1998 PlayStation game, with the stadiums looking nice and the players reasonably well animated, even if they look a bit blocky to the modern eye. Codemasters have even gone to the trouble of animating the umpire to gesture when you score a 4 or 6, which adds to the overall feeling of authenticity that the game exudes.
However, there are only nine full teams to choose from in standard exhibition mode. Big hitters of the day such as Australia, South Africa and the West Indies are all present with fully licensed squads of twenty two players to choose from. There are five additional teams included as well, such as Holland, Scotland and Ireland, but they are only available in World Cup mode, and they only have eleven players. Unlike international football, cricket doesn’t have anywhere near as many “big” sides, so I can understand less effort being put into the weaker nations, but it would still be nice to have the option to play as them in other modes.
Each side has a different rating for batting, bowling and fielding. Every match begins with a coin toss, where if you win you can then choose to bat or bowl first. Just like in real cricket, the weather conditions, as well as each team’s different levels of proficiency in certain areas, will make it so that you’ll have to mull over your decision carefully.
For instance, the West Indies have fantastic batting stats in comparison to a side like Zimbabwe, whereas Zimbabwe have much better fielding stats. Therefore, if it’s the first day of a five-day test and the wicket is dry and dusty, it makes much more sense for Zimbabwe to bat first rather than letting the much better batting team get a chance to build a big lead. However, a side with much better bowling stats and good spin bowlers in their squad, like Australia, might be prepared to take their chances on a wicket that suits their bowlers, even though the Indies are very strong with the bat.
In this respect, Brian Lara Cricket is almost like an intricate game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, where you need to balance your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses whilst also using the elements to your advantage. It certainly adds a layer of strategy to the proceedings and ensures the game isn’t just about stepping up to the crease and swinging for 6’s every time out. In fact, try that tactic and you could soon find yourself “all out” before you even reach the 20th Over.
The upside of this is that it makes the game an actual cricket simulation and not just an arcade-styled game of hit and hope. Most major cricket releases prior to this game hadn’t been able to transport the sport to an entertainment medium in such a manner, so the fact Brian Lara Cricket does it so well is certainly a positive. However, the downside to this is that if you’re not a big cricket fan, the game can eventually start to feel like a bit of a grind, especially if you’re playing a full Test series.
Don’t get me wrong, there were moments where I really enjoyed playing a long Test match. I put my feet up, stuck the radio on and started playing a number of defensive shots in order to try and gradually eke out a good innings. However, a couple of hours later things started to drag a little bit, and my concentration started to wane. Watching cricket on the telly with a cup of tea on the go and an afternoon to yourself is one thing, but when you actually have to control everything from your sofa, you suddenly start to wonder what the point of it all is.
And I suppose that’s another issue the game has. There never feels like any real sense of accomplishment. You play Test matches and one-day games using the same meagre collection of nations, then they end and that’s that. There are no county sides to choose from, no career mode to break things up and, outside of the World Cup, there aren’t any recognisable big pots to play for either.
Yes, you can select England and Australia to play a Test series with one another, but it isn’t The Ashes, and there are ultimately few stakes. The simulation aspect is spot on, but there’s very little garnish to go with the solid meat and veg of the game engine. There’s also a frustrating lack of consistency sometimes, with identical shots often creating completely different outcomes, even if the ball is bowled the same and the pitch hasn’t changed. I often found that I eventually stopped going for 6’s, because even if you time your swing perfectly and hit it just right, it can still end up feebly dropping into the hands of the nearest fielder.
Brian Lara Cricket is a decent cricket sim, but it’s not without its flaws. On the whole, I’d say it was the archetypal 7 out of 10 game. Fans of the sport and genre will likely enjoy it, but if you’re more of a casual cricket consumer, you might eventually find yourself ground down by it. The lack of more teams certainly doesn’t help either. It’s good at what it does, but what it does might not be good for you.
Thanks for reading
Until next time;