Ricky Ponting Pressure Play
As I am not a follower of cricket itself, nor generally a player of sports sim type games, it was not without some sense of irony that I approached the review of this title.
So, I plopped in the game disc, switched on my trusty PSP and waited through the obligatory parade of company logos and slideshows. Then, after a typically long loading time, I was presented with the main menu. Four choices stood before me, in plain text boxes: “ICC World Cup”, “Tournament”, “Pressure Play”, “Load Game” and “The Pavilion”.
Not wanting to dive into a full blown tournament (the idea of slogging through the digital equivalent of a test match was not high in my priorities at the time), I figured I’d look for a tutorial to get to grips with the controls. After all, cricket is a complex game in the real world, so I figured that if this was attempting to re-create it then there’d be quite a bit to learn… more than I realised it seems.
“Pressure Play” looked like it might show some promise, but it turned out to be a series of challenges to complete – handy, but not what I was looking for… back to the title screen.
Let’s try “The Pavilion”… That gives me some options and the ability to create or alter my player profile, but no tutorial, and no option to display the key map (so I know what button does what). Oh well.
Tournament it is then…
I wanted to just get in there and start hearing the good old crack of leather on willow. Unfortunately, there is no “just dive in a have a quick knock about” option, so I was obliged to go through the process of setting up a full game. At least they did provide a one-off game option in the form of a “warm up game” (which spared me the tedium of trying to set up a full tourney).
First up was a series of options to tweak such important matters as difficulty, weather, pitch type (so many different types of dirt….), and even “ball condition” (cue adolescent sniggering). Curiously enough, under “weather” there is even the option of “rain”, which is ironic in that normally, cricketers flee the field at the first hint of precipitation (a behaviour that leads one to wonder how they get through a full game in England at all).
Anyways, moving on in my attempts to get onto the virtual pitch… Next up was the choice of team (actually both teams), and even who I wanted on each squad. All the players (I’m assuming that they are real cricketers) are nicely presented, with each having a little digital mugshot for your selecting pleasure.
Players selected, and every other imaginable option taken care of, (short of actually arranging resource consent for building the pavilion itself), I prepare to begin the game. …And am presented with a loading screen that, honestly, you could go away and make a cup of tea, and probably have time to drink it before you were needed back at your PSP. From there I am given a slow pan around a decidedly plain (and empty) cricket pitch, before another loading screen, and the coin toss (a short, but probably unnecessary animation) with the option to bat or field for the winner. Then, more loading and we get a brief animation of the players walking on, and… wait for it… MORE loading!
Finally, I find myself staring down the pitch watching the bowler getting ready to throw, sorry, bowl, his ball at me, and realise that I finally have control over the game at last. Well almost. It is at this point that I realise that I am faced with a bewildering array of on-screen meters and statistics, and have no idea what any of them do.
A quick (and timely, given that I am about to face the onslaught of a West Indian bowler any second, just as soon as he’s finished “polishing” the ball on his trousers in that oddly disturbing manner that they do) check of the pause menu revealed that I only had control over the audio levels and nothing more – apart from quitting the current match (something I admit, I am tempted to do). No summary of the controls at all. I am firmly of the belief that a well written game should have the option to display a quick reference of what the keys do – or in the case of a really well-written game: the option to re-map the controls if one so wishes. Ideally this should be somewhere on the pause menu for quick easy access at any time. Now, I know a game will come with a manual which will explain the controls (something which a review copy doesn’t have), but let’s face it, this is a game for a portable console, and as such, it shouldn’t be necessary to be carrying the manual around with you wherever you take your PSP – so it is vital that some quick reference be built into the game to remind the player what all the controls do (especially if you haven’t played the game in a while and need to re-acquaint yourself with the controls) .
Oh well, no help for it, I can’t write a review without actually playing the game proper, so I’ll just have to fall back on the old method of “press buttons at random and see what happens”.
Well, my first few moments transpired as follows: The first ball, I managed to belt for a six (I kid thee not). The next five balls all bounced past my player into the waiting hands of the bloke standing behind me to my left (don’t even think of asking what position that would be) – despite my best efforts to press the same button as I did the first time. Then more loading before being given a summary of the over, and the “Hawk Eye” computer simulation graphic of where all the balls went (just like they show you on the telly – it’s quite clever actually).
For the second over, I figured I’d try some other buttons, only to have my player suddenly leap up and start running – and promptly get himself run out (followed by many re-plays of his shameful demise, as the game does the equivalent of giving you a paper cut and then squeezing lemon juice in it). It was at this point that is discovered that the Triangle button must make the player run (not to be confused with giving him the runs – which would be amusing in itself… ). Needless to say, after a few more overs of flailing around at the ball, I’d gotten though my entire team, (with little animations accompanying each player’s arrival on the field – accompanied of course by the obligatory loading screen) and faced the prospect of fielding – and a whole different set of indecipherable controls. Bugger that. I’m going back to the pavilion for a nice cuppa.
You spend probably more time looking at loading screens than you do actually playing this game. It would be slightly less painful if they gave us something interesting to look at, but what comes up is a static long-shot of the pitch, with an ugly sky full of compression artefacts (or were they meant to be clouds, I really couldn’t tell). The developers have put a lot of detail in this game in terms of tweaking the teams and pitch conditions etc., and they did a good job of that. But in the end it is playability that makes a game enjoyable – and this just doesn’t have it. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps they should just have let the coin toss decide the game and have done with it – it would be a damn sight quicker, and probably just as interesting in the long run.
Graphically, the game is quite adequate (apart from that awful loading screen). The players are modelled in a simple, but functional way, set in a rather bland field – but then, just how exciting can you make a large, closely mown paddock, with a narrow, positively bald strip in the middle? The seating and other scenery around the periphery of the field looks quite well modelled, although you never get to see it up close, so it’s hard to be sure. Up close, the players seem to have disproportionately large heads (but I suspect this was to show off the face-mapping). I quite likes the moments when the bowler and batter exchanged silent, but probably insulting, if I was reading their body language right, comments across the pitch on occasion (usually after a particularly poor over on my part).
In terms of being able to re-create a proper team and tweak every aspect of the game, this game fits the bill nicely. You have plenty of control over the game parameters, down to exactly who you want doing what in the team.
However, the biggest issue with this game (and the one that ultimately strangles the playability from it), is the dreadfully long loading times. Now we all know that the PSP is quite notorious for taking it’s time hoovering the needed information off it’s tiny disc, but the game developers really should have taken the time to do some optimisation, or maybe had a few less short animations (such as he ones between overs for example) when the loading times are easily longer than the animations, and really you just want to get on with the game (of course this basic desire to “just get on with the game” may be one of the main reasons for my not watching test cricket in the first place).
Good news for parents, the game contains no violence or naughty language (other than my own at having to sit through “yet another loading screen”). Unfortunately, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a child with a long enough attention-span to get through all the painful disc access and actually play the game.
Overall: 6/10. A pass, looks decent, plenty of detail, but ultimately marred by terrible, and far too frequent, loading times.
Reviewed by: Dave.