Platforms: Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC - Wii and Xbox 360 versions reviewed.
However England fare in the final Ashes test, the 2009 battle has done a fantastic job of dragging Cricket back into the public imagination, and that represents a golden opportunity for Codemasters. For around 15 years, on and off, the company has been pushing out cricket games under the Brian Lara banner, fending off the occasional challenge from EA and enjoying a modest level of success. If ever there was a time for a cricket video game to hit the big time it's now, but it won't be easy. As even EA has found, it's one thing making a sports game that can appeal to that sport's hardcore fanbase, and quite another to make one that will appeal to a wider audience. Now that audience might be ready for The Ashes 2009. The question is whether The Ashes 2009 ready for it?
Up to a point, the answer is yes. Admittedly, there are some rough edges in both the Wii and Xbox 360 versions tested, ranging from unconvincing fielder animations to some truly shocking likenesses - you'd be more likely to find this Andrew Flintoff holding up a post office than bowling for England. If you know your cricket players, you'll doubtless find other efforts here that aren't so much uncanny valley as downright weird Grand Canyon. Yet for the most part the graphics just about pass muster, the presentation is slick and the commentary, from Jonathan Agnew, Ian Botham, Tony Greig, Shane Warne and Ian Bishop, does a fine job of rambling on and off topic in a vaguely convincing manner.
The game also benefits from all the replays, Hawkeye breakdowns, statistics and camera angles you'd expect from TV coverage (minus those gratuitous close-ups of girls in tight T-shirts and low cut tops you get when the cameramen start losing interest). The Ashes 2009 isn't quite in the same league as a FIFA or NBA on the atmospherics front, but it's definitely heading in the right direction.
Points, too, for trying to make the game accessible to newcomers. Without a basic knowledge of cricket you won't get too far in The Ashes 2009, but you don't need anything more than the fundamentals. The high-end versions feature a good hour or so's worth of tutorials from Messrs Warne and Botham, with onscreen prompts to take you through the controls, and good old Beefy dishing out advice on situations where a certain shot or style of delivery might reap rewards. It's probably the best in-game coaching I've seen since NHL 09 last year. The Wii version gets more basic training, but then - in this case - that's all that's really needed.