Brian Lara's Cricket '96 logo

Reviewed by Andy Maddock

Cricket games on the Amiga always appear to be hit and miss affairs (pun intended). It's not the fact that cricket is a minority sport when compared to the likes of football and rugby. It's just that the games generally take the form of simulations. This narrows down the appeal (pun intended) by a tremendous amount, as the game is only going to attract Amiga owners with an interest in the game of cricket itself. You can't just pick up a bat and slog some balls about - you've got to get into the 'boring' bit too.

By a general consensus of opinion in the office, real cricket ultimately receives the 'yawn' treatment, although having said that, the chances of an office worker being able to settle down at a cricket match while being covered from head-to-toe in sun-cream and sipping a pint of bitter are pretty remote these days.

You either have to be unemployed or retired, and as the unemployed shouldn't be wasting their benefits on cricket it all boils down to being old and wrinkly. Now, how many of your granddads own Amigas? Hmm.

Cricket is, and always will be, the best alternative to football and rugby. While the latter two are settled in just under an hour and a half, cricket takes at least a day to finish. And while the excitement is non-stop during a football match, often leaving you unbelievably drained as you leave the ground at the final whistle, cricket is a nice relaxing sport where you have to do absolutely nothing apart from applaud after the occasional over. It's a treat.

It's quite easy to confuse Brian Lara's Cricket with another game by Audiogenic - if you can remember Graham Gooch's World Class Cricket, you'll know this is the same game. With Goochie recently having retired from test cricket, a new endorsement was needed, and after Brian Lara notched up his memorable 500-something runs against England, and consequently joined Warwickshire, he must have seemed a very likely candidate to star in his hown game.

Actually, I now remember where this game came from. About four months ago we heard about a new Audiogenic cricket release which would be the sequel to Goochie's, and to be honest we were all expecting something completely different.

However, when the preview version finally made its way to us - it was provisionally going to be called 'Imran Kahn's Cricket', we noticed that the number of changes were very slight, and apart from the updated teams and player names, were almost unnoticeable. At the preview stage there is always plenty room for improvement and change, although when we got this version we were surprised to say the least.

You can't just pick up a bat and slog some balls about - you've got to get into the boring bit too

The first noticeable aspect was of course the game's title. As it's called Brian Lara Cricket we expected to see him make an appearance. Nope, the manual clearly states that due to technical problems, skin colour was to be predominantly white. Bit of a shame that as many cricket players are indeed coloured, including the entire West Indian side.

When it loaded up I couldn't see any changes whatsoever. There were no graphical changes but at least the game had been made harder. The computer opponent got me all out for about 15, and consequently bettered my innings in the first over, although I'm probably a bit rubbis... er... rusty, that's the word.

Overall, Brian Lara's offer at least a few changes for the better. Firstly, there is the option to change fielding to manual control so you can finally run after the ball and choose which wicket to throw it to,.

The batting has also improved and it's now possible to place the ball where you actually want it to go. And, by holding the fire button you can add height to your shot, thereby adding a further degree of realism.

There is an arcade mode, so all the bland averages don't take effect, and your chances of having a 'good knock' are increased as the players are all given the same rating. All the test and county sides are on-disk together, although you do have to go through a bizarre ritual before you can use them.

The last change is simply that it's a bit faster at loading during overs and things, although to be honest, I didn't notice.

If you've played Goochie's Cricket and felt there were a few bugs worth ironing out, it may be time to 'upgrade' to Brian Lara's. The word 'upgrade' is probably a bit misleading, however, as you have to shell out £30 for the privilege. I feel a data disk would've been a much more realistic option.

Final word

So, if you enjoyed the first version, my advice is to purchase the new one right away. It's still the best cricket game on the Amiga and will be for some time.

Brian Lara's Cricket '96 logo

The only six Andy Smith ever gets are of 'the best' variety. I think you know what we mean.

Cricket has never been one of my favourite games. In fact I don't like it very much at all. I don't like playing this game either, but that's because I don't like cricket computer games. I can tell you it's good though and I can tell you that if you have even the vaguest interest in the sport that you're going to like this.

Essentially it's the same as Audiogenic's earlier cricket games that use the same engine (Battle For The Ashes, Graham Gooch World Class Cricket and Brian Lara Cricket) but with some added extra features and some really annoying gameplay flaws rectified.

New features include a beefed up computer opponent (it's not so easy to thrash a team when you're playing an International) and the introduction of an Arcade option. There are 12 international teams and 18 country sides included, with 1996 stats, you can select to field yourself or have it done automatically.

This is probably one of the biggest improvements because now, when you're fielding for yourself, you can choose which end you want to throw the ball to. And fielding for yourself is surprisingly easy once you've spent a few minutes practising.

There's also the inclusion of the Six-Hit button. This is basically an option whereby you can hold down the fire button before you make a batting stroke and if you get the timing right you can attempt to knock the ball out of the park. It takes some getting used to but it's a welcome inclusion.

As for the rest of the gameplay, well it's pretty much the same. It's had a couple of bits polished and spruced up, but essentially it's like all the others that have come out of the same stable (to mix a sporting metaphor). That doesn't mean it's going to get downmarked - Audiogenic have made a real effort with this one and it's worth applauding them for finally listening to what people have been telling them for years.

As for the fact that I don't like cricket, that doesn't matter. This is top-drawer stuff that works well and is enjoyable to play. You want to be playing it in two-player mode because it's more fun, but you'll still find it challenging enough on your own to keep you at the crease for a good long while.

Brian Lara's Cricket '96 logo

Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries.

People think it's an easy life reviewing computer games: It is and it isn't. It is easy when compared to mining coal or working in McDonald's, it isn't easy when it's compared to doing nothing. Which is what most computer game reviewers would rather be doing. Nothing. We're a lazy bunch of cynical so-and-sos by and large.

So join... Oh excuse me. I've got to sign for this large package the ever-cheerful Phil the postman's brought me. Hmm... It's addressed to 'The LEadEr, AmmigGA POWere', how strange. Anyway...

So join me as I lounge in my large and comfortable chair, feet idly resting in the middle of a pile of Amiga Format's paperwork which I am gradually covering in dust, oral needs satisfied by a coffee and a doughnut (I'm sooooo American when I want to be) and cast a jaundiced eye over Audiogenic's 'new' cricket game. "New"? you say, "why the quotes?" Ah, you cheeky little tinker of a reader you, you know very well why the quotes.

It's because we've been here before, oh I don't know how many times, reviewing Audiogenic's 'new' cricket game, whether it's been called Graham Gooch Cricket, Imran Khan Cricket, Test Match Special, Brian Lara Cricket or, indeed as it is now, Brian Lara Cricket '96. And they've all been the same bloody game. And your cynical, jaundiced reviewer (who nonetheless is glad not to be working in McDonald's) has been asked to review nearly all of them, having been identified by the AP team early on as 'interested in sport'.

Which I've learned has, in the same way as worrying about becoming inexorably more like your father, a lot more to do with getting older (I used to hate watching sport but now find the spectacle of people doing things I'll never be able to do as opposed to things I can't be bothered to do strangely fascinating) than anything else. But I digress.

So is there... I'm sorry. Is that you ticking or is it me? No, obviously, it's neither of us, but I could have sworn I heard something. Oh, never mind...

So is there any point to this re-release or is it just another part of Audiogenic's plan to squeeze every last penny they can out of the Amiga games player even if it means making him 'accidentally' buy a game he's bought already just because it's got a new name? Well, in a definite break with tradition, Audiogenic have improved their cricket game. For instance, the rather charming bug that's been in every previous release of this game where the wicket keeper always throws the ball for a four if he's forced to field it himself in a sort of petulant, I-don't-want-to-play-this- game-any-more sort of way has been removed.

Now somebody comes in to cover for him and he throws it to them. Well done. And you can field the ball yourself AND CHOOSE WHICH END TO THROW IT TO in a way that you never could before. And there's now a rather nifty thing whenever you're batting that as well as moving the joystick to select the shot you want to take you can now press the fire button if you want a little extra 'oomph' from your batsmen which means that the ball will either fly for a boundary or straight into the hands of a waiting fielder, which is useful when you're playing a limited over game, for instance.

Part of me that wants

And now when you're caught there's a chance that the fielder might drop you (which I certainly don't REMEMBER from any of the earlier versions of this game) and that makes it more fun to play too. And the batsmen are just a little cleverer than they were before and don't tend to fall for that old trick of bowling them a bouncer every ball and placing your fielders in a sort of doughnut shape around them (they used to swipe wildly and get caught). And there's also a clever disk cache thing in place, the details of which I won't bore you with but which cuts down considerably on disk accessing (if you have more than 1Mb of memory).

In short... It's this package! It's blooming ticking. It's a bomb. Quick. Don't panic. Erm. I know! I'll throw it into the carpark where the advertising staff keep their shiny new company cars. Phew...

In short everything that could have been done to make Brian Lara Cricket '96 the definitive Audiogenic cricket sim has been done. It's been tidied up, sorted out and dusted down. Just as the Amiga as a games machine coughs its last fleck of blood up from it's diseased chest and slumps its head to the floor, 'Nads.

And now to the difficult part of being a games reviewer: deciding on the score. There's a part of me that wants to shout "Oh you sad, cretinous ignoramuses, why has it taken you several YEARS to sort out this game that could always have been this good and instead foisted a succession of bug-ridden, flawed versions on us until we were sick of it. I'm going to give you 20% and let that be a warning to you."

And likewise there's a part of me that wants to say "the best Amiga cricket sim in the world just got even better, a game that's delighted and dazzled a generation of gamesplayers has been given the slickest polish yet - well done Audiogenic - 90%". But only because I wanna get quoted on the box.

Brian Lara's Cricket '96 logo

Price: £29.99 Publisher: Audiogenic 081 424 2244

Welcome to the Wild World of Sport, where today we go live to the Audiogenic Stadium, where our man is waiting to report on this, the latest in a long line of cricket sims.

Once a company hits the nail on the head as far as how any particular sport should be represented on the computer screen, every other company seems to either do its very best to completely rip it off, or go so far out of their way NOT to rip it off that they miss the point completely and end up with a totally different but totally unusable control system.

Fortunately, Audiogenic already have the franchise on playable Amiga cricket games, and though my first instinct upon playing Brian Lara Cricket '96 was to attack it for appearing almost exactly the same as the last Audiogenic cricket game I reviewed (albeit about a million years ago under the original name of Graham Gooch Cricket) it still remains about the only one I'd bother recommending to you.

No, I haven't forgotten Grandslam's It's Cricket, it's just that Audiogenic's control system is a lot more instinctive and more likely to be instantly picked up by a non-cricket fan such as myself.

No interest
Yes it's true, I've absolutely no interest in men dressed in white. Dressed as sailors or red Indians and you're getting close, but as far as rubbing balls against your scrotch until they're red goes... well, it all seems a waste of time to me (not to mention a bit suspicious). Of course, that's not to say that there isn't a good computer game lurking away somewhere, and considering I thought I had no interest in football until I played Sensi, I was more than prepared to approach Brian Lara with an open mind. Sorry to report, the first impression is one of laziness on Audiogenic's part...

If you've not played Audiogenic's Graham Gooch Cricket game you won't know what I'm talking about, but if you have, you won't be able to avoid the fact that the graphics are pretty much identical, the music IS identical and the gameplay remains unchanged ( I don't like to use the word 'identical' three times in a row - it brings bad luck. Or something).

Of course, you could live by the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" rule, but even the great man, Mr Lara (and let's be frank here, he's black and pretty obviously s) appears as the same white player used throughout.

Now I'm not looking for accurate digitised representations of every player on earth, but even those tiny fellas in the aforementioned Sensi Soccer have more character than these mannequins!

According to the documentation, players of different colours couldn't be incorporated into the Amiga version due to "Technical restrictions". Yeah, sure! How about: 10 MAKE BRIAN BLACK. 20 GOTO 10. RUN. Technical restrictions my rear end! I suppose you need the awesome processing power of a Pentium before you can colour someone's face and hands in the way they should be. Phew, technology these days, eh!

End of the day
Moaning aside for a moment, a sports simulation is a sports simulation, and looks aren't everything. Fortunately, the game itself remains as playable as it was first time round. As always seems the way with sports such as cricket, baseball, rounders, etc. it's always more fun batting that fielding, but being able to control the length of matches through some pretty comprehensive options means that you can at least control how long you endure bowling before getting back to the REAL fun.

The options are also nicely geared towards those of us that aren't too bothered about recreating specific line-ups; so select the 'Best Eleven' option and let the computer arrange your team for you. Then it's off to the pitch, er... court, um... field thing to bang lots of wood about for 90 minutes. Er... I mean an over.

And there you have it: a pretty comprehensive but accessible cricket simulation that, while not stunning, is by no means inadequate. The only real question you need to ask yourselves is whether you're really that bothered about updated and accurate batting averages, team rosters etc. If you are, then fine - you WILL be after this particular release - if not, then go out and scrabble through a bargain bucket somewhere. You might just find the original Graham Gooch Cricket for a few quid cheaper. Good stuff nonetheless.

A question of control

The controls are pretty damn simple, and even if they're not NOT simple enough for you, you can select a skill level to suit your abilities (or lack thereof!). The fielders can either be directly under your control or completely CPU-controlled, leaving you to just worry about bowling. THe bowling itself is pretty easy, just make sure that by the end of your allotted time limit you've moved the bowling cursor to the position you want and then wiggle the cursor in the prescribed manner to gain as much speed or spin as you can.

Strategies come from your selection of bowlers - so you might want to opt for a fast bowler but then deliberately send a slow delivery to confuse things. You can also use spin bowlers to trick opposition, and even pretend to be clumsy when fielding to tempt batsmen into going for extra runs they'll never complete.

If you chose to play with manual fielding it's realy just a case of running the active fielder torwards the ball and throwing it back to the wicket as soon as possible. Batting is easily more fun than fielding or bowling, with a combination of timing and a good working knowledge of the various possible shots being necessary to strike a good shot every time.

You still get to see the target hinting at where the bowler is aiming and then you need to select from the eight joystick directions to select the shot (i.e. down/left for an off-drive, left for a cover drive, etc.) finally timing your swing correctly depending upon the speed of the delivery. YOu can then speed your runners up by waggling the joystick as fast as possible. Easy, non?