Brian Lara Cricket ’99 Captured the True Essence of Cricket

Brian Lara Cricket '99

Every two months or so, I used to send an email to Codemasters, publisher of the classic Brian Lara Cricket video game series, to tell them how much I wanted a new cricket game from them. I got almost the same response every time, something along the lines of: “Thank you for your suggestions. We have passed them to our game development team.”

I must say, they were quite patient. But I couldn’t help myself; Brian Lara Cricket ’99 had a massive impact on me.

Brian Lara Cricket ’99, a follow-up to Brian Lara Cricket ’96, was developed and published by Codemasters for Sony PlayStation and PC. (In Australia and New Zealand, the game was released under the title Shane Warne Cricket ’99.)

The Brian Lara Cricket story begins with a UK-based studio called Audiogenic Software Limited, which had actually been a recording studio (simply called Audiogenic Limited) before getting involved in the Commodore PET game manufacturing scene (if that transition seems odd, consider that the Commodore PET had a cassette drive, meaning data could be stored on cassette tapes). The company was reformed in 1985 as a game development studio, and that’s when the word Software was added to their name. That same year, they would release their very first cricket game Graham Gooch’s Test Cricket for Acorn Electron, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum.

Graham Gooch's Test Cricket

It seems the folks at Audiogenic were eating and sleeping cricket, as they developed multiple classic cricket video games into the 1990s. (They also made Emlyn Hughes International Soccer, as well as games based on Alice in Wonderland and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, among many others).

In 1993, they released Graham Gooch World Class Cricket, which, according to the Audiogenic website, became a #1 bestseller in the UK. Audiogenic released several different versions of the game, including Allan Border Cricket for the Australian market and Jonty Rhodes II: World Class Cricket in South Africa.

And then, of course, there was Brian Lara’s Cricket, a special PC edition of Graham Gooch World Class Cricket, which would kick off Audiogenic’s Brian Lara series. The Sega Mega Drive version, Brian Lara Cricket, would spend ten weeks at the top of the UK’s bestseller list in the summer of 1995. Audiogenic would follow that up with Brian Lara Cricket ’96 for the Sega Mega Drive, and a PC version was released that same year.

By the time Brian Lara Cricket ’96 was released, Codemasters was acting as publisher while Audiogenic was working as developer. Codemasters eventually took over that amazing core development team to create a follow-up to Brian Lara Cricket ’96 for Sony PlayStation and PC. The result was arguably the best cricket video game ever made, Brian Lara Cricket ’99.

I should note that the official title is Brian Lara Cricket (without a year), but I will continue referring to it as Brian Lara Cricket ’99 to prevent any confusion between various BLC releases.

For anyone unfamiliar with Brian Charles Lara (or B.C. Lara), he’s a legendary and stylish left-handed former batsman for the West Indies. Back in the 90s, he was among the modern greats of the cricket world, alongside Sachin Tendulkar. As the games’ titles imply, he endorsed the Brian Lara Cricket video game series.

Brian Lara Cricket '99

I played the PC version of Brian Lara Cricket ’99 on my Pentium II. Prior to that, I had played many of the Audiogenic cricket games mentioned above, including Graham Gooch World Class Cricket and, of course, Brian Lara Cricket ’96.

The core gameplay features remained mostly the same from version to version, with slight improvements in each iteration. Brian Lara Cricket ’99, however, took a giant leap forward, and it stood taller than previous versions as a result. The game was immense fun due to the massive list of features and diverse game modes. Let’s take a look at some of the wonders of this game, which, in my opinion (and in the opinion of countless fans), is the best cricket video game of all time.

Any sports game experience is heavily dependent on two things: the core gameplay and the environment in which that core gameplay takes place (we can call the latter the “match atmosphere”). In Brian Lara Cricket ’99, gameplay and match atmosphere combine to make an exciting gameplay experience.

Brian Lara Cricket '99

Brian Lara Cricket ’99 features multiple game modes, including World Cup, in which you can play the entire Cricket World Cup to win the championship. There’s also World Series (hosted by Australia), Knockout Tournament, Test Series, and Test Season. If you want to relive classic cricket matches of the golden era with the legendary cricket players of those times, then Classic Match is the mode for you. The classic matches featured here replicate some of the intense real-life cricket matches of the past. You’ll select one of the two teams and attempt to achieve the objective of that classic match. How cool is that?

Brian Lara Cricket ’99 features nine international test playing nations from its time, including Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Australia, England, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Moreover, in World Cup mode, you can play with six additional associate teams.

The game lets you play in cities like Karachi, Kolkata, and Melbourne. The TV-style gameplay presentation — with a variety of camera angles — makes the game feel as if you are watching a live telecast. That live-TV feel is enhanced by the superb play-by-play commentary by Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott.

And there’s an authenticity to the crowd sound effects in Brian Lara Cricket ’99 that’s truly impressive to this day. If you watch a lot of real-life cricket on TV, you probably know that in the subcontinent (India and Pakistan), crowds are very noisy, and they’ll have huge uproars during a match. However, the crowds of Australia, New Zealand, and England rely more on clapping than roaring and screaming. Brian Lara Cricket ’99 replicates this by having different crowd audio for different stadiums. If you are playing a match in Pakistan or India, you will get the realistic crowd noise of the subcontinent grounds. However, if you are playing a match in England, you will just hear claps, and overall there will be a less noisy crowd.

Brian Lara Cricket '99

Clearly, Brian Lara Cricket ’99 does a fantastic job with match atmosphere. So how about the gameplay? Well that’s great as well.

You can select different types of pitches like hard, weary, green, and damp. All those cricket pitches behave differently, directly affecting gameplay. For example, In hard pitches, the ball will come to your bat very nicely and you will enjoy playing your strokes. On the contrary, if you are playing a match on a damp pitch, the ball it will carry a low bounce, making it very difficult to play your strokes freely. This means batting becomes quite a challenge.

Brian Lara Cricket '99

The batting, of course, is where you’ll have the most fun, with all defensive and attacking strokes carrying both front-foot and back-foot shots. The batting shots only lack reverse sweep and the charge shot. Apart from these two shots, you have the option to play all front-foot and back-foot shots, including the academic straight drive, the beautiful leg glance, the smashing hook and pull shots, and the classic sweep to the spinner to score boundaries.

The batting controls require strong reflexes and good timing. As a batsman, you can either play a groundstroke by pressing the enter key alongside the respective shot button, or you can attempt to slog by pressing the Ctrl key with the shot button. The batting controls are tough, but once you get used to them, the Brian Lara Cricket ’99 party really starts. The shot animations and the overall effect of shots are so pleasing to the eye that they’ll wipe away any fatigue caused by the complex controls.

The bowling gameplay has less variety than batting. However, the bowling experience is still good enough to keep up the excitement of the overall match.

With so much to offer, Brian Lara Cricket ’99 was the perfect cricket video game to spend long hours with. I used to play this game for 10 or 12 hours a day — I was a school kid and I bought this game during the summer holidays, so I had plenty of time.

The only concern modern audiences might have with Brian Lara Cricket ’99 is the lower graphics quality. Of course, the game’s other features are strong enough to cover that up, and fans could expect that graphics would get better in the future versions. Considering that in the late 1990s, video games were still adapting to 3D technology, the core development team at Codemasters deserves huge credit for delivering such a fine cricket game experience.

You can check out Some Brian Lara Cricket ’99 gameplay below (though it’s the Australian version, Shane Warne Cricket ’99) from the cricket YouTube channel gjweavr.

In the meantime, I should prepare another email to Codemasters to see if I can convince them to make a remastered version of this beautiful game. Oh, how I am dreaming!

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