August 6, 2014

Cricket's great video game

It's called PCB Chairman 2014 and it's addictive

"It's great to be back in power after a long week in exile" © Associated Press

As technology evolves at a dramatic rate, many isolated communities are being left behind. For example, there are parts of the Amazon rainforest where entire tribes are still playing Angry Birds, and in some districts of Yorkshire smartphones are burned at the stake.

Yet few sections of human society have suffered more in this regard than cricket gamers. In the 1980s, we tolerated blocky white figures flickering across a bilious green screen because we didn't know better. But in the 21st century, graphic realism is everything, the gaming world is full of awe-inspiring ways to waste your spare time, yet cricket gamers have to sit through more overhyped turkeys than Michael Bay's agent.

No matter how big the game's budget, the result is always the same: fielders drift aimlessly across the field like bored ghosts, bowlers creak through their action like Andrew Flintoff with a dislocated hip, and batting comes in two modes: Phil Tufnell or Chris Gayle.

But after all the years of frustration, cricket connoisseurs can now enjoy a game that does justice to the intricacies of our sport, thanks to the release of PCB Chairman 2014.

PCB Chairman 2014 is a "cricket mismanagement game", a genre that dates back to 2008 and the launch of Moob Raider: The Search For Stanford's Millions, in which Giles Clarke, wearing a distressingly tight top, searches the jungles of Antigua for the source of Allen Stanford's mythical wealth. This was followed by ICC Audit 2009, Allan Border's Spreadsheet Challenge and Caribbean Cricket Arbitration 2011.

But PCB Chairman 2014 looks a cut above those tame offerings, providing a heady mix of incompetence, intrigue and international condemnation.

Your protagonist is a minor official who wanders into the wrong office and finds himself appointed interim chairman of the PCB. As temporary head honcho of Pakistan cricket, you have total freedom to do anything you want: reorganise the stationery requisition procedures, redecorate the executive toilets, or redesign the PCB logo to incorporate a unicorn, a smiley face and a fire-breathing penguin.

But there's a problem. An injunction has been filed with the High Court. You've only got 24 hours before the case is heard and you're administrative toast!

The game begins with your character and a small team of loyal accountants crouching behind the boardroom table, fending off hordes of auditors, using just your obfuscation guns. After the auditors come three waves of relatives in search of employment, including the level boss, an uncle from Peshawar who claims he invented the doosra in 1968 and who wants to be Pakistan's next spin-bowling coach.

The next level is a fiendishly tricky platform challenge in which you have to leap over constitutional obstacles and jump through legal hoops, while dodging bad publicity traps and flying court orders. But if you make a mistake, all is not lost, as you can re-spawn using a personal presidential Intervention.

After battling through several increasingly litigious levels, there is one final challenge before you can be crowned Chairman for Life by Imran Khan. You must take on your media enemies in hand-to-hand combat. The first few rounds are straightforward, but there is a steep difficulty curve and the last two opponents take some beating. Shoaib Akhtar's Verbal Volcano is hard to avoid, even if you put your fingers in your ears, and big boss Javed Miandad's Atomic Sarcasm Slam is a deadly weapon.

The game does have a few flaws. The AI is a little capricious, and even when things are going well, you can find yourself kicked out of office for no reason, then reinstated at random. And on occasion, even though you press the right buttons, nothing happens. In fact, despite being chairman, you appear to have very little control over anything.

But despite this unpredictability, the game is strangely addictive. More than once I found myself slamming my controller to the floor in frustration at three o' clock in the morning because the Supreme Court had annulled my election victory.

So if you're a fan of bafflingly confusing administrative high jinks and you've always wanted to attend a press conference wearing a PCB tie and an angry expression, then this is the game for you. And the good news is that it offers scope for unlimited sequels; in fact, I believe PCB Chairman 2015: The Curse of Najam Sethi is already in production.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here