Howzat is an online, browser-based multiplayer "social" cricket game. Right off the bat (sorry about that - couldn't resist), Howzat plays a pretty decent game of cricket without being greatly innovative.
For those of you who have played Flash-based cricket games on the internet, the batting and bowling mechanics of Howzat should feel instantly familiar and comfortable. Batting involves using the arrow keys to position the batsman appropriately, and then choosing the shot you want to play and the direction. You have the option of playing "attacking" or "normal" shots (which would pose a problem for Virender Sehwag, since for him, attacking is normal). Bowling is also fairly standard - you move one of those ubiquitous "pitch spot" gadgets, and then hit a timing bar to decide pace, swing or spin.
The basic bat-ball physics seem glitchy on occasion, but work pretty well most of the time. To the developers' credit, the batting feels rather solid for a Flash-based game.
Howzat is a purely multiplayer game (in fact, there's no single player match-play mode at all - just a practice mode), and this aspect is, again, quite functional. There are a few conventional features, like a basic multiplayer lobby, chat and in-game achievements, but nothing we haven't seen before in any multiplayer game on any platform. Howzat works, but it doesn't have a hook to make you sit up and take notice.
As you play more matches, you earn experience points, which can be then used to upgrade your team. Each player has only two "skills", batting and bowling, which can be increased by adding points. You can also set the right/left-handedness and bowler type for each player. Again, pretty straightforward - nowhere near the level of the detailed stats we're used to in most sports games, but perhaps a first for a browser-based title.
In fact, the only social aspect to Howzat is ostensibly the fact that you can earn points by inviting friends to play. And you can share your team on Facebook. Features like leaderboards, forums and communities aren't really social - they've been around in mainstream multiplayer gaming for ages. Apart from the basic levelling system, there are no item upgrades, special skills, power-ups or anything along those lines, which could have been used as giftable or tradeable items to add a truly social angle. Or none that are apparent reasonably enough upfront anyway.
When games like Farmville and Mafia Wars are taking social-interaction ideas (where players actually influences each other's gameplay experiences, by exchanging items, assisting friends with in-game objectives and so on) to completely new levels, it's hard to agree that Howzat is a social game by definition. It's really just a regular multiplayer game, albeit a fairly good one, with a social angle tacked on.
The presentation is hardly snazzy either - the in-game graphics, the game website and menus look pedestrian. There's simply no attitude, no chutzpah, to any aspect of it, and that could turn a lot of people off playing it.
But it is fun to play, performs well, and is without the sort of glitches or lags that can kill a multiplayer game easily. If you're crazy about cricket games, and want a free, easy-to-play multiplayer experience, then Howzat could very well meet your needs. For those wanting a more engaging cricket game, or indeed more social interaction, look elsewhere.
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Anand Ramachandran is a writer and humourist based in Mumbai. He blogs at bosey.co.in