When it comes to a ranking of the most niche sports that have been turned into videogames, lacrosse is probably toward the top of the list. Following on from the relatively successful XBLIG release of College Lacrosse 12 for Xbox 360, Crosse Studio have been working on the next iteration. For Casey Powell Lacrosse 16 though, they've teamed up with Australia's Big Ant Studios, who have a long list of sporting videogames under their belts, and who were responsible for Don Bradman Cricket and Rugby League Live 3 on Xbox One.
From the get-go, Big Ant's involvement is more than obvious. The interface and options contained within it are all but identical to the one found in Rugby League Live 3. The same menu system, same editor interface, same career structure and XP system are all in place, and this allows the game to sidestep around licensing issues in the same manner as Big Ant's other games, too. Basically, the game ships with fake player and team names, but you're given the option to download the "best rated" custom teams, players, leagues, and coaches from the community to replace them. Of course, the best rated creations just happen to be real teams. Clever.
On the field, Casey Powell Lacrosse 16 plays a solid game. Player control is easy enough to pick up, although there are optional FIFA-style button prompts that appear around each of your team members to advise you if you're having trouble. This ease of play doesn't necessarily extend to the defensive control scheme always, which will prove to be a bit of a barrier for some initially. When on defense, the type of move you perform to try to dislodge the ball from the ball carrier isn't automatically selected, so you'll need to choose between a body check, wrap check, poke check, kayak check, or over check to try and cause a groundball. Holding LT will lock on to the attacking player so that you can focus on choosing your move, but the varying levels of effectiveness of these defensive actions in different situations can mean that you're left swinging as the offensive middie just breezes past you yet again. You learn when to best use a wrap and when to use an over, but for the first hour or two of play, you'll probably start to feel the frustration as the sport of lacrosse is very, very fast. You just don't get time to mess around, since you can go from losing a face-off to being a goal down in less than two seconds. On the other hand, that's half the battle and half of the enjoyment. If the game played much slower or it was far too easy to always get the ball on defense, it wouldn't be much fun. Just be prepared for a bit of a learning curve.
Another issue that will cause problems for some, is in the game's career mode. You can change the length of matches so that you don't have to play full 15-minute quarters of course, but when you're playing as just your career player – as opposed to controlling the whole team – this is ignored. So if you're the star forward, you'll be on the field for most of the full 60 minutes, and the game will take that long to play. You can skip periods of play when you aren't involved, but the manager doesn't seem to ever pull you out of the game for more than a minute at a time if you're one of the team's better players, even if you have no stamina left. If you go as far as to sub yourself off by running to the bench, you'll be back a minute or two later. This means that matches can feel quite long and drawn out if you play this way.
Play as the full team though, and you've got a game that is as fun as the sport itself. Fast action, nail-biting final quarters and some genuinely impressive visuals mean that whether you're playing online or in career mode, you'll likely to be hooked. As not particularly massive aficionados of the sport (it's more than a minor sport here in the UK, to the point that the official England lacrosse national team's Twitter account has less followers than PureXbox does), we were surprised to find that Casey Powell Lacrosse 16 is as addictive as it is. If you're looking for comparisons, the game plays a little like EA's NHL series and throws in all the quick end-to-end action that game provides. That isn't to say that every single game is a high-speed goalfest, since you've enough tactical options to slow down the play as and when required, but when you're 12-11 down with less than a minute to play and your star forward swim dodges around the last man, throwing in a lovely diving shot that beats the keeper all ends up and the controller ends up in the air as you cheer out loud, you know the game must be doing something right.
Casey Powell Lacrosse 16 won't be a game for everybody. Of course it won't. But as well as giving fans of the sport a good deal of fun, it might convert a few non-lacrosse fans who are looking for a change from the usual multi-million dollar soccer/hockey/gridiron/basketball titles that are sent out onto the playing surface every year, as well. As an almost full-price title, things had to be pretty much on point here and though it isn't perfect, the development team have done well to provide a game that does the sport proud.