I’m not a particularly big fan of cricket and I’m certainly not a fan of buggy video games, so for all intents and purposes, I really shouldn’t have enjoyed, Don Bradman Cricket 14. Strangely though, despite its myriad of bugs and, well, its abundance of cricketiness, I have found myself really rather smitten with Big Ant Studios’ take on this often poorly represented sport.
There hasn’t been a genuinely good cricket video game in years and since Brian Lara Cricket ’99, it could be argued that the various releases across a multitude of publishers and developers has failed to move the virtual incarnation of the sport forward in any meaningful way. While Big Ant Studios’ effort certainly doesn’t look or sound like a particularly next-gen offering, there is no doubting that the fundamental mechanics are both forward thinking and largely revolutionary. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but the core gameplay is never anything less than fun, delivering a system that makes both bating and bowling highly entertaining while providing a package that is immediate and enjoyable enough for casual fans such as myself while offering more than enough depth for committed fans of the sport to get their teeth into.
Don’t get me wrong, many players will struggle to get past the games’ horribly dated visuals and collection of visual and audio based bugs, but as is so often the case with video games, gameplay is king, and once you get used to the relatively shoddy graphical representation of both the players and the grounds included, it becomes quickly apparent that a clearly limited budget can’t hold back what is clearly a very talented group of developers with a clear love for the sport and a keen eye for implementation. Heck, these crafty buggers have even managed to side step the fact that Don Bradman is the only licensed player in the game; essentially, upon booting up, you are given the option to upload the most extensive and accurate set of user-created content and thanks to the solid edit suite (complete with all of the commentary names included no less) has led to a game that essentially provides an unlicensed licensed product (if that makes any sense). It’s a sneaky but unquestionably brilliant way to get around the issue and something that I can only hope Konami implement for future iterations of Pro Evolution Soccer.
Still, licensed or not, Don Bradman Cricket is not an attractive game and on the very first match that I played, audio was often repeated while one diving fielder actually slid right through a fence on the boundary. Yes, these are annoying technical deficiencies, and like the visuals, some gamers will inevitably struggle to look past them, but in my case, all was forgiven as soon as I had ball or bat in hand. Bowling in particular, which has so often been relegated to a painfully simplistic or cumbersome affair, does a great job here of mirroring the actions and skills involved in actually playing the game. Both batting and bowling could do with a better set of tutorials, but once you get into the *ahem* swing of things, both disciplines feel both natural and highly entertaining. It’s not quite as revolutionary as Tiger Woods’ analogue swing, but I tell you what, it’s not far off.
Bowling is achieved by entering the delivery type with the left analogue stick while both the step and release are achieved via timed pulls and pushes on the right. It sounds simplistic enough, and technically speaking it is, but the freedom that this system allows and the ability to attain a very specific delivery makes all of the difference to both short term and long term gameplay. Spin bowling is admittedly a little more fiddly, but even here, once you become accustomed to the unique requirements, also allows for a collection of very accurate and varied deliveries – even if extended gameplay is likely to ruin your controller.
Batting is equally successful. With no marker on the delivery, you need to call each shot based upon your own intuition; in a very small window, you must decide whether to put your weight onto your front or back foot before deciding on what kind of shot you should be playing based upon the delivery and the fielding positions taken. It’s all timing based, but again, by doing away with obtrusive visual indicators, it actually makes the whole experience that much more natural. With a vast collection of both standard and modified shots at your disposal, it’s testament to the game that a hardly fought single can often feel as rewarding as a well-placed shot toward the boundaries.
There are issues of course – fielding feels somewhat unwieldy and the machine like throwing accuracy of all involved can lead to some rather unrealistic run outs. The biggest problem though is the camera. With no manual control beyond an awkward shift to first person mode, knowing where the spaces are while batting is an unnecessarily tricky affair while judging your runs is made unduly problematic by a camera that is both slow and poorly angled. This leaves you with the option to delay your run (doubles are very hard to come by) or to take your chance at the risk of a run out. Needless to say, my impatience has led to more than a few avoidable run outs at the hands of the horrifyingly accurate fielders.
Still, despite these issues, I can’t help but be enamoured by Don Bradman’s Cricket. With a solid selection of online options and a visually basic but lengthy career mode, there are plenty of ways to play, but be it online with strangers, on a sofa with friends or simply against the AI in career, Don Bradman Cricket’s fantastic core mechanics and array of incidental details ensure that this is a game that can be enjoyed by the casual and hardcore alike while delivering the template for all cricket games to come.
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