Hey, you know what we haven’t seen in… just about forever (we’re talking technology years here)? An actual playable cricket game and we’re not referring to the dreadful Ashes Cricket 2013, which release last year and which we’re never going to speak of again. It never happened, okay? Good. Moving on.
South Africa sports fans might take this a little hard but we owe the best cricket game in recent years to an Australian publisher, Tru Blu, who have given the world Big Ant Studios’ Don Bradman Cricket 14. If you don’t know who Don Bradman is, you probably need to update your mental cricketing trivia database but all you really need to know is that he has a ridiculously high (lifetime) average innings total so they gave him his own video game.
And what a game it is. Players have the option to play casual matches with a variety of international teams, which cover test games, T20 bouts, and ODIs. But why stop there. Players can take on twenty seasons as a rookie cricketer in the career mode, taking a youngster who barely knows what a pitch looks like and turning him into a legend on the field (provided you play well enough). There’s also the option to play through tournaments, custom and otherwise, and a few other things besides. But there is a catch.
We’ll be honest, out of the box Don Bradman Cricket 14 is a dog of a game. This is a low-budget title and it shows in the way that there isn’t a licensed current player on the roster, the sometimes glitches in the batting and bowling system, the low-resolution backgrounds and the stilted and repetitive commentary. But that’s just out of the box. The glitches, background and commentary don’t get any better but the players… you can do something about those.
Don Bradman has a full-on character creation mode that will allow players to recreate their favourite players and replace default team members with people who are actually playing the game these days. Of course, if the hours of creating and saving team members proves a little daunting, you can also just download a little update from the community of the best created cricketers. The work’s all done and the result is actually very pleasant, going from a generic cricket title to a simulator that features current lineups and the all-time best players from around the world’s cricket-playing nations. And yes, SA is definitely on that list. It’s a nice little workaround from having to license players and DB Cricket 14 is the better for it.
But having accurate-looking players (check out the All-Time Best South Africa team for a trip to Nostalgia-ville) isn’t enough. What will break a game like this is gameplay and cricket is a game-type that no developer has really managed to crack. There are several different movements to account for, battling styles, bowling physics (and the differences in pace and delivery), fielding… the variables are quite complex compared to, say, football. On EA’s budget it’d probably be a trivial pursuit but they’re not making cricket games. Big Ant’s effort at simulated cricket physics are probably the best that we’ve ever seen in a gaming environment, the occasional glitch notwithstanding. There is a huge amount of control possible in every aspect of the game, though fielding could do with a little work.
DB Cricket 14 has different control methods for whatever players happen to be doing. We still can’t figure out how to bowl spin properly but bowlers have the options to pitch the ball full, short or just along an ideal line, varying the pace on the fly. You’ll find that bowling controls are easy to understand and considerably simpler than doing the real thing correctly. Fielding controls are the least complex, though players will have to manually take a catch. Throwing to the stumps relies on a power bar and button selection determines which set of stumps you target.
Batting is perhaps the most complicated, taking advantage of the right stick for shots. The shot placement can be modified by the controller’s shoulder buttons, permitting aggressive shots (boundaries FTW!), defensive strokes and just plain weird strikes in addition to playing the ball around the park. Pitch conditions affect the ball’s movement as well, so you might wind up with a speedier pitch than you’d like if the simulated weather (complete with innings adjustment) is just right. In most cases there’s either a satisfying crack as the ball heads for the boundary or the thump of your stumps taking a break while you walk to the pavilion. This is the best digital rendition of the game so far.
Make no mistake, Don Bradman Cricket 14 isn’t the ultimate cricket game but, for now, it’s the best one you’re likely to get for quite some time. Providing players with current teams (creatively inserted, of course), a variety of game modes and some of the best cricket physics we’ve ever seen is no mean feat and it’s all the more remarkable because this is a low-budget game. If you’re a cricket fan and are keen on an innings or seventeen on your PlayStation 3, this should be your only port of call.