The World Cup is here, cricket fever is in the air and so it’s the perfect time to dust off the old pads and try out Big Ant’s latest entry into cricket video game genre; Especially since it’s about the only way to experience the gentleman’s game on consoles these days. The relatively small Australian team has yet again made enough small improvements and additions to ensure fans will be really excited with the new game. However, as before, the presence of several niggling shortcomings really make this occasionally comically-infuriating title feel miles behind other big sports franchises and therefore, sadly, unlikely to attract anyone other than fans of the real world sport.
Urns and Eye-tea
Right from the first ball, it’s easy to see that a lot of work has gone into the look of the game. Presentation-wise, everything from the opening coin toss right through to the in-game short cinematic cutscenes have improved. It all ensures that after the floodlights are switched off you’re much happier about what you’ve seen.
As the extended title suggests, as the official Ashes game, Cricket 19 boasts official licenses for England and Australia (as well as the Ashes series in its entirety) and several of the official stadiums. Players from both the Poms and the Baggy Greens also look quite life-like (with the odd exception here and there). This all works together and for fans of either team, the Ashes licenses and additions now provide a level of realism that previous games often lacked.
The updated visual presentation and Ashes licensing provides a level of realism that previous games often lacked.
That being said, as this is the only licensing included, fans of the Proteas, India and the rest of the world will feel a lot less impressed with the base game. However, one of the finest features of Cricket 19 is the inclusion of the ‘Academy’. Here, community-designed teams, players and stadiums are easily accessible (for those with an internet connection) and are not only super accurate for most current-day squads, but also include creative World XI teams and great local and national teams from the past. Hence, as soon as you start-up be sure to head to this section first and download the latest squads – as I found this feature really made a big impact on my personal enjoyment of the game.
Damn fine leg!
As can be expected there are several different modes to look forward to (including tournaments, world championships and the like). The career, online and newly included scenario modes, however, really stand out. Career mode allows cricket aficionados to follow the path of a user-created player or current professional (real ones from England and Australia only) from young newcomer through to experienced legend. This is a serious time commitment but does encourage some real investment into perfecting the various formats cricket has to offer a game and makes you feel like you are learning the game in very minute detail. Slowly improving your stats in this RPG-like fashion won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. However, as cricket fans also tend to be stats mad – this mode provides all the customisation and tweaking options you could desire. And for those individuals, living a cricket pro’s life from the comfort of your couch may just be the single best idea out there.
… the career, online and newly included scenario modes really stand out.
However, if you’re after a shorter burst of cricket gameplay the online and scenario modes work really well. Playing online you quickly jump into 5-over (5-wicket) matches with players from around the world. These games generally ran well (despite a few comical bugs) and I found that this was the single most addictive feature of the game. Scenarios, on the other hand, vary widely in ‘time-needed-to-complete’ but feature specific task-based mini-matches. Some are short original ideas provided by the Big Ant team (like scoring a set number of sixes in a T20 match) and others are based on famous real-world scenarios. The community can also add to these scenarios and I’m sure it won’t be long before someone uploads the famous “438 Game”. So I’m rather looking forward to that.
Willow blade arcade
As you can hopefully tell from the paragraphs above – there is a lot to like about this game. In fact, the more I played the game, the more I enjoyed it and the more I understood why the community supports these titles. Yes, they cannot compete with the FIFA and 2Ks of this world, but the team behind the game continues to put what seems like a lot of effort to make it the best it can be. The level of detail and especially customisation is astounding. And as a big fan of cricket myself it’s great that a game this good exists in this genre. Especially because it didn’t for so long. It is undoubtedly another impressive incremental improvement and likely to be the best cricket game out there at the moment.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that it is a really good ‘cricket video game’, whether or not that also equates to it being a great ‘video game’ is another story. Despite the obvious interest from fans like myself in having a video game version of the cricket, I for one am still unconvinced that the sport translates that well into the digital arena. Especially in this kind of attempted ultra-realistic fashion. More often than not, I found that games just lasted too long. And while the 5-over addition was great for quicker online matches, it was underutilised across other modes. I really feel that a shorter, less-serious arcade-style mode would go a long way to adding more fun to a rather serious game. And though (as a big test cricket fan it pains me to say it) this game needs to get the IPL-T20 treatment.
This game is in desperate need of an arcade mode and while the 5-over match is nearly there it’s severely underutilised.
At the moment, the game offers an astounding level of customisation. There are what seems like a million ways to modify camera angles, scale difficulty across the range of cricket modalities and even choose between two standard methods of controlling batting and bowling. And while this is fantastic for experienced players and theoretically provides a great way of altering tiny aspects of the game so that it is accessible to almost anyone, it is guarded behind layers and layers of multi-lined menus and intricate jargon. And it actually feels more overwhelming than welcoming.
The User Interface really makes this problem worse. Not only did I find it quite hard to navigate, I often found that I had made changes I did not intend to. Other times, I meant to select something (for example something as simple as who I wanted to bowl the next over) and instead found that nothing happened or inexplicably my wicket-keeper had removed his gloves and was ready to have a go from the Pavillion End.
The customisation options are great for returning players but thanks to a clunky user-interface, it can be overwhelming to new players.
Buggy, silly-point slog
However, what stuck out, again and again, was the wide range of (usually) non-game-breaking bugs; Everything from disappearing cricket balls during replays to the extra cover fielder running across the pitch at the same time as Woakes delivers a throat-high bouncer to incorrectly displayed third-umpire decisions. It also makes no sense that yorkers are apparently the easiest balls to hit for six. Or that the DRS system only displays occasionally and in my experience at least never serves to alter the umpire’s decision. Or that the new first-person catching system may be the most pointless addition in video game history.
Sure, none of the issues is too unbearable on their own, but along with some pretty repetitive and mechanical commentary, constant framerate stutters, extra long pre-game loading times and an endless series of unwanted end of match replays, it did begin to feel a little unpolished and often sadly comical. I mean it was slightly funny to have moments like the one pictured above where the Protea captain somehow ghosts through Rizwan during his post-game celebration. However, they do really make you question the quality of the game when you consider it with a reviewer’s eye.
All-in-all this game falls into the weird spot of almost deserving two ratings. As a cricket video game – Big Ant Studios have once again improved an already good formula and are definitely making strides in producing a truly great cricket game in the vein of Brian Lara ’99. However, as a video game, the game lacks the wide audience appeal that it could have. It often feels ponderous, a little mechanical and with an array of bugs that, though mostly superficial, do betray a lack of polish. It’s, therefore, one of those close umpire’s decisions. One that could go either way. As a fan, you’re likely to love what you get. But will it be attracting any new players? I sadly somehow doubt it.
And if that makes you a little sad – here’s an unlikely pic of the Proteas celebrating an actual World Cup match win.