If you’re a cricket fan hoping for a digital representation of the game, the options have been pretty slim for a while. That being said, over the last few years Big Ant’s has fought a virtually lone fight to produce a fun and respectable cricket video game. And while the level of quality has never quite reached their obvious high level of passion for the sport, with every iteration we get a slightly better game and that’s definitely worthy of praise. Having not played a cricket game in about a decade, when I reviewed Cricket 19 I was actually pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Of course, when considered alongside other contemporary sports games (like FIFA, Madden and the like) it still didn’t really stack up, with niggling bugs, a convoluted menu and horrible commentary bogging down the experience. However, with Cricket 22 I am happy to report that while it’s still buggier than you would hope, the small development team has made small improvements in almost every department. Unfortunately, almost every improvement also has a caveat which is a little frustrating. That being said, if you want to play a video game about cricket this is still the best way to do it.
Ashes, ashes… it’s all cleared up
At the time of writing, England is currently struggling to deal with a Cummins (and now Smith) lead team. After ‘another’ England batting collapse, the first test was a bit of a runaway win for the Aussies and the second test doesn’t seem to be going much better. As a South African it’s probably tough to pick between the two, however, if you’re looking for realism, the Australian and England (Men’s and Women’s) teams and the Ashes competition is officially licensed as before. Additionally, this edition also includes extra licenses for the Big Bash and The Hundred and also from apparently the New Zealand and Irish teams. The appearances of those players are pretty accurate and it is fun to have that added element of authenticity but it’s clear more work has gone into the Aussies and the Poms. Like the last game and probably even more so this time – for those of you that like to design – you have the option of designing players, teams, bats, logos, fields, umpires and even new match types. I particularly liked that you can create a whole new completion where you specify everything from the number of wickets, the number of overs (and even how many balls per over – thanks to The Hundred, I guess?).
The customisation options are endless and the user interfaces both in-game and in menus are really good too.
If you want to go the more traditional route and just choose an established team you can choose to play from other countries, of course, however, you’re going to want to download the community created stuff for any players, unless you want players like Jabulani Mketwa (the apparently fair-skinned, blonde man from the Free State Tigers) making their appearances. For Cricket 99 I absolutely lived the community-created stuff and was even directed to some local creators that made some pretty great looking and realistic-playing Proteas teams. However, in probably the only aspect I found worse this time around, I found downloading and using the community-created content in Cricket 22 a bit less easy to do. When I downloaded a current Protea squad for example – I later couldn’t find it when choosing that team to compete in an international competition. I’m not saying it wasn’t there but there seemed to be no option to easily replace the SA team the game contained as a default. This strange issue aside, all the menus have been revamped (and the confusing Academy section which used to be the tab to download user-created squads has thankfully been removed). There are now three clear tabs: Home, Play and Create. Navigation as a whole feels a lot smoother and less convoluted. And barring a few times where I think the game would benefit from a “Are You Sure?” Screen or perhaps a different button confirmation vs selection options ( I often accidentally selected a specific to bowl a delivery when I actually meant to just end replay) – the user interfaces both in-game and in menus are really good.
On the bugs and commentary side of things – I was really able to see definite improvements. In the last game, on several occasions, I had hilarious issues of players clipping into each other and occasional lag and even several times where the game just died and sent me to the PS Main Menu. This time around, although on two occasions the game crashed – both times I was sent to the ‘reporting a crash’ screen and when I jumped back into the game the autosave meant that I had lost very little progress (maybe an over at worst). The game also looks a lot crisper, I had no clipping issues and the availability of it on the new(current)-gen consoles means you can look forward to even better graphics if you own a PS5 or Series X. The commentary team is pretty great to be honest and now includes Michael Atherton, Mel Jones, Alison Mitchell and David Gower. Having Athers comment on your slog sweep for six is quite fun. That being said, it’s still not as clever as you’d hope and I still got a fair amount of repetition (which even happens on FIFA to be fair) and I could generally forgive. Where it really breaks the immersion (and I’m hoping will get tweaked in a later update) is when they say completely the wrong thing – like talking about the “great, economical” over even though you’ve hit a boundary off of every ball. And unfortunately, that type of commentary mismatch happens several times in every game.
Having Micahel Atherton comment on your slog sweep for six is quite fun… however, having him then comment on how economical the 32-run over was, tended to break the immersion.
Bumped up the order…
In terms of gameplay, batting-wise there are now a few extra shots in your armoury. I actually felt that batting was the best aspect of the previous game and thankfully it largely remains the same. Sure, you can still ‘cheese’ things and move around your crease a lot to make big shots a little easier. However, in short, it’s fun and considering what professional players are doing these days in the shorter formats of the game – it’s not completely unrealistic. I do wish the AI (especially during Tests) was a little better. I felt no reason to change up my big-hitting style during the longer format of the game, and yet the opposing team took ages to make defensive field changes. Of course, when it all becomes too easy you can tweak the difficulty settings and there are even some added good accessibility options (like changing the colour of the markers for colour-blind people) that hopefully opens up the game to even more players. On the bowling side of things, the team has also added a new arcade bowling mode – meant to simplify things in that new players using this mode can manually select exactly where they want the bowl to bounce, without having to worry about jargon like ‘yorker, full or short’ to decide.
I really appreciate these additions that welcome new players. I was really impressed too with the bigger tutorial section (including an opening tutorial that even breaks down some of the basics of cricket laws in general). My only real complaint though is that actually switching between control schemes seemingly cannot be done during a match. It’s quite easy to do some from the main screen – however, I think an in-match option to toggle between the different control modes would make choosing which works best for you much easier. Fielding also gets a refresh with the ability to throw at the stumps directly in these cool slow-mo, Matrix-time-like moments. Again, another great addition, however, in my experience the most enjoyable way to play the game as a whole is as an individual (as opposed to the whole team) and skipping to only the times your player is directly involved in the proceedings. And when doing so – unfortunately, you jump between batting and bowling and miss out on fielding altogether – so the opportunity to try the new throwing mechanic was minimal for me.
A new arcade bowling mode – meant to simplify things in that new players using this mode can manually select exactly where they want the bowl to bounce, without having to worry about jargon like ‘yorker, full or short’ to decide.
On-drive online, cut-shot career
As mentioned above, while you can play as an entire team – batting and bowling and fielding – I found that playing this way makes the games drag a little. Particularly, because of the very nature of cricket as a sport, even in T20-style matches – single games can last a long time (in video game terms) to play them traditionally. In my Cricket 99 review, I mentioned how I wanted a faster arcade type mode, and while we haven’t quite got what was hoping (and a bevy of different competitions exist to satisfy almost every taste) two updates in this edition really managed to keep my interest. First of all, Online Play works a little differently now. Online games consist of 10-overs (or 5 wickets) per side. I logged on and found matches reasonably quickly – and can report that the internet was good enough that there were no big issues connectivity-wise. And while I am apparently completely useless at bowling and so lost heavily each time, because each game was relatively quick – I was quite happy to jump back in again.
However, the mode that I spent the most time on was the Career Mode. The Big Ant team has gone to great lengths to define the revision not as a story mode, but rather a career mode containing a storyline. Here you customise your own player and rise up the ranks from club cricket to domestic and (eventually) even to being called up for your country. There is some interaction with managers and questions at press conferences for example that just add a little more to the standard format we had before, and while I hoped for more (especially after your first few games at which point similar animations are repeated) it still made the experience a lot more fun as a single-player. Plus, now you even have to balance fitness by playing simple gym mini-games. They’re mostly straightforward and while there is definitely room for improvement (like limiting how long net-practice is) – I really like the direction this mode is heading in. Again, you’re in for a long slog if you want to make it all the way to the Proteas – so selecting the option to only play as your character speeds things up enough for me to keep jumping back in. I really enjoyed career mode and considering that one of my favourite modes ‘Scenarios’ from the previous edition was seemingly removed (or at least is a bit more hidden this time around) and I didn’t miss it – that should tell something about what you’ll likely be spending you single-player time on when you’re not online.
The updated Career Mode made the experience a lot more fun as a single-player and shorter Online matches are great.
In short, Cricket 22 is a better game than Cricket 99. The previous game was already the best cricket game we’d had in ages and while some familiar issues remain in this edition, in almost every department the game has been slightly improved. Yes, it’s probably still going to struggle to appeal to anyone other than fans of the sport, however, the Big Ant team has clearly put a lot of effort into trying to make the game as accessible to new players a possible. And for those fans that bought the last game and are again itching to head out onto the pitch from the comfort of your couch – this is the best way to do it and probably worth a purchase.