Cricket may not have the same global appeal as soccer, or even as broad a regional audience as the likes of American football or ice hockey, but it’s historically been a sport that has translated relatively well to the video game realm, occasional blemishes aside, and with the release of Don Bradman Cricket 14, fans of the game have been hoping that Australian development house Big Ant Studios could deliver the kind of gameplay experience that helped previous titles like Super International Cricket (SNES) and Brian Lara Cricket (Genesis/PC/PlayStation/PS2/Xbox 360 & PSP) prove to be so successful. And with so little by way of competition, it would have to take a serious disaster for the game not to be at least a little attractive to fans of the sport.
The good news is that it’s a pretty solid game, however it doesn’t quite manage to live up to some of the pre-release hype, particularly when it comes to the much-vaunted control system and “Be a Pro” style career mode.
As you’d expect from a sports game developed by a smaller studio, DBC 14 suffers from some forgivable presentation issues. The commentary is terribly stiff most of the time, while strange delays between one commentator’s call and the other’s response are all too frequent. That’s certainly not going to cause anyone to throw their controller down in disgust, but it’s one of the many minor niggles that add up to hurt the overall experience.
Those of you not familiar with the sport probably aren’t going to have all that much interest in this game, and there’s nothing here to tempt you to learn the ins and outs. While a brief tutorial is hidden away (and I do mean hidden – in order to get a walkthrough on how to actually play within the game you’re going to need to head into the practice menu, and then select a practice game on a pitch, instead of a session in the nets like you might expect), even that is a little hit and miss, and the complexity of the game’s controls are almost definitely going to prove restrictive to newcomers to the sport.
Fast/medium bowling, for example, requires the player to first select the length they want to bowl, followed by a flick of the left stick in the direction of the type of delivery you want (if you don’t know what break, seam and slower deliveries are, then you’re going to be lost immediately), before tapping the right stick up to jump and down again to actually release the delivery. It sounds quite intimidating on paper, but it’s actually reasonably intuitive assuming you know the sport, but it’s not without its problems.
Although it’s definitely a commendable way to try to reflect the intricacies of the real life action, it turns out to be a little too unpredictable at times, and it can often be tough to know what kind of line you’re player will actually bowl. Spin bowling makes things even more difficult, requiring the player too spin the left analog stick three times to generate spin, before reverting to the right stick to bowl. Practice definitely makes things a little easier, but the element of never being fully sure of what’s about to happen can be unsettling.
Things are less complex with it comes to fielding, with a more straightforward array of controls making for intuitive stopping, catching and chucking back to the wickie, but there are times when you’ll simply lose the ball in flight, or not be fully sure when the game will actually put you in control of the fielder, making for some frustrating moments.
Let’s be honest, though, the majority of players are here to enjoy the batting side of the game, and with so many promises coming from the developers about how that would work, it was easy to get caught up in the hype.
At its most basic level, the system works quite well. Your left stick controls your foot placement, while modifiers on the triggers and bumpers will determine how aggressive or defensive your right stick-triggered stroke will be. It’ll take a little getting used to, but soon you’ll find it to be a pretty solid system that allows for an enjoyable amount of variety when you’re out in the middle. The only real issue is that the foot movement seems to be a little strange at times, often with key frames in the batsman’s animation randomly dropping out, resulting in less-than-realistic transitions, but it’s not the end of the world.
The computer AI is decent enough, and at higher difficulties will provide a stern challenge for even the most accomplished of players, however the game really comes into its own when played with friends. There’s nothing quite like sledging your buddies before knocking them over the rope for six to win with a couple of balls to spare in a T20 game – it’s almost ludicrously fun!
The career mode, as we mentioned before, was one of the major talking points ahead of the game’s release, and in theory it sounds like it’s perfect for the sport. Taking control of a single player and bringing them through the ranks to become a national star is something cricket fans have been crying out for in games for the longest time, and when you’re batting or bowling it works incredibly well… the problem is the rest of the game when you’re either waiting for your turn to bat or standing around in the field for hours on end – sadly it’s painfully boring.
Now, there is a feature available that lets you simulate the game to a certain point, be that a pre-determined amount of overs, the fall of the next wicket or your player’s next direct involvement, but that in itself cheapens the whole experience and causes a major disruption in the level of immersion on offer. It really is a case of being caught between a rock (spending hours doing nothing) and a hard place (skipping through to the important bits and losing the sense of involvement), and the end result is a wholly disjointed experience that just doesn’t sit right at all.
Don Bradman Cricket 14 is a solid enough debut in the genre from Big Ant Studios, and they’ve already been making noises that the sequel will feature fully licensed teams as well as improved mechanics across the board, so as first attempts go we’re pretty impressed, especially given the most likely restricted budget that the team would have had to play with.
If they can find a way to simplify the bowling (perhaps even offering two control schemes, with a “beginner” flavour mimicking the classic cricket games of old), tighten up the footwork on the batting side, and come up with some way to improve the overall flow of the career mode, then this could definitely be one to watch out for. As it stands right now, it’s for die-hards only, and even then it might frustrate more than it entertains unless you’ve got similarly minded buddies who want to join in.