Between their AFL, tennis and cricket outings, Aussies Big Ant really are keeping us local sports fans satisfied when it comes to video games. But how is their official Ashes game, Cricket 19? Does it smash it for six, or quack like a duck?
Cricket games have come a long way from the days of pixelated stick insects on 1980s home computers, yet one key ingredient has remained a constant: no matter how crap they may look, they have to play well. And with its myriad variables, cricket isn’t the easiest game to computerise.
Some have gone the simplified route to various degrees, others have gone so far into simulator territory that’s so technical you may as well just have strapped on some pads and hit the local pitch. In Cricket 19, Big Ant (cue internal Pink Panther theme music every time we see their name) have finally perfected the balance between the two extremes. Want to have a fun bash? Go for it! Want to get more nitty-gritty? Sure thing!
The key here is the controls. They nailed them for arcade play in Big Bash Boom, and have honed them slightly here in “standard” mode – although we still finding catching almost as painful as copping a cricket ball to the nether regions. But there are tutorials for that – and lots of ’em (uh, we’re talking catching, not being hit where it hurts). The more advanced mode – “classic” – recreates the more technical controls of previous games, going beyond simple stick movement and timed button stabs, and takes some practice. Again, tutorials.
Bowling takes the traditional from-behind view, while batting does the same, which can be offputting at first if you’ve not encountered it before. It makes sense to see what the bowler sending a missile at you at an alarming rate of knots is doing though. Meanwhile, AI is the most realistic that we’ve encountered in a cricket game to date, be it field placements or fielding in general.
In a nutshell, whether you go arcade or sim, they’ve nailed the gameplay element. Pretty good effort, that!
We’re way beyond the days of stick insect players now, so presentation has really become a thing that, in a perfect world, should match playability. Cricket 19 ups the ante and, while still having a few rough spots, ultimately impresses.
Commentary comes variously from Michael ‘Slats’ Slater, James Taylor (not the singing one) and Mel Jones. While it still comes nowhere near the glory days of Richie Benaud in full Channel 9 flight, it generally avoids the stilted cut and paste vibe of previous cricket game commentaries, and doesn’t repeat itself too often. It isn’t always particularly accurate though… Other noises also impress, from various crowd murmurs and cheers (plus, thankfully no boos for Smith ‘n’ Warner), through to little touches like the occasional jet flying over. The only one that grates is the odd tinny on-pitch wicket celebration that sounds like the boys in the Big Ant office at Friday drinks. After downing a few.
Being the official game of the Ashes – they make sure that you know this from the cover to in-game, and why not? – the proper Aussie and British teams lists are included, in both male and female forms. We also get all the classic English grounds, as well as the Australian ones that we all know and love. But the full boar Ashes mode isn’t the only game in this here town. While your campaign saves so that you can have a life without a controller in your sweaty mitts and come back later, sometimes you might like to play a quick game. World Championship – which smells suspiciously like “World Cup” considering its rather familiar fixture – is the ticket. Select a limited overs game and go the tonk. The names may not be familiar, but that’s what downloadable community teams are for, right? While they’re just starting to appear with this updated game engine, we’re sure that there’ll soon be plenty, and they’re easily accessible in-game.
“The full boar Ashes mode isn’t the only game in this here town…”
As for those custom players, your ability to create your own borders on the almost frighteningly forensic. Seriously, you can control everything from neck length to freckle type and density! You could get lost for days right here without even grabbing a bat – and we’re sure that some people will. These characters can be used in the extensive career mode, where you have the option of either inhabiting an existing star’s body and living life in their loafers, or starting out in a local club (our actual local is even included!) and working your way up. Don’t expect this to be a doddle though – and expect to be disheartened when you see your crappy stats, and that your chances of being chosen for any national team are steadfastly listed as “no chance”.
Speaking of chances, those who like to take theirs online also have options ranging from tests down to ODIs and T20 romps, and games can be saved here if they turn out to be marathon sessions. You can custom make a game, or just jump in for a quick wodge of willow wielding.
There’s always room for improvement, and Big Ant have a proven history in after-launch update support. As it stands though, in Cricket 19 they’ve realised the best cricket video game yet. Oi! Oi! Oi!
Cricket 19 is available now for PS4, Xbox One and Switch.