Despite being one of the most popular sports in the world, cricket has rarely been reproduced in anything resembling a fun video game. The last good cricket games I played were the Beam Software developed Super International Cricket (SNES) and its followups on PC. Since sport sims embraced the third dimension cricket games have floundered, with only Codemasters and EA sporadically contracting third string development teams to churn out buggy, unplayable affairs. This is a shame because the first time I played an N64, fresh off my experience with Super International Cricket, I imagined a three dimensional cricket game with a dynamic camera and footwork based shot selection. After almost twenty years, Big Ant Studios have realised my dream.
Upon starting the game up the first time, Don Bradman Cricket prompts you to download the top rated teams from the Don Bradman Cricket Academy. What does this mean? It means they’ve elegantly bypassed the corrupt dictators at the ICC and their licensing fees by allowing the millions of fanatical cricket fans out there to lovingly recreate every professional player on the planet and their statistics. Ever wanted to simulate the Bangladesh domestic first class league? Someone has created all those teams for you. Can’t keep up with the Indian Premier League player auction? Don’t worry, some lunatic has allocated each player to their new team within minutes of the contract being signed. So instead of chasing the ever changing professional cricket world, Big Ant gave their money to the Don Bradman Foundation in exchange for faithfully recreated Ashes tours Bradman participated in. Personal diary entries from Bradman and historical photographs complement this to give cricket aficionados a special experience of this cherished era.
The game’s unique controls are what really make Don Bradman Cricket stand out. When batting, the left analogue stick controls the batsman’s footwork and the right analogue stick determines the area in which the ball is hit. The inclusion of footwork will alienate people without experience playing or watching a lot of cricket, who may be inexperienced at picking which shots to play off the back foot and when to step forward. For cricket tragics though, this detail is excellent and some may even wish the game forced the player to coordinate flat bat or straight bat strokes as well. Bowling controls are even more wrought and the dual analogue setup allows variation in length, swing, speed, release and direction. Where the ball actually lands on the pitch is dependent on all these variables. Patience and practice is required to master both aspects of the game and while this will put off beer swilling yobbos wanting a quick wallop, true gentlemen who love cricket will appreciate the effort it takes to learn the game.
Don Bradman Cricket allows for every kind of cricket match, tour and series to take place, but it is the career mode that deserve special mention and will hold the attention of players. In career mode you create a player, choose a playing role, pick a first class team (limited to Australian state or English county without modding) and country to play for and embark on a professional cricket career. Most players will hit the ‘Y’ button to skip to their innings or overs to bowl but the game will simulate every ball bowled in real time if you choose, including time spent in the field, the non-strikers end and even on the bench awaiting your turn to bat. Performances in the field will earn the player experience points and their ability will grow based on their play style. Play a lot of cut shots will see you back foot, offside and flat bat skills increase whereas on-drives will improve your front foot, onside and straight bat skills respectively. The game’s simulation is comprehensive enough that captains will occasionally call on young batsmen to roll the arm over and bowlers who wag the tail to score crucial late innings runs will earn plaudits for their batting. Improved and consistent performances will earn players selection in their national sides and lucrative IPL contracts. International schedules can interrupt a player’s domestic commitments too, which might invoke emotions in the player who resents a pointless three match tour against the West Indies while their state side languishes.
With replays, hotspot, hawk-eye, commentary and wagon wheels, Don Bradman Cricket provides a full featured broadcast experience. However, it is the first person camera available while batting that makes the game a truly immersive experience. I first experimented with the mode to cope with the timing required facing spin bowling and quickly came to prefer it overall. Small touches like the batsmen watching for the ball while running and the keeper calling in the fielders not only add to the immersion but assist the player to make decisions between the wickets. When playing with headphones, turning off HUD elements, instant replays and commentary the first person camera becomes a truly authentic experience and easily the best way to enjoy the career mode.
Don Bradman Cricket 14 is the best cricket game that has ever been made. Its original and technical approach to batting and bowling give the game great depth, rewarding players who patiently learn the game. The plethora of options and customisation are literally a dream come true with the game able to simulate almost any situation in world cricket. The career mode and first person camera provide a satisfying experience for those beginning to accept that our ambitions to captain Australia may be slipping from our reach. Big Ant Studios’ ongoing commitment to the game has been superb with multiple updates removing bugs, fixing balance and improving the artificial intelligence. This Melbourne based studio has picked up where the previous generation of Victorian game developers left the cricket video game high watermark in 1997. Don Bradman Cricket is recommended to all gamers who love cricket.
Don Bradman Cricket 14 is available on PC, Xbox 360, Xbone, PS3 and PS4. I played it on PC and my play stats can be viewed here.