Don Bradman Cricket 17
PS4, Xbox One
For a sport which only has appeal in certain parts of the world, Cricket has quite the storied video game history. From International Cricket on the original NES, through the Shane Warne years in the late 90’s and onto Ricky Ponting’s day in 2010, Cricket has had a host of games that have tried to recreate the sport with varying degrees of success. However all of these Cricket games suffered from the same complaints, bowling was boring and batting was too arcadey. That was until the Big Ant developed Don Bradman Cricket 14 hit the shelves. This was a Cricket simulation, that despite its problems, was the most accurate representation of Cricket ever to hit the video game scene. Now Big Ant are back with Don Bradman Cricket 17 and they have taken that solid foundation and built it into perhaps the first must buy game for Cricket lovers everywhere.
Just like the last game Don Bradman 17 is a simulation in every way. This is not a game for people that want to stride up to the pitch and hit a six off the first ball. This is a game for people that understand cricket, how it works and that patience is important. With that being said this version is much more approachable than the last game. 14 threw players into the deep end with minimal instruction and guidance so it was wonderful to see 17 include some robust tutorials explaining all of the different nuances of the sport and some entertaining and helpful training mini-games to hone those newly learned skills. It is highly recommended that, at the very least, the tutorials are completed before a match is started, otherwise players will find themselves lost in a sea of frustration.
The three main components, batting, bowling and fielding, are all represented well in-game. Batting retains the satisfying controls that were the highlight of the first game adding a few improvements that make it feel even better. The right thumbstick controls the where you swing the bat. Move the stick forward you will perform a straight drive, move back and a glancing shot is played, moving it to the left or right plays hooks and cover drives. It seems like a simple system but when you take into account the left stick is used to play off the front or back foot and there are multiple button modifiers that alter power, aggression, stance and precision then it is easy to see that there is more than enough depth for even the most fanatical fan of the willow. Batting is all about timing and shot selection. The choices are made by the player with help from subtle visual clues that the game provides. Speed of the ball, fielding position and bowling style all factor into the equation and if players get that equation wrong they will find their batsman walking back to the pavilion in short order. It is a batting system that seems scary at first but once it has been mastered it offers more control than any other cricket game ever made.
Bowling has also been improved with a much clearer control scheme in place. Pace bowlers have access to eight different types of balls that are selected with a face button before the run up commences. Each face button determines a different length of delivery. Once the run up is at the perfect point players then hold down on the right stick to start the jump and then push forward to bowl the ball. Variations on the push forward alter the movement on the ball, allowing the direction to of the delivery to be adjusted. Spin bowling is a little different. Spin bowlers have only four deliveries to choose from but they can alter the bounce and flight of each one. Once again the run up is initiated with the face button but this time there is no need to jump, just flick the stick forward for a faster ball, backward for a slower one. Just like the batting, bowling takes some time to get a hold of but is immensely satisfying once mastery is achieved.
Fielding is where a few cracks start to show in the game. Fielding is serviceable at best, broken at worst. There are instances where the fielding AI goes haywire and fails to chase a ball, drops simple catches or simply runs on the spot. Also when players are batting against a spin bowler, that bowler is a super fielder for anything hit straight and will stop any ball that is even vaguely in that direction, no matter how well it is hit. The simple mini-game (players have to move an icon into a target circle with the right stick) for catches and stops works well and adds a welcome level of skill to proceedings. This is really the area of the game that needs some serious work and I can see it being the focus of a patch or two down the line.
The game has a full suite of game modes that are sure to keep people playing for a long time. There are all the modes that one would expect, single matches, tournaments, seasons etc, but the real stars of the show are the career mode and the excellent customization suite. The career mode is likely to be a huge time sink for players with its deep and engaging progression. Players start their career (as a male or female) at a local club of their choice (even my hometown of Queanbeyan was represented) and progress through the ranks until they reach international matches. Players have a huge variety of different competitions that they can be selected for meaning that the mode never feels like a simple progression from point A to point B. That makes the whole thing feel much more in the player’s hands as opposed to a predefined series of events. The creation suite that is on offer is second to none. Players can edit appearance, teams, team logos, sponsor logos and even their bats. All of these creations can then be shared with the world through the Cricket Academy online service. The real advantage of this service however, comes when players realise that even though Don Bradman 17 has no actual real-world players in-game due to licensing, they are only a button press away thanks to the awesome support the game receives from its dedicated community.
What Big Ant have achieved with Don Bradman 17 is something pretty special. Sure the graphics are a little rough, the commentary can be hit and miss and the fielding needs some work but the gameplay more than makes up for those little niggles. The game boasts impressively complex and detailed bowling and batting systems that wonderfully replicate the intricacies of the real life sport. What is even more impressive is it does all that while still remaining approachable and enjoyable to play. The game is not perfect by a long way but what it gets right pushes Don Bradman 17 to the head of the virtual cricketing pack. Sorry Super International Cricket, it is time to relinquish your crown.