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Don Bradman Cricket Review – Howzat?!
Don Bradman Cricket burst onto the video game scene in April 2014, releasing for the Xbox 360 & Playstation 3, at a time where the future of virtual cricket was beginning to look very bleak. The infamous Ashes Cricket 2013 had released 6 months prior, which was so poor that it was cancelled AFTER it had been released (on the PC), and the unlucky few who paid full price were issued full refunds.
By the time Don Bradman Cricket was being primed for release and the first few tidbits of game play were unleashed onto the internet, you would have forgiven any cricket lover for being skeptical. However, Big Ant Studios succeeded where so many others have failed, and managed to provide us with the most realistic version of video game cricket to date.
Now it is time for the series to make the jump to the Xbox One and Playstation 4.
Firstly, let me make clear that this is a port of the original game, not a new version, and this review will largely be based on the game itself, rather than the differences between versions, primarily because they are minimal. Nothing has been added in terms of modes or game play additions, with the majority of noticeable differences being the improved graphics and a much smoother frame rate. This is not a negative point. The sheer amount of content packed into the original game provides hours and hours of entertainment, even for veterans who have spent a large amount of time on the PC or Xbox 360/Playstation 3.
For those who are looking for a quick slog of a cricket game, knocking as many balls out of the park as possible and smashing more sixes than Sachin Tendulkar, this is not the game for you. The game is difficult, and so it should be, as the focus of this game is a true to life simulation. In some previous cricket games, the batting has usually been controlled by the four face buttons, mapping each button to a particular style of shot. Don Bradman Cricket does away with this method, in favor of utilizing both analogue sticks. The left analogue stick controls foot placement, and the right analogue stick determines shot direction, with the triggers, providing as modifiers for defensive and offensive shots.
This control method allows for much more precision than pressing a single button. The terrifying feeling of staring down the bowler who is charging at you with speed, and having to make a split second decision of foot placement, shot placement and potential modifiers as the ball approaches your wicket, mirrors the difficulty of a real situation for any batsman. Never has a cricket game made me feel such achievement for scoring one or two runs before, and I love it.
The art of bowling has also been represented with a unique style in Don Bradman Cricket. Before your run up, you can decide on the type of delivery (full/good/short), swing and spin modifiers, and speed of delivery. You are then tasked with timing the jump and the release of the ball via the right analogue stick. All of these factors, allow the player a great amount of freedom, and ensure that you can bowl in any particular way that you desire, combined with the correct timing. The feeling of taking a wicket is a rush, and an LBW appeal will encourage you to leap off your seat and yell at the top of your voice with as much conviction as your virtual teammates.
My only minor gripe with the bowling relates to spin bowlers. To begin the run-up for a spin bowler, you need to circle the left analogue stick three times with the correct amount of timing before releasing the ball. It feels a little too awkward, and has the potential to frustrate and encourage the player to avoid spin bowlers all together. Fielding is one of the only areas which shares similarities with a large majority of previous cricket games. Face buttons control where the ball is thrown, and the right stick is used to attempt a catch. The game has the ability to have automatic or manual fielding, along with the default option which is a combination of both.
In terms of game modes, there are multiple options. Casual allows you to play a one off match, using any teams and settings that you desire. Online enables quick matches and tournaments, with the nifty option of being able to save a game in progress (perfect for those long test matches with friends) to revisit at a later date. I have also experienced no lag issues online, but the fielders occasionally glide across the pitch very slightly as the game catches up. In addition to this, we also have Competition and Tour options, allowing the chance to replicate such competitions as the World Cup or even full English County seasons.
Career mode is where this game really shines. This mode enables you to create your own player and embark on a 20 year long career as either a batsman, bowler, all-rounder or even as a wicket keeper. Throughout your career, you are tasked with playing through each season, in all competitions, on your way to hopefully being selected for the national team. Career mode does not have a difficulty level, and instead has a variable difficulty based on factors such as the strength of the team and the amount of upgrades your player currently has. These upgrades are awarded for quality, such as well placed shots and taking wickets. Career mode also comes with the crucial option of being able to simulate the game until it is your turn to bat or bowl, if you wish to do so.
The Don Bradman Academy is a dream for fans of customization, as it allows you to create players, teams, match types and even umpires. Even if you are not the creative type, you can download any user created data that you wish from the academy as well. This is especially helpful when starting the game for the first time, as you will be prompted to download the top rated content for every team which will replace the unlicensed versions which ship with the game. One quick press of a button and your game is completely up to date.
The graphics are a mixed bag. Big Ant Studios are a small operation, and have made the best of a small budget. The Xbox One has benefited from some lighting improvements and the pitch will wear down over time, which looks great, however animations can be wonky occasionally, and the crowd are reminiscent of cardboard cutouts. The soundtrack included within the game is decidedly generic, but is an acceptable backdrop, and in-game sounds such as bat hitting ball, appeals, and crowd reactions sound very authentic. Commentary is fairly bland and can be repetitive at times, but it still manages to feel like an important element of immersion.
Unfortunately, cricket games are fairly niche titles, but Don Bradman Cricket does nothing to help with accessibility to casual players. Many of the early hours of this game are spent being bowled out for 0, bowling a large amount of no-balls, and for those of us lacking patience, quitting in frustration. Despite the tutorial teaching some basics, you are then expected to figure out the rest for yourself. If Big Ant Studios want this game to be accessible to the wider audience in the future, they need to have an in-depth system to help the casual player, especially before they enter into career mode, which offers little room for error.
Don Bradman Cricket has managed to create the greatest simulation of cricket to date, on a much smaller budget than previous games in the genre. The control system is an in-depth, welcome change to the simple nature of some past cricket titles which works very well, and the sheer amount of game modes and customization suites is superb. The graphics look better than they did on the previous consoles, despite never truly looking “next-gen”, and the frame rate is much smoother on the Xbox One. Casual players will likely struggle at first, but given patience, they will find themselves in a deep, exhilarating and addictive experience.