There are usually a few telltale signs that indicate whether a new game is any good or not. Sessions that begin the afternoon before then stretch into the next dawn are one sure fire sign. With Don Bradman Cricket ’14, it was the realisation that a few hours had been frittered away in the nets facing the bowling machine. The sound of leather on willow when you play a perfect forward defensive stroke was….hypnotic. It was at that point we realised this is probably the cricket game we have been waiting for all these years.
It must be a tough gig being the last hope for your kind, but after the utter shitfest that was Ashes Cricket ‘13, it feels that is the sort of scenario in which DBC ’14 found itself in. If this game had turned out to be as horrific as Ashes Cricket, well, you pretty much could wash your hands of the genre entirely. Thankfully though, this is a game that never loses sight of the fact that, in the end, it’s the actual cricket that’s important. Not the licenses, the gimmicks, the marketing, or any of that other crap, it’s the mechanics of bat on ball that makes or breaks the game. DBC ’14 doesn’t get things completely perfect, but it does a good enough job to be thoroughly enjoyable all the same.
In the past we have written (at length) on what would make the perfect cricket game. Essentially our thinking devolves into main three points; batting to be more interesting and involved than simply following a white cursor on the pitch and playing the appropriate shot, bowling to not descend into some button mashing mess and fielding to not want to make us tear our own eyes out in frustration. On that scale, DBC ’14 pretty much nails two out of the three categories.
Batting, by far the most important as that’s what you will spend most of your playing time doing, just feels right. In fact it probably feels better than in any other cricket game to date. Batting uses both sticks on the controller, the left is for deciding whether to play on the front or back foot, and the right for selecting the appropriate shot. The most important change is that there is no cursor on the pitch until the ball leaves the bowlers hand, meaning you actually have to watch the bloody thing to succeed (also a handy tip for all the Shikhar Dhawans out there).
Particularly when a quick bowler is in action you have very little time to make up your mind as to what to do, and till you get the feel of it, you can feel a little like a lamb in the headlights (or Monty facing up to Mitch Johnson). When the ball is released the first thing you pick up on is the length (either full, good or short, depending on the colour of the cursor), meaning you have a fraction of a second to choose to play the ball forward or back, before making your shot. Initially you will be playing quicks mostly off the back foot, but as you get used to the system you will become more comfortable coming onto the front foot to take advantage of an over-pitched delivery. The way the system depends on your own reflexes and split-second decision makes the whole process feel terribly involved. Batting is, as a consequence, never boring. It’s actually a hell of a lot of fun.
Bowling is, however, less involved. It mostly involves timing your jump and release when using a quick bowler, and frantically rotating a stick to put revs on the ball if you are a spinner. It’s not terrible, and thankfully it all moves along fairly quickly so you can race through your overs, but it never feels nearly as interesting as batting does. Maybe it’s just us, but we couldn’t really find much in the way of strategy involved, as much as we tried to bowl a dry line and tempt the batsmen into playing false strokes, it never really felt like we were accomplishing much. You either take a wicket…or you don’t. It just feels a little arbitrary.
Fielding is even less involved, but this is a good thing in our opinion. The fielders chase the ball automatically, and all you have to do is select which end to throw the ball too. Honestly, we are completely fine with this. Mucking around in the field is always the worst part of any cricket game, so the less focus on it there is, the better.
Elsewhere the presentation is generally pretty good. The commentary is a bit iffy, but we usually turn it off anyway so no problems there. The stadiums look good (we particularly liked the use of Don Bradman Oval for practice matches, maybe a sequel could include a virtual tour of the Bradman Museum, followed by a virtual visit to the Imperial Hotel for a virtual schooner and virtual beef burger), and crowd noises are quite well done. We also would bet a case of Kingfisher on the devs themselves providing the sound bytes for the appeals. Probably captured in the car park outside a pub after a heavy drinking session. And as we said before, the sound in the practice nets is absolutely bang on – someone must have spent some time in an indoor centre capturing those. The game lacks real player names and the like, but on connecting to the internet you are prompted to download up-to-date edited teams, which saves you the effort of doing all that work yourself (and must be much, much cheaper for the devs than paying for the licenses).
It also has all the requisite competitions, tours, Test series and whatnot. Perhaps the best feature, though, is the career mode. You make a young player, insert him into a county or state team, and then play out every step of his career. So far our leg-spinning all-rounder (Devereux the Younger) hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it’s only a matter of time really…
Amongst all the praise there are, inevitably, a few caveats. Some parts of the game could definitely do with a little more polish. In particular when batting it seems to be almost impossible (well, to us anyway) to keep straight drives or cross bat shots on the ground. Straight drives especially seem to offer up repeated caught and bowled opportunities. Blocking also feels a little redundant, it makes much more sense to play aggressively all the time than it is to block. Certainly the balance here could do with a little tweaking (unless people really want to simulate what it is to play like Glenn Maxwell all the time).
But none of these are essentially game breaking, and early impressions suggest that patches will correct things further down the line. As it stands now, the game is still better than anything else out there on the market (although, admittedly, there’s not much in the way of competition), and promises to only improve over time. There are a few things we would like to see improved, such as the bowling and some of the fielding animations are a bit rough (and a Wii U version isn’t too much to ask for is it?), but honestly, as it stands, DBC ’14 is a shining light in what has been an utterly dismal decade or so for the cricket game genre. It’s a big fuck you to EA Sports, and all the other devs who have simply been releasing utter shite for years now, happy in the knowledge that idiots (like us) will buy it anyway, simply because there is nothing else out there. This is a cricket game, at last, done right.