Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: Don Bradman Cricket 2014 (PlayStation 3)

Don Bradman Cricket 2014 ReviewReview by Matt S.

To explain who Don Bradman is for our American and Japanese readers, I'll talk in terms of sports more familiar in those nations;

In basketball, Michael Jordan has the most points per game on average in NBA history, at 30.12. His nearest rival was Wilt Chamberlain at 30.07. By comparison Don Bradman's batting score average of 99.94 is leagues ahead of Graeme Pollock of South Africa at 60.97. So to put this in context, for Jordan to be so far ahead he would actually need to average around 45 points per game.

In fact the only other "great" player in any sport, anywhere in the world, that is so far ahead as the top record holder from the second greatest is ice hockey's Wayne Gretzky, who was such a great play maker for the teams he represented through his career that his assists per game average of 1.320 is almost double that of the second placed assist score (Ron Francis).

Cricket game review


In this context it's clear that Don Bradman is a big deal, and one of the finest athletes that history has ever seen in any sport (he also won national squash competitions in Australia, just to prove that unlike Michael Jordan, he could cross over to a different sport and succeed). As a consequence sticking his name on the box of a cricket game carries with it a heavy weight of expectation. And those expectations come despite the fact the developers had a budget a fraction of what we see in other sports games such as the FIFA series, due to the sport's limited appeal in the major game markets. Despite those limitations wow did the Aussie developer give it a corker of an attempt with Don Bradman Cricket 2014.

There's been a couple of major issues that have hampered cricket games in the past from the outset; firstly, the licensing rules in cricket are different to, say, soccer, and so it's been impossible to use the real names and likenesses of players in most teams. Secondly, the small development budgets has meant the feature sets in cricket games has been spartan at best. Third, the presentation has always been immediately off putting, again, compared to the beautiful sports games that the likes of EA churn out. It's not necessarily fair to compare what you get in a cricket game to a major production from EA sports given that cricket games are invariably made by a team the fraction of the size, but they do have to compete side by side on the shelf for the same consumer dollar, and this is a problem.

Bradman Cricket addresses all of those problems elegantly. By default the game doesn't feature real names for modern teams, but Big Ant Studios has cleverly worked in a complete team creation mode, allowing you to name and create the likenesses for any team in the world. If you want to rebuild the New Zealand national team, then you can do that. Or, alternatively, you can recreate your local club and then have fun taking them to the field against the Australian national team. For the more lazy, there's even the ability to upload and download other people's custom teams, and there are already thousands of teams available, created by other players, including the properly named national teams of the major cricket playing nations.

Don Bradman Cricket Red Ant


Unlike in other cricket games, Bradman Cricket also features a huge range of ways to play. Thanks to this game a cricket game finally has a career mode, whereby players create a young up-and-comer and enter him into the local competitions. As he plays and improves he'll find himself called into the international teams and, eventually, he'll become the captain. It's not as complex as some of the other career modes out there in other sports games, but it's a new novelty to cricket, and it's a greatly enjoyable way to spend a few months of time.

Not in the mood for that? Well how about creating some custom championships or playing through the real-world ones? The game features full support for T20, One Day and Test Match cricket games (to compare to baseball, T20 would be a baseball match that lasts 3 innings, a One Day match is the equivalent of a normal baseball game and a Test Match would be a baseball game that goes for 25 innings a side, and both sides get two sets of innings, and the match lasts for five days). The main cricket playing nations are all in there as selectable teams, of course (England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies), and then there are some minor teams for players who are in the mood for something a little different, such as Russia, Kenya, or The Netherlands. There are also domestic competition teams from across the globe.

Not in the mood for any of that? Well how about recreating some classic matches, such as the conflicts between Australia and England when Don Bradman himself was playing via the classic teams on offer? As you can tell, there's nearly unlimited ways to play Don Bradman Cricket 2014, which is, really, what fans of the sport have been waiting for for years. Oh, and there is online play too, and if you want to play a test match online with a buddy there's the ability to save it mid-game and pick up later on, so that you don't need to sit down for hours upon hours to complete a single game.

Red Ant Game Review


On the pitch things look good, too. While there are moments where the budget starts to show (backgrounds and crowds are ugly low resolution blobs, and transitions between movements for the players isn't always clean), the research that has gone into creating the stadiums is impeccable. For example - one of the ovals that you can play a match on is Bradman's Oval in Bowral, Australia. This tiny oval isn't used for major international matches, it's there because of the Bradman license, and I actually grew up a minute's walk from it. I've played cricket matches on this oval myself. It felt spot on playing on it in the game, right down to the details of the houses that surround the oval. The many proper international stadiums that are represented in the game are, likewise, perfectly recreated in both look and feel.

Character models aren't as expertly built as a FIFA soccer player, but look just detailed enough to get away with being on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. While I'm aware that this won't be enough of a visual impact for some, it worked for me, especially considering how good everything looks in motion as these players slide around on the field, and the lighting as the a day's cricket transitions from morning to afternoon and evening is modelled perfectly. There's a lot of variety in the way you can build the players too, so your custom team can easily be filled with unique individuals that no one else would have on their own teams.

All of this would be for nothing if the game doesn't play well, of course. Here is where Don Bradman Cricket 2014's budget constraints is felt most keenly; while it does play a good game of cricket (the best cricket physics modelling I've ever seen, and I've played them all), it's still very much a B-grade sports game.

Don Bradman Cricket 2014 Red Ant


Batting is a difficult process to master. At its most basic players use the left stick on the controller to set a player's footwork (press back on the controller to shift the weight to the back foot, press forwards to shift to the front foot, etc), and this determines the kind of shots that they can make by flicking the right stick, which controls the angle on the bat. Combinations of buttons pressed at the same time will also impact on the type of shot played. One button will turn the shot into a defensive block, another will attempt a lofty drive to hit the ball out of the park.

If you're not already familiar with the types of cricket shots that real players make based on the way the ball is thrown at them, then it's going to take weeks to understand how to play Don Bradman Cricket. The tutorials will explain how to mechanically swing the bat, but not how to play the game of cricket, and while the gameplay system was clearly built by fans of the sport for fans of the sport, it is also important to note that there is assumed knowledge that anyone playing this game at least watches cricket themselves. For anyone else even on the lowest difficulty level it's not the most accessible sports game.

Then, once you have got the basic idea on how the physics and angles of cricket works, it becomes too easy to rely on a couple of "safe" shots in order to score runs. There were two shots in particular that I found easy to execute, and if the bowler bowled any ball that didn't allow that shot, I would simply block it. In the real game of cricket a player  needs to be able to use the entire field and every angle with their shot making. Here, I became a bit of a spammer after a while, which isn't the most authentic way to play the game. Of course, this criticism doesn't apply to online play, which, assuming you're playing with a friend you can trust not to be obnoxious, is a great time.

Don Bradman Cricket PlayStation 3

Bowling, meanwhile, gives the control of the run-up to the left stick, while the throw of the ball is controlled by the right stick. Players can flick the stick in a variety of directions to make the ball swing through the air and confound the batsman. This side of the game is much easier to understand and execute on, with the unfortunate side effect that, once you've mastered it, even on the most difficult setting the opponent AI struggles to put up a challenge.

There's also some odd bugs about that hamper the enjoyment of the game. When running, batters have an annoying habit of strolling casually around and being caught for a run out. Imagine a baseball game where the running was automated and the AI would simply stop in front of the base and wait to be tagged out. There are ways to work around this poor AI, but every so often I still get caught out by it even after spending a solid 20 hours playing the game.

All said and done this is the mechanically the finest cricket game that has ever been developed, and while not perfect, it does provides a sound foundation engine for future editions. With any luck the game is a big enough success to finance further development on next gen consoles and the like, because I can see this series becoming the real deal over the next couple of years if the developers are willing and able to.

Australian developed Cricket game

Finally - obviously Don Bradman Cricket 2014 isn't going to be released in places like the US and Canada. Is it worth importing? As long as you're able to jump onto YouTube and watch a little cricket first to get a feel for how the sport flows and the players go about their job, then I absolutely believe it is. Cricket is a hugely underappreciated sport, and Americans, Japanese and people from other non-cricket playing nations tend to find they enjoy the sport once they've gone through the trouble of understanding it.

As for the score; while I fully acknowledge that Don Bradman Cricket 2014 isn't the finest sports game out there and isn't a patch on the production values of, say, FIFA, Madden or NHL games, it does generally play a good game of cricket, and this is the game that we fans of the sport have been waiting for, so with that in mind I'll reemphasise this; this is the greatest cricket game ever produced.



- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld


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