Disclaimer: I’m making this quick disclaimer so it’s clear and up-front. I did work with Big Ant in the past, and contributed to cricket games that they have previously released. During the term that I worked for Big Ant, and for two years afterwards, I did not review their games, nor did we cover them in any capacity on DDNet. However, I have not worked with Big Ant for more than two years (not since the acquisition by Nacon), and Cricket 24 was not in development when I left the company. I have no ongoing interactions with the Big Ant team, or the broader Nacon group, and Big Ant has no influence over DDNet’s editorial or my approach to game criticism.
There is a lot to love about Cricket 24. This is Big Ant Studio’s fifth cricket title, and over that time the developer has created something that is both really enjoyable, and that offers plenty of longevity. You can easy lose hundreds of hours to every one of these things. Though it would be unreasonable to expect the game to have the production values of a NBA, MLB or FIFA title (and it doesn’t), unlike 99% of video game adaptations of niche sports, you don’t have to grit your teeth while trying to make the most of the effort. As a Handball and Volleyball fan that’s an experience I know all-too-well. With Big Ant and Cricket, I don’t have to force myself to appreciate it.
But! And the but is significant here: All of the above was true of its predecessor – Cricket 22 – as well. Cricket 24 is not a big step from that, and there’s still so much more that Big Ant could be learning and bringing to the sport. The lack of ambition in this one is genuinely disappointing.
Disappointing or not, however, I’m going to spend hundreds more hours playing, because, as always, the scope is incredible. Cricket 24 is a large game with a wide range of features and play modes. It’s licensed to a substantial range of different competitions, for a start. The Ashes is the headline, but T20 competitions across the world are also all make available for people that like the shorter and explosive action version of the sport. You can also create your own custom tournaments, which is handy as the Cricket World Cup kicks off, since that’s one of the few major things that isn’t licensed in this year’s edition.
Most of all, for the first time the game has made inroads into the all-important Indian licenses. Unfortunately Big Ant wasn’t quite able to get every T20 team from the IPL over the line, but most of the teams are there, and India’s a nation with, quite literally, a billion cricket fans. Having that license matters, and the fact that Big Ant was able to get so many Indian teams to sign up demonstrates the growing strength and faith that the sport itself has in the vision.
As always, there’s also a massively in-depth character and team creator, so if your favourite team isn’t in there, you can add them quite easily, and do a good job of it. One of the first things I always do is to recreate the Japanese international team in each of Big Ant’s titles, and then make myself the captain. Yes Japan’s ranked 50th in a sport where outside of the top 20 you’re really stretching the definition of “international team,” but I am a realist when it comes to my own cricket ability, so I think this is fairer than setting myself as the captain of Australia.
People can also use that feature to recreate their local club teams or inter-school competitions, and it’s that grassroots fun that you can have with it that makes it so genuinely impressive that Big Ant has been able to hold onto that feature even as licensors would be less than amused to see it.
Outside of the competitions there’s also a career mode. With Cricket 22, Big Ant took a solid step to try and build something that went beyond an endless series of matches. There were narrative elements, training minigames, and so on. It was a little unbalanced and buggy, and perhaps an overstretch at times, but is was a good first step. That’s why it’s disappointing to see that this year’s version has been pared back, rather than enhanced. Subsequently, we’ve still got a ways to go here before Cricket offers the equivalent of the MLB The Show’s excellent Road To The Show mode.
Once you’ve found the game mode you want to play, you’ll find the on-field play excellent. Batting is the highlight. Whether you choose to play with more traditional “arcade” controls (press a buttons to swing the bat), or a more serious effort as simulation (use one control stick to represent your footwork, and the other to represent the direction of your swing), you’ve got a tight and genuinely well-balanced system that allows you to play an authentic game of cricket to all ends of the park. On the higher difficulties, in particular, poor timing or shot decisions tend to result in your character getting out, though on the lower levels you can set things up to have a laugh as you hit six after six, as well.
Bowling has a similar range of mechanical options, and it feels similarly good to actually throw a ball down. However, bowling also not quite as entertaining as the batting, and the reason is simple – you rarely feel like you’ve got agency over what’s going on. How well you play doesn’t seem to have an impact. For an extreme example – you could bowl the exact same ball, have it land in the exact same spot, and then watch as in every over, at the 3rd, 4th or 5th ball, the batter magically turns it into a 4. You can also fill the slips up with fielders, and somehow every edge will go through a gap.
And then the game will “decide” that it’s time to give you a wicket, and so you could bowl something ridiculously dumb and watch as the batter gently taps it down a fielder’s throat.
I’ve been playing Big Ant’s cricket games for 10 years now. I’ve got a pretty high level of control and accuracy over the the mechanics at this point, and my natural preference with bowling is to use a combination of swing and shorter balls to target the stumps. In Big Ant’s previous efforts, that’s resulted in a pretty taut battle between bat and ball. On the lower difficulty settings I carve through the opponents, but on the higher difficulty settings test matches go the distance, with scorecards that look authentic. The AI would block out the good balls patiently, capitalise when I was a little off target, but with enough discipline I would finally have a ball hit the pads or wicket, and I’d get my victim.
In Cricket 22 and now 24, however, tactical bowling and precision doesn’t seem to matter. Instead, when it was my turn to bowl, I’d just settle in for just hammering the same line and length while waiting for the inevitable moment where the AI “decides” to stop hitting one or two boundaries off me every over and instead hand my player a wicket.
The crux of the problem is really just the AI. It just doesn’t behave according to what would happen in a real game of cricket, and everything that it does seems predetermined before your bowler has actually let go of the ball. The AI knows, vaguely, how many runs it needs to win an innings, and how aggressive it needs to be in chasing that total. However, aside from that, the AI will hit your balls in whatever direction it likes (no matter where or how you bowl them) before eventually making a mistake and getting itself out (no matter what ball you bowl). When you’re batting, the field will change constantly, but the AI will keep randomly “choosing” balls and doing so with little “thought” or “tactics.”
To contrast with MLB The Show – when you’re in a situation where you’re at bat, and there’s a runner on first base, the AI will try and keep the pitches low and in the zone, trying to goad you into hitting a grounder and setting up a double play. Meanwhile, if the AI at bat sets up a bunt, it does so for a reason that is relevant to the situation of the match. Because of this, what happens in MLB The Show looks like what you’d expect to see in a baseball game, while Cricket 24 both lacks that cinematic quality and, more significantly, makes you wonder whether there’s any point to delve into the deep systems when the AI’s generally decided what’s going to happen before the fact.
Finally, fielding needs real work. Professional cricketers get training on fielding from baseball coaches, and they really whip the ball in at speed. This can’t happen in Cricket 24, because the players that need to catch the ball on the receiving end are slow to react and a ball thrown too fast at them would zip straight past them to go for overthrows. So, instead, even when there’s a runout chance, the fielder will instead do a gentle, lofted toss back in.
I know that all sounds like a long library list of complaints, but none of the above takes away from the core cricket action. Play with a friend and the issues disappear almost completely, since the AI is taken out of the equation. It’s only in single player where the artificiality can start to become an issue, and even then it’s not a game-breaking issue by any means. It’s just missing an opportunity to have a strategic layer that fully encompasses the depth of the sport.
Meanwhile, Big Ant is justifiably proud of the work that it does to capture and recreate player faces. The photogrammetry process that Big Ant uses is laborious, but does create player models that look like 3D photos of their real-life personas. Given the depth of the licenses that it has, the hundreds of photo-realistic players is a remarkable achievement for a developer with a fraction of the resources of the bigger players.
Below the head there needs to be work done, however. Characters all hold their bodies quite stiffly, and the lack of flexibility through their digital spines gives them an odd stiff and shuffling gait when walking. Both batting swings and bowling actions are much (much) smoother, and there’s now a lot of options for both, which helps keep the action as authentic as possible. Most of the iconic bowling and batting actions are now available for when you’re creating players.
However, one thing that Big Ant has never quite managed to recreate is the connection that people have to the physical environment around them. In sports, it’s most evident in the way that a player moves across the ground. When people walk, there’s a compression and “springing” action as a person’s foot connects with the ground, pushes into it (and the body absorbs the pressure), and then rolls back off it. In Cricket 24, characters have a very large number of animations, but they do sometimes leave the impression that they’re moving in a 3D space rather than across a field.
With all that said, Cricket 24 is lovely on the eyes. There’s a nice, big range of stadia and, for the most part, they’ve been captured beautifully. The developers have really put a lot of effort into bringing a broadcast quality to the camera angles, and the cut scenes tend to look very impressive. The player kits are all spot-on to the licenses, which adds further atmosphere.
In other words, all the complaints above are nitpickings on my part, as someone who has spent thousands of hours playing these cricket games, from right back with the original Don Bradman Cricket. Most other players, who have less experience with Big Ant cricket games, will pick this up and not even notice these issues. When it comes to the big picture stuff, Big Ant has got it all right. The licenses are there, and almost comprehensive. The core batting and bowling action is well-designed and allows for the kind of precision that makes cricket such a wonderful sport to watch. The visuals punch well above their weight, and the depth of modes means there’s something for everyone.
The next step for Big Ant would be to start capturing the nuances of the sport and convert excellent ball-to-ball action to give us the full match experience, when events that happened in the 10th over can impact on how bowlers, batters, and the crowd itself behave in the 40th. If Big Ant can get there, make it feel like tactics matter and results are less pre-determined and arbitrary, and then they will produce a cricket game that will finally move from the cusp to sit alongside EA, Sony and 2K’s sporting titles in offering something that truly understands and captures the spirit of the sport.