The long, arduous tests, the constant shit-flinging between rivals, and no small amount of slow-cooking spectators getting moderately sozzled in the afternoon sun. School sure was eventful. Anyway, in unrelated news, there’s a cricket game out just in time for The Ashes, and it’s a rather bloody good one!
Moving on from their decent, if janky, Don Bradman series of cricket games, developer Big Ant Studios slaps the Ashes license on the sturdy framework of that series, looking to take that step from cult success to a more mainstream (well, in sports games terms) appeal. It certainly has the basic tools to hand, but what it needs to push on is to smooth out those rough edges.
It succeeds, in certain areas anyway. The Ashes license comes with much more detail where England and Australia are concerned, given the importance of highlighting one of the oldest rivalries in sport. The players look far closer to their real life counterparts than ever before, both in psychical appearance and movement, and all the related gubbins surrounding the Ashes is catered for (although there’s no sledging button or pre and post-match press conferences where you can make inappropriate accusations about a rival’s character). Sadly, the commentary, While not as gratingly awful as some recent sports titles, is a little stilted and repetitive. There are flashes of good dialogue, but they are drowned out by some joyless delivery elsewhere.The rough visual edges and uninspired menu design doesn’t do the improvements any favors either.
There’s a bit of stuttering around transition screens, and on occasion, that stutter bleeds into certain player animations. This is mostly a harmless annoyance, but on occasion, it can be the difference between a run and an out, especially on higher difficulty settings.
Otherwise, on the field, Ashes Cricket has ramped up the animation on players to make for a slicker-looking game of cricket. From the way players claw at a ball rushing past them, to the swing and satisfying wallop of willow on leather, this is the best portrayal of the sport in this medium in this regard.
It’s also rather accommodating to play. The standard controls are there for long-term Don Bradman fans, but the alternate setup, designed for newcomers and a more casual cricket audience (me) simplifies things without detracting any challenge from the game.
Bowling allows you to select one of eight options via the left analogue stick, while you can tap a button to decide what modifier to use before participating in a little Q.T.E. action to choose how fast or slow the ball will move. Batting works in a similar manner, boiling down to a point n’ shoot methodology that incorporates the same modifier system to decide what style of shot to take (such as aggressive). It’s easy enough to get to grips with, yet still retains many of the deeper nuances of the regular control system to utilise when you begin to feel comfortable with it.
Throw in a variety of difficulty options that don’t stunt the A.I. of the players, but merely make things more or less forgiving to control, and you’ve got a pretty accessible cricket game for fans of all abilities. I say ‘pretty accessible’ because the only gripe here is that the game could do a better job of explaining these nuances to you. Sure, the basics are handled fairly well, but if you don’t go looking for it, you’d probably never figure out much of what Ashes Cricket offers in terms of depth. Given the lucrative timing of putting it out there for the start of the Ashes itself, a little more information beyond the basics for the casual crowd could have really helped push this to new heights for the series. There’s so many names for different types of bowling, batting and general tactics that go unexplained, and while some of this is fairly common knowledge for most cricket fans, the lack of explanation on display is bamboozling to anyone else.
Knowing all this is essential for what is, let’s face it, a game of patience and endurance.Having basic knowledge is fine and well for a while, but having that bit extra in your arsenal makes things a lot more pleasurable. Slogging away, over after over, is not a good time if you use four or five basic moves.
There is at least a bit of variety to the package beyond just playing out the Ashes. The life-engulfing career mode returns from Don Bradman, where you can create your future star of cricket and work your way up from obscurity to playing on the international stage, and beyond this is a healthy selection of customisable tours, teams, and players to fiddle about with both online and offline. You can also play as both mens and women’s sides in every mode.
Ashes Cricket has ensured the gap between the sport of cricket and the world of videogames has been brought that little bit closer together. The level of cohesion seen in game adaptations of football, baseball, racing, hockey, boxing, and even MMA is the ultimate goal for Big Ant, and it’s right on the cusp of achieving that. A little more polish, and a bit more of the user-friendly approach in the next cricket game the developer puts out would turn a good sports title into an essential one. For now however, Ashes Cricket is still the best representation of the sport in this medium that has ever been produced.