"Don Bradman Cricket 14 is not like any Cricket game you have played before, the first thing to do before you pick up the controller is to forget all that you know about Cricket games past and start afresh….”
That’s not me talking about and asking rhetorical questions; it is the foremost line in the Don Bradman Cricket 14 manual that pretty much sums up the entire game. For a video game featuring a sport that is not as well globally recognized as its contemporaries, to remain in development for a period as long as 4 years can only result in one of two outcomes: it can either end up looking like a sorry excuse of a Miniclip game (like Ashes Cricket 13) or it could change the way you play Cricket games for the better. DBC 14 is all about the latter, so it’s good news for all you Cricket fans.
First off, this is not like one of your traditional Cricket video games where you can slog your way to victory or demolish the opposition for single digits. The game requires a player's full attention even in aspects which most other Cricket games would totally ignore, take sprinting and sliding in the field for instance, or the speed at which the batsmen convert one run into two for that matter. Detailed and intuitive controls for batting, bowling and fielding mean that players now have to invest a lot more time and effort into each decision they make on the field. Having said that, if you are venturing into this world of Cricket ‘just for fun’ whilst carrying age-old expectations, you will be bitterly disappointed (in other words: you will be a gonner!).
There is absolutely no denying that presenting the sport of Cricket in a video game while capturing all its nuances is an uphill task. That explains why Cricket games of the past have lacked the spirit that a die-hard Cricket fan aspires for. As a result, players have had to put up with whatever little improvements were made in subsequent iterations. Rest assured, DBC 14 enjoys an exalted standard in that it captures Cricket on a level that would really bring out the Cricketer in you.
Remember the century stick (assigned to right analogue stick on the PlayStation 2 controller) introduced for the first time in EA Cricket 2007? Big Ant Studios uses the same approach to playing batting strokes. Without a doubt, though, the combination with the left analogue stick to control foot placement allows for a lot more strokeplay options than ever conceived before. Add to this the fact that the power with which a batsman defends or strikes the ball is controlled with the amount of pressure applied on the trigger buttons. And it works, it all does as desired! These are subtle things that make players feel like they are ‘living’ the game of Cricket. Those of you who fancy playing improvised shots, including the reverse and lap sweeps, will be glad to note that the shoulder button on your controllers allow you that luxury. Trust me, nothing pisses off online opponents more than playing those kind of shots in regions that are obviously fielder deprived.
It is apparent the developers exhibited great game awareness for they focused on studying the ball instead of the pitch to ascertain what direction and length the incoming ball would follow. The ring around the ball indicates its direction while the colour of the ball is an indicator of the length at which the ball pitches. Big Ant Studios also utilized the Confidence meter for players but it does not quite work as desired. Ideally, you would expect players to settle in before being able to time aggressive shots properly. This is something Cricket Revolution did well, despite failing on many other counts. In case of DBC 14, players like Shahid Afridi need no second invitation. It is possible to time the ball well enough to send it into the crowd from the get go. On the contrary, the confidence meter refused to ascend after I hit four consecutive boundaries with Alastair Cook. Unfortunately, the confidence meter is rather inconsistent.
The freshly introduced camera angles offer an entirely new look besides the usual broadcast camera that players have been accustomed to. It would be understandable if players are initially reluctant to adapt, as was the case with me at first, but it quickly became clear that viewing the action from the batsman’s perspective felt much more realistic. I, personally, felt no need to revert to the broadcast camera again.
Speaking of perspectives, the field of view is rather limited in the absence of a fielding radar. When I say limited I mean there are times when you can hardly spot the fielders guarding the ropes ahead and you end up gifting a catch to one of them which leaves you wondering, “where in the world did he come from?!” I understand the need to keep the screen clutter-free but it is still important to be able to take a detailed look around to determine which gaps the batsmen can afford to target. If you have batting assistance on, changing the camera angles does not automatically invert the control scheme on view; it has to be manually inverted from the options menu. While it’s understandable that a player would not keep switching camera angles throughout the match, this should still have been automatic rather than being offered as a choice.
Make no mistake; bowling is THE most satisfying experience in DBC 14. Cricket games of late may have introduced a tad bit more variety of deliveries but they rarely managed to infuse any life into the bowling aspect of the game. DBC 14 redefines bowling by handing full control to the player with its redesigned control scheme. Be it pace or spin bowling, users can choose the type of delivery using the right analogue stick while the left analogue stick determines the direction of the delivery. Mistime the jump with a mistimed thumb movement and you will end up bowling a delivery that deserves being thrashed – and it will! Jump too late and the umpire will charge you with a no ball. Good luck deceiving the batsman with the next delivery under pressure!
These intricate controls do make the game challenging but that really is the essence of it all. Without that, bowling in DBC 14 would be no different than what we have gotten used to in other half-baked Cricket games. There is actually a sense of achievement with each good delivery you bowl. One can only imagine how satisfying it feels to knock a top order batsman on the helmet with a steaming bouncer and bamboozling him with a slow yorker that sends his off stump for a walk. Spin is not much different either. Set the batsman up with two to three off-spin deliveries and then beat him with drift or flight the next ball. Trust me when I say this, the amount of pace and turn is quite appreciable and very much noticeable in this game.
Talking of realism, the bowler tends to get tired after bowling the third or fourth over. No matter how hard I tried, I could never make Dale Steyn bring his pace back up to 95 miles per hour after his fourth over. That is so surreal! The fact that the pace went down also meant that the ball would fall short of the wicket keeper after taking an edge off the bat. Imagine the despair of the bowler! Bringing the wicket-keeper up to the stumps is an option that was sorely missed in this case.
It is heartening to see that the game features a wide variety of fielding presets to choose from. However, it was surprising to note that a field - once custom set - is not automatically saved for use with another batsman. That had me opening up the field options over and over again which really hampered the interruption-free experience I was looking for. For the sake of better immersion in the game, it would have been ideal if field sets could be swapped using a directional button without filling up the screen with the field options. Speaking of fielding, this department of the game has also been well served by the folks at Big Ant Studios.
Players can choose whether they want the field to be fully assisted, semi-assisted or completely manual. Having played using semi-assisted fielding option, it can be safely said that this is the best that I have ever felt fielding in any Cricket game. The right trigger button can be used to sprint to the ball while the shoulder button is used to slide or dive. It is then up to you to decide whether to hand over the ball to the keeper or the bowler or to throw directly at either end. Never have I been in so much control of my field before. Even with the option to slide and dive, I can remember so many occasions when my fielder ended up guiding the ball over the boundary just because I decided to slide to stop the ball from crossing the boundary. It looks beautiful when it works and equally awful when it goes against you.
Big Ant Decision Review System
Did I mention the Big Ant Review System? Oh it is brilliant! The game includes Hawk eye, Snicko meter and the Hotspot, all renamed of course. They all work as you would expect them to. If you are the bowling side and have your appeal turned down by the umpire, simply choose to review the decision within the next 10 seconds when the option appears and the players gather in a huddle (which other Cricket games allows you to manually appeal for a dismissal?). Well rated umpires like Aleem Dar and Billy Bowden would highly likely get everything right but you stand a great chance against lower-rated umpires.
I still remember an instance of taking the review where I heard a faint edge before the ball hit my back leg while batting and the umpire gave me out LBW. The question was whether the bowl hit the bat or the pad first? To my delight, hotspot revealed that the ball kissed the bat before hitting the pad. Yes, the decision was reversed in my favour. I have grown fond of the review system ever since. Infact, I began using lowly rated umpires just so that I could treat myself to the DRS amenities in every match I play. Who cares what the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) thinks, right?
Big Ant Studios surely played it smart by releasing the Cricket Academy Beta for all and sundry to try nearly a year back. This was a collection of tools for prospective users to create players, umpires and teams that not only focused on the looks but the assignment of their attributes. It’s a very clever way of reaching out to the community by outsourcing an entire department of the game to them and then incorporating the feedback in the final product. It was pleasantly surprising to witness the amount of effort the online community has put into the Cricket Academy over the past year or so. And finally getting to play with look-alikes of Umar Gul, Gautam Gambhir, Graeme Smith and plenty others makes you forget it’s a non-licensed game.
Although it’s slightly disappointing to see that Big Ant Studios let all the information flow through the system without keeping constant checks on the kind of attributes and skills users associated with created players. Take Abdul Qadir from All-time best Pakistan team, for instance. The leg spinner is tagged finger spinner instead. Similarly, Wasim Akram does not even possess sufficient skills to qualify as a spearhead in the bowling attack. It is arguable but I personally felt that Big Ant Studios should take it upon itself to associate an appropriate set of attributes and skills with created players now that the community has created some of the best. One would not want to spend hours tweaking attributes and skills of each created player before taking them on the field.
I have always felt that the quality of commentary in a Cricket game is as essential to the build up to each delivery as background music is to an action-adventure game. While there isn’t much to complain about the way commentary has been introduced in the game, it sounds a bit undercooked. I would rather prefer variations of Bill Lawry’s “Got him!” or Danny Morrison’s “And this one’s out of here!” than “this is so high it will bring rain.” With commentary, it’s about living each ball. Of course, there comes a point when it all starts to repeat itself in a Cricket game but as long as the voice reflects the intensity of the true match situation it sounds fresh each time it is heard. I can’t recall much along those lines from previous games except for Brian Lara Cricket 97, maybe. Despite that, one could excuse the over simplicity of the commentary in favour of subtle variations that are available. Most important of all, each comment made reflects what has actually happened rather than describing an event that never even occurred (that has been the case with some Cricket games of late).
The Online feature is a mix bag, really. Don’t get into it with high hopes of enjoying as great a Cricket match as you play offline. Simply treat it as a fun session with friends that will be marked with a few bugs here and there along with fielders refusing to sprint after the ball at times. It is very encouraging to see that the developers have introduced a save system whereby players are prompted to save the match every time there is a disconnection. Once that’s done, the opponent can then be later invited at any point to join the game from the point where the game was originally disconnected. Sounds like a good way of completing a five-day test match, no? While fielders don’t have too many problems taking skiers, the ground fielding isn’t quite the same. Do not trust your fielders to save those four runs with a slide close to the boundary; you will only be disappointed more often than not. As mentioned before, it looks great when it works but unfortunately, sliding around the boundary seldom results in a positive outcome for the fielding side.
I also wish the bowling slider for jump and release was retained in the online play since its absence really deprives the player of the control element of bowling (its real essence in the offline play). Jumping too soon results in the bowler aborting his run up; do it too often and a forfeit is offered to the opponent which he may well accept if it’s shaping up to be a tense finish (happened to me once and I felt like tearing my hair out). That does not mean the online is broken, though. Quite the contrary, actually. I have managed to put hours into the online play and I am happy to report that I have had fun playing with friends. Sensible thing to do would be to add friends on your system and prefer playing with them rather than strangers to prevent excessive lag from ruining the experience each time.
Who says Cricket is any less than complicated than Chemistry?
Nothing had me more hyped about this game than the Career Mode. I can’t remember playing a Cricket game that allowed me to create a player and help him ascend the ranks like they do with Football and Wrestling games. It is certainly a nice feeling to play and find yourself in situations where you have to achieve a tricky target in a certain number of deliveries. Developers were aware that players don’t have the time or patience to spectate matches until their turn comes up in a career game so the option to simulate to career player helps you skip up to the point when your player is in charge of the game. Got dismissed? No problems; instead of having to spectate the remainder of the innings, simulate to career player and take charge of bowling.
Don’t skip the view from inside your helmet as you leave head-bowed after your dismissal (got to love those little things in the game). Upon the completion of the over, it’s up to you to spend time in the field or you can simulate to your own over again. I had no gripes with the career mode but one; the system has you, a 16-year old, start at Pro difficulty even at the division level. That seems a bit unreal considering the fact that the same player covers a long journey to make it to the county and international level. It’s sensible to take baby steps with career players rather than assuming each one of them is going to be the next Sachin Tendulkar.
Big Ant Studios have accomplished what heavily funded game developers may not even have imagined in the past. It isn’t just the likenesses of players that sets the game apart from the rest. While the batting strokes feel fluid and the bowling and sprinting after the ball seems rhythmic, the focus on gameplay is amazingly detailed and infuses life into the game to make it feel and play like Cricket which is a first, really! The faintest of edges to the crisp sound of the ball hitting the blade to the grunt of the bowler as he releases the bowl all sound incredible. What is best is the fact that Big Ant Studios representatives are in sync with the online community and always open to feedback from its fans. It is amazing how they have been tending to positive criticism on PlanetCricket forums and have plans on correcting bugs in the game with patches later in the year.
With that said, Don Bradman Cricket 14 is THE best Cricket game out there for all Cricket enthusiasts. The fact that it is not just a game that ends an age-long drought of Cricket titles, but a gold standard that sets the bar high for others to follow earns Don Bradman Cricket 14 a solid 8/10.
With Don Bradman Cricket 14, you won’t just like Cricket, you will love it!
Review link: http://www.pakgamers.com/ga...