Typically, New Zealand’s a bit crap at cricket. Even if we do win the odd match, a devastating defeat is usually just one or two games away. So, at the risk of jinxing the whole Cricket World Cup thing, this will be the first and last time I mention how well the New Zealand cricket team have been playing. Australia, on the other hand, are very good at cricket, and when Melbourne developers released Don Bradman Cricket 14 early last year, we found out that they are pretty good at making cricket games as well. While it didn’t have the detail and official licences that the European and North American development mega-factories can afford, it was challenging, inventive, and remarkably true to the spirit and tone of the game.
Don Bradman Cricket on the PS4 hasn’t changed. Not so much as an illuminated bail. Which is both good and bad. Good, because it’s a deep and complex sports sim with a great sense of history and plenty of game modes. Bad, because that’s what you got last year, and nothing new has been added. Of course it all looks a bit brighter and sharper, and runs at a crisp 60 frames-per-second. But, it’s not as if there are hoards of zombies and aliens taxing the frame rate. All it means are the cardboard cut-out crowds, straight out of FIFA ’99, are all the more distracting.
So, while it’s doesn’t look like a current-gen game, the depth of gameplay makes Don Bradman Cricket a solid and challenging sports sim. If you love cricket, and who doesn’t love cricket at the moment, (and if you didn’t get the game last year), now’s your chance. Just be warned, there is no flash and bluster, and the controls are as tricky as opening against Southee and Boult on fresh seamer.
The left stick controls your batsman's feet and the right stick controls the bat. So every shot means both sticks move independent of each other, in any direction. As in the real thing you can find yourself favouring a shot. You can fall into the habit of pushing both sticks forward to drive through mid-on or mid-off. But, eventually you’ll need to expand your range and start pulling and cutting to avoid hitting the fielders. On top of this, you use the triggers to play attacking or defensive shots, or unorthodox ramps and reverse sweeps, all in the instant after the ball leaves the bowler’s hand.
Bowling is a little easier. Choose a full, short, or good length ball with the face buttons, adjust swing with the left stick, pull back on the right stick as you approach the crease, and push forward to bowl the ball. Easy.
While on Rookie difficulty, both bowling and batting are relatively easy, with the AI controlling your footwork and wide green indicators telling you when to let the ball loose. In career mode the game defaults to Pro, however, and while you can lower the difficulty before you start your career, your stats won’t be recorded on the online leader boards. As you make a name for yourself, and progress from the English county competition, to the Australian T20 competition, and finally to international selection, the difficulty automatically increases.
Although there are no official players, in the Don Bradman Academy you can create, and upload, players, teams, matches, competitions, and umpires. The online community-created pool of players is still well stocked with thousands of players from current teams to Bradman’s contemporaries, as well as the likes of Chuck Norris and The Rock.
I decided, since I had played the game a bit last year, to start a twenty year career on Pro. With virtually all the onscreen help disabled, my sixteen-year-old batsmen started poorly. Every time I tried an aggressive shot, which was basically every ball, I holed out.
The online community-created pool of players is still well stocked
Finally, four games into the season I decided to play properly. Three hours of blocking, and running singles to deep mid-on, got me to thirty off seventy-two balls. Luckily, playing proper shots add to your stats. After playing a few long innings, both in terms of “game” time and “real” time, my front foot and flat bat skills slowly increased. Also, you get one training session in the nets between each game. You face sixty balls, and if you play well enough you can incrementally increase your stats. So, eventually, hitting boundaries starts to get easier.
If practice, and playing properly, is not your thing, you can always dial down the difficulty and pick a country’s current or all-time lineup. With your favourite team, dressed in beige of course, you can play tournaments, tours, or casual one-off matches, and try to hit every ball for six. You can play local single or two-player games and there is also a long list of custom options for setting up and finding online matches. However, I found the using the quick match option anything but.
But, aside from difficulty finding a quick match, and the fact that it’s a year old game that looks a lot older as it’s being sold at full price, Don Bradman Cricket offers plenty for those that don’t have the 2014 version. Remember to watch the ball out of the bowler’s hand, play in the ‘V’, and don’t mention how well we’re going in the World Cup - you’ll jinx it.