They say the second season in any top sport is when a player is truly tested. This is true in cricket, as much as any game. In your first international season few opponents know your game, if you’re a front foot, or back foot player, or if your go-to delivery is a bouncer or a yorker. In your second season though everyone has a book on you, they’ve worked you out. They’ll know you start to bowl short as the day goes on, or to stack the leg side field and bowl into your body. You really find out what kind of game a player has in their second season.
Australian developer Big Ant Studios had a good first season. Don Bradman Cricket 14 did a lot of things right. It captured the atmosphere of small town cricket and the time and patience needed to play a match. Sure it had issues, the same issues that all independently developed games face, but there was a mountain of ‘user’ created content, and a more than serviceable online mode. Overall, it captured cricket beautifully.
Although the game got ported to the PS4 and Xbox One in 2015, Don Bradman Cricket 17 is it’s second season – and it does run into a few problems. But, the solid cricket game is still there. There are many match options, plenty to customise, and a few welcome additions to the gameplay. In a nod towards the real power – and money – of world cricket, spin bowling is probably the best part of the game. It is far too complicated to go into details but essentially you not only control line and length, but also drift, bounce, rotations, and if everything else fails you can simply bowl a effort ball. While not particularly intuitive, it’s still awesome.
Also pretty awesome is the catching mechanic. While the AI can take care of most of the legwork in the outfield, when the ball is close enough to a fielder everything slows down. The ball’s path is indicated with a circle and you have a second or two to point to the target. Get it right quickly enough and you take the catch. It’s simple and obvious, in a good way. You feel in control, and know right away when you’ve got it right, or wrong. It simply works.
Batting and pace bowling feel less successful. While it has as many modifiers as slow bowling, fast bowling feels seriously underpowered. When batting, you keep an eye on the ball in the bowler's hand. Before the ball is released it changes colour. There a four colours with each indicating a different length ball. Green is a good length while red is short. It’s one of those things that take you out of the game. You see the colour, remember what the colour means, than play forward or back, straight or across the line. Add to this all the modifiers that control attack and defence, as well as if you’re trying to hit over the fielders or along the ground, all reliant on that first colour you see when the bowler reaches his delivery stride.
It’s very complicated. But, there is no doubt that it can be done. I played my first online versus game, a five over match, and got destroyed. I bowled first and went for 120 runs. It seemed like every other ball went for six. When it was my turn to bat, I didn’t get close. I spent most of the game blocking and getting out, when not waiting for my opponent to change the field, bowl around the wickets, watch replays, and appeal to the umpire after every ball. I barely got into double figures, sheesh.
It all seemed a bit much until after the game I checked the online standings and found my opponent was #1 in the world. Thousands of runs and hundreds of wickets, I should feel honoured. If it wasn’t for his tendency to appeal after every ball and constantly watch replays of himself. So, have fun with online matches, just be careful with the quick-game matchmaking – it’s savage.
But you don’t have to rely on matchmaking. There are plenty of options to customise matches and play with friends. In fact, a lot of emphasis is on the match, player, team, and stadium creation modes. You can create male players, female players, team logos, uniforms, umpires, and share them all with the online community.
The only problem with the creator modes is figuring out how it all works. It’s possible that Big Ant Studios expect gamers to be familiar with the Cricket Academy concept from Don Bradman Cricket 14, but it has been a while, and to be honest I got a bit lost.
To get around a lack of licences Don Bradman Cricket 14 prompted you to download all the user created players and teams. Don Bradman Cricket 17 doesn’t do that. If you dig through the menus you can search players and teams, and download them, but you’re not walked through it. While there are batting and bowling tutorials, what you really need is help with the menus. Although you can build your own teams – which I sort of managed to do – I failed to figure out how to use my logo on my created team, or even how to play a match with them.
Maybe there is an option somewhere to do it. Maybe you can only use your created team in an online match. Maybe you have to upload it to the community, find it again, download it, and then you can use it to play a single player match. Maybe, I don’t know. After a couple of hours, I lost interest and played a local New Zealand game between the Central Deers and the Auckland Spades (ah, I see what they did there) in Te Puke. Mainly to see how the Australian commentators would pronounce Te Puke. They didn’t mention the venue the whole game.
Commentators aside, some of what Big Ant did well in the original game gets a bit lost in its second season. buried under the weight of the options and menus. But, you can still smash it like the Big Bash and IPL, if that’s what you’re after. Or, you can go all village green on the game. It’s slow, deliberate, complicated and, without any cynicism, that may be the best thing about Don Bradman Cricket 17.