Cricket is one of those sports that has always had a spotty history in the video game world. Back in the early PS1 and PS2 days, fans had Brian Lara Cricket and EA’s Cricket series, with the former peaking with Brian Lara 2005, and the latter series never really took off. Ashes Cricket is the first time the most iconic series in Cricket has its own console game since 2009. This is Big Ant’s third crack at a cricket game, and it seems as though they have finally nailed it, in my opinion.
They have included both men’s and women’s Ashes series, which is a first for an Ashes game. There are also club sides for both countries. All of the major Australian stadia featured in the 2017-18 Ashes series are included in Ashes Cricket, and they’ve been rendered with convincing attention to detail, from the old scoreboard at the Adelaide Oval to the imposing colosseum-like grandstands of the MCG.
The first positive is that the AI is noticeably smarter than before, especially in the way it proactively adjusts its fields to cut off your favourite shots and try and force you into making a mistake. However, even on the harder difficulty settings, it doesn’t always nail the more nuanced strategies of the game, such as knowing when to accelerate during a limited overs run chase. It ultimately puts up a decent fight without being able to quite match the cunning of human opposition on the couch beside you or online.
The players of the two nations look relatively good, but it’s those outside of the main teams that look a bit out of place, like one of the wax works in Madame Tussauds. The ones that are accurate are done really well, right down to the unkept chin scruff on Glenn Maxwell and the permanent smugness smeared all over Stuart Broad’s face. On the women’s side of the game, superstars like Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, and Sarah Taylor are all recreated to equally convincing effect.
The next positive is how the game plays on the field. On the batting side, the new control system is reinforced by how great the batting animations are. The animations work in tandem with the reliable ball physics, the animation of a batsman’s stroke intersects with a delivery that holds up well even under slow-mo scrutiny, as batsmen actually step and plant their feet rather than artificially glide into position, as with cricket games of old. Timing, shot choice and footwork are all important to playing the perfect shot. It is very rewarding to hit the most sweet six and does take some effort to do, especially at the higher difficulties. The bowling side can be a little worse as the bowler can change sides at the start on their own and on the odd occasion the game released the delivery before I pressed the corresponding button, which can be annoying, but overall, the bowling is as good as it’s gonna get. Fielding is pretty much the same as they are simple to set up in the menus, and throwing back to the keeper or bowler is one button press away.
There is one thing that is neither so good that it’s a positive nor so bad that it’s a negative, and that is the game’s commentary. They have drafted in former Australia opener Michael Slater to do the play-by-play commentary, and he has former England batsman James Taylor and Southern Stars player Mel Jones for support to add a little bit of colour. The commentary is good from match to match but can get repetitive after a while, especially during the Ashes series. This is a complaint that can be levelled at the bigger budget sports franchises, so I can’t really count this too highly as a negative for the game.
The one major caveat with the game is that since the series has shifted from the Don Bradman brand to the Ashes, all of the user-generated content from the previous games hasn’t been brought across due to licensing issues. With the lack of players at launch, there’s been a scarcity of user-generated content to grab from the community servers. It would seem like a fairly safe bet to assume that the same community of creatives would embrace Ashes Cricket the way they have the previous games, and that the list of license-subverting players, uniforms and stadiums will all appear in due time, but it can’t be taken as a given.
In conclusion, like a ball that’s been battered around for 50 overs, Ashes Cricket is a little rough around the edges but is by far the best cricket game of this generation so far. That may not sound like a huge compliment, but it is a sport that is hard to get right since 20/20 matches do take an age to complete, but in my opinion, Big Ant Studios deserve a huge amount of credit for what they have produced, especially with making sure the game was released in time for the winter series. This is the best cricket game since Brian Lara International Cricket in 2007.
Developer: Big Ant Studios
Publisher: Big Ant Studios
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 16th November 2017