Summer is coming and that means our TV screens are about to be filled with cricket. This year, we have a new official cricket title, Ashes Cricket, made by Australian-developer Big Ant Studios, which is the easily the most realistic cricket game ever made.
Over the past week, I’ve spent some time smashing sixes, dropping a few catches and grabbing the occasional wicket. So with some time in the middle under my belt, its time to get you the full run down of what this game is, what it does well, where improvement is needed and if you should buy it.
The graphics of Ashes Cricket are pretty good, enhanced for the Xbox One X, the stadium is accurately representation, complete with familiar sponsors, scoreboards and a full crowd. Of course the groundskeeper has been busy with perfectly manicured grass, and its touches like the the unused pitches beside the main pitch that add to the realism.
Players are dressed in their official clothes, complete with sponsor logos like Qantas and KFC, as are the environments, thanks to the title being officially licenced. The players are generally well recreated with features that make it easy to tell them apart. This is a result of photo-realistic facial scans for each of the players being used, along with motion-captured batting and bowling actions to give characters their own uniqueness. The result is that it really is your favourite players out there on the field as you play through the Ashes.
Given Big Ant Studios are a smaller budget firm, so adjust your expectations of the player models and texture quality, this just isn’t on the same level of a something like COD:WWII which seems to have gone through a generational leap in human representation. At the end of the day, I’m not sure that matters much, as the core gaming mechanic immerses you and makes you feel like you’re actually playing cricket and in control of your team. Translation – you’ll still have plenty of fun.
Part of the experience of cricket is the crowd getting involved in the game and this is well represented with crowd reactions and chants from time to time, making you feel like your innings is being well supported. The seats of the stadium are filled with people and during replays, you’ll likely notice what I did, rapid replication of the crowd model. This is one area where the game really breaks from reality.
In the days of the Xbox One, you’d be able to resolve this rapid duplication as a performance trick to reduce CPU cycles in rendering so many individual animations. But we need to remember, this is being played on the most powerful console ever, Xbox One X with loads of horsepower. While you’re never going to have 100,000 individual crowd animations, you need to have a rate of replication that’s not noticeable. Once you see it, its really hard to unsee, so we’re hoping they can fix this in a future update.
In any gaming representation of sport, players want and expect it to reflect the current reality. That means you can now play the game as both as men and women, reflecting the rise of the female cricket leagues. Ashes Cricket represents women’s cricket in full, and importantly, takes into account the differences in the way the women’s game plays, this isn’t simply a copy+paste job of the player models, the developers spent the time to understand and reflect the differences, which is effort that’s definitely appreciated.
The Women’s Ashes is a series of three T20 matches, three ODI matches and one Test match, and that’s significantly different to the five test men’s series. Because the women’s game often sees different tactics used, you’ll need to adapt your gameplay to be successful. When you look at the development required to accommodate this, it’s like having two cricket games in the one. What it does do is make the game much more appealing to a new audience of females who want to play as their idols, which is ultimately great for the sport.
The game offers multiple options from the main menu including Ashes Series, Casual games, Online, Career, Tour, Competition, Training and Cricket Academy. Most are pretty straight forward, however Cricket Academy gives you the ability to recreate your local club teams and players, fantastic if you’re into the sport at the grass roots level.
Multiple game types allow you to select the appropriate match for the time you have available. While you could play a full test match, those short on time may opt for a ODI (One Day International) or even the ever popular T20 match. You can also step outside the real cricket modes for a quick, 5-over blast. I’m betting this game gets played a lot during the ad breaks of cricket matches this summer.
The control setup is customisable, but to be honest the defaults are great. When batting, your options are presented in the top-right corner, to play defensive, aggressive, attacking or precision shots. While also holding the left stick to choose a direction, you press the appropriate button to respond to the delivery your facing and field placement. You can make your shot selection by quickly and the timing was tollerant enough that makes it approachable even to beginners. Success here is driven by being dynamic to the situation, not entering into each ball with a predisposed idea of which boundary you’ll be using to smash your next 6 over.
Bowling is a little more complex give the array of placement, speed, spin, etc. After a few deliveries, you’ll get the hang of it and be able to pick the best delivery to increase your chances of a wicket. Choose from offside, straight (standard), or leg side of the batter for the delivery by using the left stick. You then choose the length and timing using a meter where you press the button in the light green area for an optimal delivery. If you get it right, the speed of your delivery (normal, faster or slower) will be reflected by the speed of the ball down the pitch.
Fielding is pretty straight forward and works naturally, assists like having the option between two buttons to control a throw to the bowlers or wicket keeper’s ends is a simple and effective approach.
If you need a break from the heat of battle, the game offers a very decent level of customisation. There’s a Stadium creator, where you can create your own field, with a ridiculous number of permutations. There’s also a player customisation section, where you can build a player that looks exactly like you do and add them to the team.
For those that want to go deep, there’s even an editor for cricket bats, allowing you to fill it with your favourite colours and designs and even add sponsor logos. Despite the brands being well represented in stadiums, none of the A-list advertisers are available to be stuck on your bat, this is a little disappointing. Also despite selecting from different types of bats and different grips, these make no different to your playing experience, its simply a visual touch. There’s room for this to expand to the weight and distribution of that weight to be a variable in the future, or future releases.
These features are a very nice inclusion and does a great job of bringing you into the wider sport of cricket, rather than being limited to just what happens in the middle of the oval.
Price and Availability
Ashes Cricket is rated G which means its great for kids of all ages and is available now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You’ll find it at electronic retailers like JB Hi-Fi and Target Australia which have it for A$79. Of course if you’re from England, you can of course buy the game as well, check the website for details on UK distribution.
We’re told a PC release (via Steam) will be coming shortly.
All things considered, this game is a massive success and easily the best cricketing title created to date. If your into Cricket, this is a no brainer, grab it for your console or PC, especially if you have some mates over and a spare TV to play this on, while you watch the real Ashes on your primary.
If you’re not really into Cricket, this still approachable and may be the thing that tips the scales for you to look further into the sport.