Marvellous effort that.
UPDATE - July 11, 2014
Along with the recent PC release, Big Ant has rolled out a major patch that resolves most of the issues we had with Don Bradman Cricket 14 back in April -- so much so that we've updated the score.
There have been a couple of patches since a raw Don Bradman Cricket 14 debuted before it was ready in April, but none resolved the issues that almost made it unplayable at times; until now with version 2.0. Massive credit to Big Ant, who has clearly listened to fans and addressed their issues based on performance. Returning after a near two month absence -- you'll need to restart any career or saved matches to apply the fixes -- I was immediately struck by the saving grace: the frustrating run outs and throws hitting the stumps from out in the deep have been eliminated. The non-striker no longer obliviously stands a meter out of his crease, and will even lunge with desperation to reclaim his ground after backing up when the on-strike batsman plays defensively -- previously, the player had to manually tell him to go back.
Run out shambles led me to abandon my career player at launch, and I'm thrilled to report my successful comeback. You're no longer confined to beginning as a 16-year-old. Staggered starting ages of 21, 26 and 31 are now options, and the 'Pro' difficulty is no longer the lowest, with the additions of Rookie and Amateur to Career Mode, making it considerably more accessibly.
The new difficulty options are a welcome addition, but returning players mightn't need them. Fielders aren't super-human gymnasts anymore. They'll watch good shots fly past them to the boundary and edges occur at a more realistic rate. The fun factor is further assisted by tweaks to batting which, in general, feels a lot more balanced. The Career Mode also benefits from the addition of an internal nets section so you can practice your timing, and increase your player's attributes, between matches.
It's not just major overhauls. Annoying glitches have also been addressed. Some commentary gaffs have been eliminated, issues with players clearly being out, but not given (clean bowled and "umpire's call" through the DRS) have been fixed and stats now seem to be correct.
There are still a few issues, and more fixes promised in version 3.0, but most of the lingering issues are merely cosmetic. The commentary still has some problems and the presentation has a few bumbles, but the core gameplay out in the middle is now free of the inhibitions that were holding it back.
Fielding position labels were added in a previous patch, but I'd still like to see an optional fielding radar. I understand it detracting from the realism of needing to pick your spots, but even when I know where the fielders are, the swinging nature of the running camera makes it too hard to know when you're clear -- but at least misjudged runs don't automatically throw away your wicket now the magnetic stumps are gone.
Factoring in these changes, our original review (which hasn't been modified until 'The Final Verdict') remains valid to the current version of Don Bradman Cricket 14 -- the best cricket game I've ever played.
Original Review April 8, 2014: Sir Donald Bradman has salvaged cricket 66 years after the late batsman played his last Test for Australia and narrowly missed retaining a batting average over 100. After the disastrous release and subsequent cancellation of Ashes Cricket 2013, I was sceptical that a quality cricket game would ever flourish again until The Don took guard. While it’s rough around the edges, Don Bradman Cricket 14 is the best virtual recreation of the historic sport since 1994’s Super International Cricket.
EA Sports (HB Studios) and Codemasters, respected developers on a world stage, have dabbled with cricket games in the 3D realm, but neither have been able to recreate the intricacies of batting, bowling and fielding. Don Bradman Cricket 14 is an extremely complicated and ruthlessly challenging game. Whereas the most popular sports games tend to offer highly detailed simulation with optional adjustments to become accessible to casual players, Cricket 14 is firmly entrenched in the former. Expect to be terrible at first.
It will take you a long time to learn how to play, and even longer to play well, especially as a batsman. Even remembering the relatively initiative, yet extremely complicated, controls is no simple feat, but cricket is not a simple game, and perhaps that’s where other developers have been going wrong. I shouldn’t be able to hit every ball for six by finding an undefendable zone; Big Ant has remedied that by punishing a batsman with his wicket for momentarily losing concentration and nicking off. As a gamer, it’s inherently frustrating to see my burgeoning career junior stumble off the pitch with another single digit score, but as a cricket fan, it’s the intense level of mental concentration that makes real-world tussles so exciting. It’s this level of engagement that Big Ant has captured where other attempts have broken down. The development team's passion for cricket runs deep into all facets of Don Bradman Cricket 14, and that's the crucial ingredient for a successful sports game that cannot be manufactured.
Offering a mixture of casual matches, real-world tours, custom tournaments, online play and a fully fledged 20 year career, there’s no shortage of content to keep you occupied until Australia plays its next Test in October — although I can’t help but wonder why a game carrying the Bradman name wasn’t pushed back until the next local season.
As a cricket fan, it’s the intense level of mental concentration that makes real-world tussles so exciting. It’s this level of engagement that Don Bradman Cricket 14 has captured where other attempts have broken down.
First, you’ll need to tackle the underdone practice mode, where you can take to the nets to perfect your timing, or walk onto the field to learn how to play a cricket game like no other. With both bat and ball you’ll need to master a revolutionary dual analogue control scheme unlike anything you’ve played before.
With ball in hand, which doesn't feel like a chore, the left control stick is used to select the type of delivery; the eight directions are mapped to different deliveries, which you’ll need to remember, and naturally differ between bowler types. The face buttons are used to indicate a full, good or short delivery, and trigger the bowler’s approach. As he moves toward the crease, two timing meters need to be hit for pace by first pulling back the right stick, and then flinging it forward determining the ball’s trajectory.
Removing the pitch marker was risky, but has paid great dividends as neither bowler or batsman is entirely sure where the ball will pitch until it lands. At the same time, spin bowlers will need to rotate the left stick to put revolutions on the ball. It’s complex and alienating to newcomers — the rudimentary tutorial doesn’t help by interrupting timing practice to inundate you with text commands — but as a mechanic it works surprisingly well, and you’ll be taking 5-12 against incompetent AI in no time.
Batting is considerably harder. On the ‘rookie’ and ‘amateur’ modes it’s easy enough to slog sixes straight past the bowler, but as soon as you hit ‘pro’ and above —
the lowest Career difficulty — an average of 9, let alone 99.94, looks impressive. Batting is reliant on precise shot selection, lightning fast reflexes and impeccable timing. The left analogue stick selects either front or back foot, while the right aims and hits the ball. Against pace there’s a fraction of a second to plant your foot, select a shot and consider engaging the aggressive or unorthodox shot (reverse sweep or ramp) modifiers, making Don Bradman the most realistic and simultaneously frustrating recreation of batting in any video game. If you get one of the three wrong, you’ll sky the ball to mid-on or nick it to the keeper.
Playing casually as an international team is the fastest way to improve a shaky technique, with access to the best players and accommodating difficulty levels. However, the Career mode is brutal at the outset, essentially undoing all I had learnt playing internationally on the second easiest ‘amateur’ difficulty — timing changes so much between the difficulty tiers, moving up a grade is like playing a different game with its own skillset. Career starts you on the third level, ‘pro’, and warns that the difficulty will increase as you progress. Couple the monumental spike in challenge with a rookie 16-year-old powered by terrible stats, and it’s pretty easy to throw in the towel and go back to casual matches.
If you stick with it, the basic Career mode sends you on a journey from junior up-and-comer to eventual Test captain and IPL star over a 20 year span. Unfortunately wins are almost meaningless, aside from a minor XP boost, with no Sheffield Shield final or even any indication your state team is successful. Starting so young, you’re automatically no chance of being called into the national team for several seasons (it actually says “no chance”), especially as a batsman or allrounder.
HE'S REVIEWED THAT!
One of the coolest features is Big Ant’s Review System, which is basically DRS. You’ll need to manually appeal for LBW, run outs and some caught behind chances by pressing up on the D-pad, and if a call doesn’t go your way it can be sent to the third umpire. So far, I’ve only had one wrong LBW overturned, and occasionally seemingly plum decisions remain not out, but for the most part it accurately captures modern umpiring. Real umpires are known to make mistakes, and it’s no different in Don Bradman Cricket 14.
Almost non-existent initial career batting skills means you’re stuck in a constant rut needing to bat time and hit boundaries to earn skill points, with too few skills to really be able to do that. It’s a matter of practice and patiently building an innings, but the unbalanced difficulty between ball and bat will regularly see young all-rounders spend 30 minutes bowling in an innings, to take 5-12, and then 90 seconds batting to make two runs — actually, even if you’re an opening batsman you’ll be forced to roll the arm over. Big Ant says a patch will be released this week to resolve a glitch that has opening batsman bowl far too often, among other things, but you’ll need to restart your career.
On the subject of tinkering, I would love to see an option to start as a 22-year-old, with partly developed skills on the brink of national selection, rather than being forced to suffer through too many rookie years. There’s an option to simulate match portions until your career player is called to bowl or sent out to bat, but there’s no way to simulate entire matches, or seasons, which means you’re stuck as a struggling youngster.
Despite the career’s limitations and frustrating skewed difficulty, I take pride in my junior’s innings of 19 from 27 delivers (double figures is pretty good) and harbour a strong ambition to see him proliferate as his stats increase and the 50s start rolling in towards a promotion to the national team.
Once again, it’s The Don that becomes the star of the show; no, not him schooling the 1940s English team in a T20 wearing a baggy green, although that’s an odd sight to behold. The Don Bradman Cricket Academy is a marvellous team and player creator. Bradman is the only licensed player, and as it would be nearly impossible to license all the international teams, let alone the global T20 squads, Big Ant has made it entirely community driven. It’s easy to create a player, real or fictional, and add them to teams which can be shared online for others to download. While the visuals are hardly cutting edge, users have already made fairly realistic recreations of most current-day players, and there are some decent former heroes as well.
GENIUS LICENSING WORK AROUND?
Don Bradman Cricket 14 doesn’t officially hold player licensing. Michael Clarke is in the default Australian team as “M. Church”. However, before hitting the main menu, you’ll be prompted to “replace all teams” to their best user created options at the press of a single button. Church becomes Clarke, and looks a lot like him, and all 79 teams are replaced with some 1500 players spanning eras between the '40s to now that have been made and shared by keen fans.
For all that it’s done right, Don Bradman Cricket 14 is clearly an Australian sport game made on a tight budget. It’s very rough around the edges, with visuals and robotic player movements more akin to the PS3 and Xbox 360 four or five years ago than today. As with AFL Live, a patch is promised to fix a host of niggling issues that compound to make Cricket 14 feel a little too buggy for a game that missed its November deadline, and a lot of these little issues don’t manifest until you’ve been playing for a couple of days.
Top of the list is atrocious running between the wickets, where 2s are risky and 3s are something rarely seen at all, as players lumber towards the crease and often get run out because they either slowly walk back or just stand outside the crease. On three separate occasions, long after a single has been completed, the non-striker has been run out because he inexplicably stands outside the crease. Regular run outs are ensured not only by deplorable running, but by impossibly accurate fielding that sees almost every throw, even from the deepest player in the outfield, hit the stumps. For all the realism ingrained in batting and bowling, fielding and running between the wickets falls into the clunky, unpolished trap that doomed past cricket games.
Other little things start to add up the more you play. Bowlers randomly decide to switch between around and over the wicket without command, the commentators make wildly inaccurate calls and there’s the occasional out decision after the umpire has called a no ball free hit, as well as some baffling AI decisions.
Similarly, the positives of numerous camera angles are undone by the shocking lack of a radar. You can look around the field before taking guard, but there’s still no way to know if the ball has passed the fielder until the lethargic camera eventually swings around, costing you the chance to come back for a second or ensuring a runout. I appreciate that a mini-map goes against the realism mantra so heavily prevalent in most of what Cricket 14 has accomplished, but for the sake of enjoyment there needs to be a better way to know if you’ve hit the ball in a gap much sooner, even if it’s an optional feature.
The Final Verdict
Don Bradman Cricket 14 is the best cricket game I’ve ever played. It was fairly good back in April, but with most of the deal-breaking issues fixed in version 2.0 (via a July patch on PS3 and Xbox 360), it's now a must play for any cricket diehard. Cricket 14 tackles the intricacies of bowling and batting better than any game before it. The cricket academy makes for a strong online community, and while there's still a learning curve, the updated version is much more accessible to wider skill levels. Don Bradman Cricket 14 has more than a claim to the definitive cricket game -- it is the definitive cricket game.
NOTE: We originally award Don Bradman Cricket 14 at score of 7.0/10 in April. However, taking in consideration the recent changes, we have revised it to a score of 8.0/10.