With substance already there, cricket updates its style.
After three summers primarily targeting Australians, Big Ant Studios is back with a full cricket offering that promotes England to the top of the order. It’s the first in the series to launch during the English season, and as the official game of the 2019 Ashes, recreates the iconic British grounds, which have previously been the domain of the faithful creator community.
Both the men’s and women’s England and Australia Cricket teams are fully licensed, complete with the fantastic motion capture we first saw in 2017’s Ashes Cricket, Test, ODI and T20 uniforms, and full sponsorships. The Australian license extends to the six state teams, but I can’t see any of the Big Bash outfits, while the UK domestic circuit requires community intervention.
The cricket itself was solid in 2017, so the 2019 revamp focuses on presentation. Outside of the titular mode, Ashes Cricket ran into a generic grind, as matches blended together with identical cutscenes and a dreary announcer who questioned your commitment to playing a full career. Across the board, Cricket 19 is immediately more engaging. The prematch interactions, while still set on repeat, are far more lively and inspiring, as are the interactions between players. You’ll see Joe Root support his bowler after being hit for consecutive boundaries, and players toss the ball around enthusiastically as they take to the field at the start of a session.
It takes the next step in mimicking a real broadcast, but technical foibles hold it back from making a meaningful improvement. While gameplay runs perfectly, playing on PS4, the cutscenes and replays that surround it stutter as the frame rate drops substantially. Instead of watching the drinks break or admiring a textbook cover drive, the lag encourages mashing the skip button to get back to what Cricket 19 does best — making runs and taking wickets.
On the pitch, batting and bowling are largely untouched from Ashes Cricket (read all about it, it’s basically the same). It was great then and it’s still great now, with slightly smoother animations. There is still the option to play with “classic controls” from the older Don Bradman games, and those of use with ingrained muscle memory couldn’t be more thankful, while the “standard controls” should be easier to learn for newcomers. There is an abundance of replay and stat tacking options, and hidden deep within the settings is a first person pro mode; something cricket fans always ask for, but don’t really want, as the concept doesn’t translate to better gameplay. For the most part, the ball physics are impressive, and like its predecessor, I feel in complete control over shot placement and confident I can pick the gaps between fielders.
It’s finding those gaps that has changed, as AI behaviour has been significantly improved. Fielders in previous games were either superheroes able to cover an impossible distance to take a catch, or incompetent plodders unable to stop a ball within easy reach. Cricket 19 finally gives them a brain, at least on PS4, as they seemingly know when to wait for the ball to arrive and when to sprint in to stop a single becoming a cheeky two; and they do it within a reasonable ability.
Likewise, their tactical prowess is greatly improved. There’s clearly a formula to a fully simulated innings, but if you choose to bat with the AI — and there is a handy option to automatically skip to your career player so you don’t have to — they have a greater sense of match awareness, even if it’s not perfect; no more AI hitters blocking balls at the death of a T20. Bowlers and captains clearly have a plan, and evidently think Steve Smith is vulnerable to the short ball, as I received a barrage of about 30 in a row, before the pitch indicator finally lit up green. While there is some scope for improvement here, the wild field placements seem a thing of the past, as captains mostly react appropriately to the situation. Along with the difficulty for batting and bowling, the AI has its own setting, which may come into play once you have mastered their default tactics. It’s great to be able to increase the tactical challenge without also having to make batting and bowling unforgiving.
Outside of the official Ashes mode, which follows the five Test series from Edgbaston to The Oval, the lack of licensing once again replies upon the cunning Cricket Academy. This creation suite allows all of the generic teams and players to be replaced with “the best” community made versions, which just happen to mirror reality. As you would expect, the official versions of players are a class above, but there is a dedicated community that makes very accurate teams, and without them we wouldn’t have a truly international cricket series.
Unfortunately, creations from Ashes Cricket don’t carry across. That means the top creators are forced to redo all of their work, and at launch the “get best” feature doesn’t actually work, as there are no “best” teams; although, there are some high quality teams already available. However, I can see why Big Ant went this way. The old teams are out of date and would dominate the leaderboards over newer renditions. To continue to work as it has done in the past, it’s not only up to a select few to actually make the global players and teams, but early adopters to find, download and rate those teams so future players can easily replace all of their placeholder franchises.
The fully licensed Australia and England teams extend to other game modes, including the 2019 World Cup wearing a fake moustache, the World Championship. So long as you have replaced the default teams in the Cricket Academy, you can play the World Cup in everything but name with the proper Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies squads. By default, the One Day World Championship just happens to replicate the fixture of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup. There are also options to play men’s and women’s T20 World Cups…I mean World Championships, and the Test World Championship, which kicks off in earnest with the Ashes this year.
We haven’t been able to invest much time online, where the slower ball looks to continue to dominate as it has done in the past, but it’s the Career mode that has always provided longevity. With improved AI and cricket’s fascination with individual heroics amongst a team result, the single-player experience is where Cricket 19 shines. Once again, choose to start as a rookie in club cricket or assume the career of an established player like Jason Roy or Usman Khawaja. The new addition is perks, which allow you to unlock more than just XP for your player as he or she progresses. It may take a full 20 year career to see how these truly affect proceedings, but early impressions suggest they do make you a little faster between the wickets or more likely to be chosen for a T20 if you are a white ball specialist.
Competitions, Tours and the newcomer, Scenarios, are all at the mercy of community support. Big Ant has included a selection of simple scenarios to complete, such as hitting 18 sixes or reaching the score target, but these won’t take long. Theoretically, Scenarios could become the game’s most enthralling mode and recapture some of the biggest moments in cricket history, but only if the community puts in the time and effort.
As with all Big Ant cricket games, post-launch support is promised to fix some of the technical issues, but I must say, Cricket 19 is the most complete of any of their games at launch, at least on PS4 (see below for Switch). The main gripes are the frame rate drops, long loading times and the horrendous robotic Michael Slater, Mel Jones and James Taylor commentary, which isn’t just bad, but continues to be wrong; if Slater proclaims “England has won” the safe bet is they didn’t.
Cricket 19 on Switch
I have been saying Big Ant’s cricket would be a fantastic fit for Switch since the console launched, and it’s finally here. At least, the foundations for a strong game are here, as it’s the complete game with all features and modes. Even the visuals are relatively close to the PS4 version, only losing some of the grass and lighting effects, as well as some detail in the licensed players, but it’s not especially noticeable in handheld mode, where the smaller screen and lower resolution cover the cracks.
However, we were unable to properly test the Switch version at launch, as the crucial day one patch hasn’t made, well, day one. The Cricket Academy doesn’t work properly at the moment, and the improved AI is undone by an odd fielder glitch that causes them to take three steps, stop and repeat. At the moment, I find handheld mode almost unplayable because the ball is so small, which defeats the purpose of playing on Switch. However, this current build doesn’t include a coloured pitch marker, and that eye-catching green, yellow, red or blue circle showing where the ball will land could make all the difference.
The frame rate issues during cutscenes, loading and replays are much, much worse on Switch. It’s unflattering on PS4, but aggravating on Switch. Playing in docked mode, as many of these scenes involve a camera panning around an oval ground, I actually felt a little nauseous as it jarringly moved across the ground. Hopefully the patch will lesson the blow, otherwise some of these non-gameplay segments should be removed from the Switch version.
As with the PS4 build, actually playing cricket is largely unaffected by these technical issues. Where it counts, batting and bowling, Cricket 19 on Switch runs well, aside from the fielder issue, and the odd glimmer of barely noticeable slow down. I had worried that the Joy-Cons would be too small for a long session using classic controls, but they perform admirably, as does the Pro Controller. As it currently stands, I wouldn’t recommend the Switch version over another platform. But if these issues are sorted out, and handheld mode becomes viable with a proper ball indicator, it could become my platform of choice. We will update this section once the launch patch has been applied to Switch.
That’s just cricket
Like Ashes Cricket before it, Cricket 19 takes a good thing and touches it up. Its strength is definitely when bat meets ball, which is largely the same as Ashes Cricket, but its focus has been on enhancing everything around that. While there’s still room for improvement, once again it has topped itself to become the best cricket game on the market. The fully licensed Ashes mode is fantastic, the quasi World Cup delivers a faithful alternative to the real deal, and the Career mode will keep you invested long term.
Cricket 19 was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4 and Nintendo Switch, as provided by Big Ant Studios. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.