After a well-intentioned yet ultimately disappointing detour into the NBA Jam-inspired, super-powered swashbuckling of 2018’s Big Bash Boom, Big Ant Studios has made a confident return to the more traditional cricket game crease with Cricket 19. Using the core engine and feature set of 2017’s Ashes Cricket as a base, Cricket 19 breathes life into its presentation, smartens up its AI, and bolts on a compelling new scenario mode, making it look and feel more authentic than a broken-in Baggy Green — complete with a few frayed edges.
Although it’s dropped the ‘Ashes’ brand from its moniker, Cricket 19 is still the officially licensed game of this year’s contest between Australia and England and thus all of the men’s and women’s squads from each country remain in this year’s game. Joining the existing Australian grounds from Ashes Cricket are the five English grounds to be featured in the 2019 series, each of them realised with convincing detail from the vibrant red slab that is The Point at Old Trafford, right down to the Father Time windvane that’s perched high above Lord’s.
Still, it’s Aussie fans who arguably get the best end of the bargain as far as licensing goes, as all of the Australian domestic squads are also included on the disc. If you want the real names and faces in the English county teams, or indeed any of the other international and domestic teams, stadia or competitions from around the globe, you’re going to have to either create them yourself or pull them in from those shared in the community. Happily, even at launch some high quality community creations are already starting to populate the Big Ant servers.
Cricket 19 looks and feels more like the real thing.
There’s been a clear effort to give matches played in Cricket 19 a better sense of occasion, elevating them above the slightly sterile affairs found in Ashes Cricket. International contests open with national anthems, covers are wheeled off the pitch before play, centuries are celebrated with more verve, and oftentimes after a bowler has been dispatched to the boundary a close-up camera will show his captain following him back to the top of his mark to offer a few words of encouragement. Additionally, the highlight reels of wickets and boundaries that screen at the end of the innings bring a new level of authenticity to the broadcast presentation. Cricket 19 looks and feels more like the real thing, although it’s a shame the low framerates of these interstitial cutscenes means they run about as sluggishly as a Chris Gayle single.
Going Down Swinging
Speaking of singles, Cricket 19 is a much better cricket game for those of us who like to play on our lonesome since its AI seems to have greatly improved match awareness and nous, although admittedly it’s most noticeable on the batting side of the equation. Computer controlled batsmen will take singles off the last ball of an over to keep the strike when they’re out in the middle with a tailender, and if the run rate required during a chase gets up over double figures they’re very much inclined to hit the gas and swing for the fences. As a result it feels eminently more gratifying to build up an over of dot balls against the AI and then uproot their off-stump when they try an outlandish shot in an attempt to manufacture a much-needed boundary.
Cricket 19’s AI behaviour is certainly far more dynamic than the one-dimensional computer-controlled opponents of previous games.
Improvements to the AI bowling, however, are more of a mixed bag. While the computer does seem to bowl to a plan at times, sending down an over of sustained short balls or gradually homing in on your pads, it’s still not entirely stripped of the more erratic behaviour of previous games such as swapping over and around the wicket from ball to ball, which can fracture the illusion of realism at times. Still on balance, Cricket 19’s AI behaviour is certainly far more dynamic than the one-dimensional computer-controlled opponents of previous games, and I found my successes in the career mode to be all the more satisfying as a result.
The career mode’s new perks system also gives you a little bit more scope to sculpt your created player. A new perk slot is added for every 10 levels you progress, allowing you to layer on more specialised skills on top of the points you spend on standard attributes such as footwork and bowling speed. The perk system adds a welcome wrinkle to player customisation, from boosts to yorker accuracy to buffs that slow your stamina loss in hotter playing conditions, although the direct benefits for each perk aren’t always clear. For example, the Attacker batting perk boosts your ability to play attacking shots with the bat at the cost of your defensive rating, which makes sense. On the other hand, the Strong Focus supposedly gives a ‘moderate increase to your Judgement ability’, which is baffling since nowhere on the skill screen is it explained what exactly Judgement means or how it affects your player.
While the career mode lasts for up to 20 in-game years, the new scenario mode could potentially last your actual lifetime. Like everything else in the game, scenarios can be created, tweaked and shared among the community, and the possibilities are near endless. Exact match states can be replicated to the most minute of scoreboard details, so if you wanted to return to the start of the fourth day of the second test of the 2005 Ashes series with Australia requiring 107 runs for victory with only two wickets in hand, you can, allowing you to relive history as the Poms or rewrite it as the Aussies.
The new scenario mode could potentially last your actual lifetime.
As a consequence of the scenario mode being so robust, it’s admittedly also somewhat fiddly to use, and you might not have the patience to sit down and plug in two team sheets’ worth of runs scored and balls faced in order to craft a specific set of circumstances. But the same is true of the existing player, team, and various other creation tools in the game, and their imposing complexity hasn’t stopped others from making some truly exceptional creations in the past, so I anticipate many classic run chases and various other challenges to be shared in due course.
In the history of Big Ant’s cricket game output, Cricket 19 arrives as the most fully formed of the lot at launch, but that’s not to say it’s not entirely without its issues. Ball physics are impressive for the most part, but I find that outswinging deliveries are more likely to take the inside edge of the bat than the outside, which seems unnatural. Elsewhere the button prompt for the catching mechanic has the habit of disappearing offscreen at times, resulting in a higher number of dropped chances. DRS replays occasionally fail leaving you in the dark on how the third umpire arrived at his decision, and once again Michael Slater’s fragmented and often inaccurate interjections seem less like cricket commentary and more like a prank being played at the intercom of a McDonald’s drive through.
But reviewing a Big Ant cricket game at launch is a bit like giving a verdict on a three-course meal before the dessert’s been served. Based off the developer’s history of post-release patching and the community of creators that have previously injected their games with supplemental content that sidestep the lack of licensing, I feel confident that Cricket 19 will only get better in the weeks and months ahead. For right now, Cricket 19 provides a strong and fully flexible foundation to build upon.