Gaming history is full of famous rivalries. Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo versus Sega, Amiga against Atari, all the way back to fans of the mighty Amstrad CPC464 bickering with the flashy proponents of the Commodore 64. Gamers will surely understand the power of a good rivalry and there are few more heated and long-running than the Ashes.
Dating back to 1882, when Australia first beat England on English soil, the event is commemorated through perhaps the smallest trophy in professional sport. The size of the trophy is hugely out of proportion to the ferocity of the rivalry, and this year’s Ashes is set to be as fiercely fought as ever, with World One Day Champions England facing an Australian side still smarting from the ball fixing scandal, even if all the guilty parties are now back from their bans.
So as today sees the first balls are bowled in this year’s Ashes series, it’s time to look at Cricket 19 and see how well the Official Game of the Ashes convey the excitement and intricacies of the noblest of sports.
When you first load up Cricket 19 you’ll be treated to some likenesses of real world players ripped straight from the uncanny valley. The quality of the graphics doesn’t quite match up to the attempt to replicate them and the initial impression feels like a game from a few years ago because of this. This doesn’t make a huge difference in game as you don’t spend a lot of time close up on players’ faces, but it’s not the best first impression.
That being said, the player customisation options are incredibly detailed and you could spend hours perfecting the eyebrows and jawlines of your avatar. You can just as easily spend a dozen seconds creating some hideous 8ft homunculus, if you so wished. However, if you’re intending to play the main career mode, I wasn’t able to transfer my monsterpiece into the mode and settled for a more generic figure the second time around.
There are a huge variety of modes to choose from, and the package as a whole is very impressive. Tests, 50 over, 20/20 and custom innings are all available, and you can select from a dizzying number of national and local teams, even if in reality most players will focus on the main ten or so Test nations. Alongside the main game types, there are numerous cups and leagues to set up, challenges, and more.
The crème de la crème, of course, is the career mode in which you can create your own rookie player and take them all the way to the pinnacle of the game. Performing particular tasks will see your player level up, improve their skills and unlock specific perks that offer benefits in various aspects of your play. The RPG aspects here fit perfectly with the number crunching that makes cricket so fascinating.
Player names and likenesses are officially licensed for the English and Australian teams, both men and women, and there’s a bunch of licensed domestic teams as well, but big hitters like India, New Zealand and South Africa are not. Getting around that is the comprehensive creative mode that lets you make your own players, teams, tournaments, and challenges. These can be shared online, and there are already player created challenges that replicate the incredible World Cup Final, and I am sure that the upcoming Ashes series will also be reproduced by fans.
One of the long running problems with cricket games over the generations has been the imbalance between batting and bowling. The former is almost always far more enjoyable and engaging than the latter, but while this is still the case to some degree in Cricket 19, the bowling is refreshingly complex. The various types of delivery and differences of line and length have to be juggled for each ball and there is clearly potential construct some proper overs. As always though, it sometimes feels that the CPU player doesn’t play by the same rules and so strategy doesn’t seem as useful as it might be in multiplayer. Fortunately, bowling can be simulated if you don’t want to spend the hours on the mode and wish to concentrate on the batting.
Batting itself feels deep and complex, with a wide range of positions and shots to play with. While it is possible to slog everything on lower difficulties, any mistimed shot can easily get you caught out. On higher difficulties, you have to actually select the right shot for each ball and there is a real sense of achievement to be had from grinding out an innings. Equally, matching the shots to the player’s strengths is key, as trying to be aggressive with a defensive player won’t end well. Playing well does use a daunting amount of buttons, and will need a lot of practice to succeed.
Fielding is also player controlled, with catching opportunities switching to a first person minigame and throwing at the wickets being the main highlights. Obviously this relies on you playing rather than simulating the bowling innings, but goes a long way to giving an overall sense of the sport.