There’s no doubt about it: the Ashes is the biggest spectacle in the world of leather-on-willow, yes-we-have-a-break-for-tea, professional cricket. Step forward Don Bradman Cricket dev Big Ant Studios (they’re Aussies - we’ll try not to hold that against them…), for their first foray into the light of a - at least partially - licensed sports game, with the creatively titled Ashes Cricket.
In a bid to reach a wider audience, Big Ant has implemented two separate control systems; Classic (from DBC) uses the analogue sticks to control foot movement and bat, then line and length when bowling, whilst Standard primarily utilises button presses, with the left stick used to aim in a more arcadey set-up.
The latter is great for an introduction, but you’ll find batting becomes ridiculously easy (Big Ant’s cricket games are usually hardcore in their difficulty) with balls often sailing over the fence. We scored at at least 10 runs per over in every test match we played using standard batting controls, with a lowest team total of 369 all out, and that was on the hardest difficulty setting... Comparatively, getting the same total on DBC17 on easy difficulty took a lot of patience and luck.
What fun it is to have your whole team scream "OWZAT?" at the press of a button.
When it comes to bowling, the simple button press set-up of the Standard control method certainly helps with accuracy, so we'd suggest giving it an extended go before switching to the analogue stick-led Classic controls.
The final - and perhaps most welcome - addition to this edition of virtual cricket is the excellent use of motion capture. DBC17 had some hideous animations for certain strokes (cut shot, we’re looking at you), and every bowler delivered the ball in the exact same way. Well, this is no longer the case, as Big Ant has enlisted the help of Australian stars like Glenn Maxwell, to ensure that batting is more fluid and picturesque, and bowling is more convincing.
There are welcome returns too with the lovely catching mechanic - a sort of QTE event where you match a reticule up with the moving ball to complete the catch - user-controlled appealing (what fun it is to have your whole team scream “OWZAT?” at the press of a button…), robust academy creation suite (players, teams, logos, stadia), and the career mode time-sink. The latter is especially splendid, as you take your player from club cricket all the way to Ashes glory, giving the game massive longevity.
Unfortunately though, it’s not all good news for Big Ant. Bugs and glitches are a bit of a problem here; fielders warp randomly into place, pitch cracks vanish sporadically, catches are taken with one hand whilst the player looks in a different direction, and perhaps worse - and we’ve had this happen three times already - you’ll get someone out only to find that they are still batting next ball, seemingly oblivious to what previously occurred! It’s here where Big Ant really fall down, but knowing their history for swift patches, we imagine this’ll be put straight soon.
To add further fuel to the disappointment fire, however, we must mention the commentary. The audio in general is much, much better this time around - the ball hitting the wicket keeper’s gloves is particularly meaty and satisfying, as is the inclusion of the Barmy Army's chants - but even Michael Slater’s presence can’t save the commentary. Phrases are regularly behind the action, or are off the mark entirely. It’s amusing, but it lets the on-screen action down.
So, as we reach stumps on the final day, we find ourselves largely impressed with this latest cricket offering from Big Ant. Online matches might be hard to find, and sure, we would’ve adored a classic Ashes scenario mode - imagine Edgbaston 2005, or Headingly 1981, or Adelaide 2006, etc. - but the core experience is excellent. For a sport starved of quality video games, Ashes Cricket stands with urn raised, celebrating victory. Take our word for it, chums: this is a must-have for lovers of the gentleman’s game.