Slowly but steadily, Big Ant has built up a reputation. They don’t sell millions of copies but everyone knows that if you are looking for a Cricket game, it’s going to be Big Ant. With Cricket 19, Big Ant brings us their latest Cricket Sim, replete with licensed English and Australian teams, a robust creation suite, and the good old fun of hitting sixes. All of this just in time for the ICC Cricket World Cup too.
Story & Narrative
I know what’s a story and narrative section doing in a Sports game. Well, every match is a story in itself. And that’s what Big Ant has doubled down on this time. The presentation has moved closed towards an actual cricket broadcast with highlight showcase book-ending the actual sessions and/or innings. Each game even opens with a sizzle reel of sorts, with dramatic cuts and background music to hype you up for the ensuing encounters.
Of course, if individual matches are too small for you can go on tours which can have multiple series employing multiple formats and can last up to 6 months. Much like the Play Now mode, Tours can let you tailor teams, the schedule, and even the conditions, perfect for setting up a challenge custom made according to your needs, spread across an itinerary of your choosing.
And if that doesn’t float your boat, then Cricket 19 offers you the Career Mode, where you can either take control of your favorite player and build on his/her fearsome reputation. Or you can build a player from scratch, give him a name, a couple of roles (Mine is a right-handed top order batsman who bowls off-spin and has a sleeve for a tattoo and a mustache for fun) , and take him through the rigors of starting from the grass-roots to finally maybe captaining your national side in all 3 formats. This little romp can last as long as 20 in-game years.
This is the mode that sucks you in. Right from the start, as you create your player, select the design of his helmet, his gloves, his pads, his tattoos and of course his bat. Every match that you play, you earn experience points which you can then use to improve different facets of your game, and unlike other gaming sims, the changes that you make to your player have visible effects in the game. What I would have liked though is Unlockable Content by leveling up instead of all of it being available to you from the start. For eg. I would have loved to unlock the “Rick Ponting” Kookaburra bat after scoring a hundred, it would just make the grinding loop much more rewarding.
That small complaint notwithstanding, whether you got out cheaply, or if you just played the innings of your life, the Career Mode makes you want to play “Just One More Match” either to get out of a rut or to continue and not waste good form. The Career Mode is also a good primer for the rest of the game, and while the threshold for failures is low in Career Mode, you can definitely prepare yourself for much harsher challenges that you would face Online or in Scenarios.
But say, you don’t want to commit yourself to 20 years of in-game time and hours of real life. In the same vein of each match is a story in itself, Big Ant has also introduced the Scenario Mode. The scenarios are pre-set custom built match situations, which have much deeper objective than just winning the match. Granted that most of these situations involve the England and Australian team (since they are the only one which is officially licensed) but it drives home an important point. Sports is not just the game itself, it’s the moments which make them special. So you can put yourself in the shoes of the England team and recreate those iconic moments from the summer of 2005 Ashes. Or maybe you can rewrite history, by scripting a victory after being bundled out for 67 as Australians in a test match.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Of course, scenarios that just involve England and Australia are not enough. What if you are an Indian cricket fan, and want to recreate that famous NatWest run chase from 2003. Well, you can, you can custom built an entire scenario from scratch and replicate any scoreboard. But it won’t be fun playing Yogroj Sang instead of Yuvraj I hear you say, well let’s just say the Player Creation Mode takes care of that. There is also an online community page, where you can download the best version of the Indian Cricket captain if your own creative skills are bad, and boy has some contributors did a good job.
Players, jerseys, logos, bats, line-ups, even stadiums can be created in Cricket 19 and uploaded to the community to be shared with fellow cricket lovers. This aspect of the game is so deep and satisfying that it’s almost an entire game in itself.
But really, all of this close of life looking models, just add more polish to a game which is mechanically robust. The last Big Ant cricket game that I played was Don Bradman 17, and back then I had thought that the game got Cricket controls unlike any other. Rotating the right analog spin to add turn. Pulling the analog stick to initiate a jump and pushing up to release when controlling a fast bowler. The controls were complicated at first, but after a time they started making sense as a cricket fan. They were intuitive not mechanically but through the lens of cricket.
In Cricket 19 though, a more standard control scheme has been introduced. A control scheme which is much easier to pick up, but is perhaps not as ingenious as the last one. Of course, longtime fans can revert back to the Classic keymapping, but I would rather Big Ant stuck to their guns when it came to controls. Cricket shouldn’t be fun to play, it should be difficult to master. They had a good thing going and they let it go.
While the change in controls has me luke-warm, the upgraded AI and the custom difficulty settings are welcome additions. Now instead of just 1 blanket difficulty setting for the entire match, you can make batting easier, while the fielding proceeds at a legendary level. This encourages you to find your own sweet spot and lets you ramp up your skills at your pace. So if you Steven Smith has no trouble bowling but is struggling with his timing, don’t worry and just slide the batting difficulty down a notch.
Visuals, Sound & Performance
As close as those models of Steven Smith and Alaistar Cook look to their real self, Cricket 19 really disappoints when it comes to graphics. It looks decidedly later PS3, or early PS4, in fact, I don’t think a lot of headway has been made graphically since Big Ant released Don Bradman Cricket 14, way back in (you guessed right) 2014.
What the game loses in graphics fidelity, it makes up for it with very realistic animations when it comes to the game itself. Unlike FIFA, or other team games, Cricket is played with a very zoomed in view of the players, which means even subtle mannerism like backlift, bowling actions, and even follow through are subconsciously noticed when playing. Cricket 19, does a good job of it mostly, with players actually looking they got beaten hook line and sinker with an Armball, or clearly flummoxed with a yorker. Having said that I would still like more variations in batting and bowling style. I mean there are just 4 ways to deliver an off-spinner, are you kidding me?
Of course, the expected odd cases of superman fielders and funny graphics glitches return, but none of them are as fatal or game breaking as to discourage you from enjoying the game if at all they make it even more fun. What is not fun though, are the long loading times. Big Ant does try to hide them using all its bells and whistles, but if you are impatient and pressing continue to get to the action as soon as possible, you will be staring at the loading animation a lot. Like a lot.
One of the biggest leaps that Cricket 19 has made though is in the sound department. We finally have proper songs (with lyrics) playing in the background instead of those generic jingles that felt as if they were made in the 16-bit era. Even the commentary has had a facelift with Justin Langer being the voice of Cricket 19 along with some notable commentators. Though you can’t say that Cricket 19 has the best commentary ever, and it won’t be too long before repetitions start appearing. Commentaries in sports games are as old a problem as any other and we still haven’t solved it yet. One can only hope.
Cricket 19 appeals lie in its universality. If you like Cricket, and you like video games, there is something here that will hold your attention and keep you tied to the screen for hours. Even with all its rough edges and slow main-stream sell-out, Cricket 19 is able to create that feeling of “One More Match” when you play it. Just buy it, on the platform of your choice, you won’t regret it.