It was about eighteen years ago the first time I really got stuck into any cricket game which was Brian Lara Cricket for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. Times have changed dramatically since then and now developer Big Ant Studios, the team behind Don Bradman Cricket, and the Rugby league series are back in 2017 with a game based on and fully licenced for the most historical event in world cricket, The Ashes.
Every eighteen months or so, two of the mega powers in world cricket go head to head in a battle for the small but most historic of prizes. After Australia had defeated the English cricket team on home soil for the first time in 1882, an English Newspaper stated that it was “the death of English Cricket and the body would be cremated with the ashes taken to Australia.” A few weeks later in Australia, on Christmas Eve of the same year; English player Ivo Bligh was presented with a small urn as a symbol of the ashes of English Cricket, a prize which he had vowed not to return to England without.
Once loaded for the first time, there is no doubting what the main play mode is as the home screen is mainly taking up by The Ashes match type; the full five- test series with official dates and rates. If played through correctly you can experience the series in almost real time, bar the dinner breaks and bowler/batsman changeovers. You also have the option to play through the women’s series as well if this is your preference instead of the men’s competition. A nice little extra, is when you boot up your game and head to the restroom or to make a cup of tea, by the time you return a match will have begun in demo mode, this is nothing unique until you realise you can join in on either team which presents a good way to have a little warm-up before getting serious for the session ahead.
The Ashes isn’t the only game type within the game though, you can choose from a casual quick match that lets you choose between all the usual cricket modes like Twenty20, One Day Internationals and many more. There is a fully featured zero to hero career mode, Tours, unlicensed versions of major international competitions including the Indian Premier League, Cricket World Cup and over fifty more pre-set unlicensed tournaments. Training gives you an enhanced tutorial (which I highly recommend, if only to get the new and improved controls down,) as well as including other customisable features for refining your batting and bowling skills. Finally, you come to the Cricket Academy area which lets you alter everything in the game to suit your own needs, and I mean everything.
The Cricket Academy is a customisation suite which lets you create full teams, players, logos and stadiums. I can’t stress enough about how impressed I was with this area of the game. The levels of customisation you can go into through the Academy is second to none, from the enhanced Stadium creator that lets you build everything from the stands to the car park and local scenery, to the player, team and equipment creator to fit all your custom needs. If you are someone who plays or follows cricket at any level from International to the local village leagues, you can recreate it all here. Once you have spent time making your teams, logos, uniforms and whatever else you want, you can then use all this in the in-depth and lengthy career mode.
Career begins with the option of creating a male or female player or choosing a star player from any of the licenced Ashes players or custom players that make up the bulk of the game. After creating a player, you are then able to set everything from batting hand, to bowling animations as well as the looks of equipment and everything else you would expect and then more. Once past the initial creation screens you then need to choose your international allegiance, this is an important choice as you will start your career playing for a local town or village that lies within or close to the county/state you have selected from your international choice. Here I chose England as my country, Durham as my County and I was shocked to find the little village of Belford, Northumberland that I grew up in to select as my starting team, (although there has not been a Cricket team in the village for about fifteen years.) Here you can fully customise teams from the ground up if you wish, or import your previously created teams from the afore-mentioned Academy. You are also given the option to download the highest rated custom teams from the community creations and add them straight into your game. Now you will play through your career, working yourself up from your local town or village through regional competition to get noticed by your county, before ultimately getting selected for test matches by your country.
There is no doubting that Ashes Cricket is definitely in the quantity over quality ballpark, as despite the previous praise there is still plenty to be improved on within the game. Graphically the game is a good representation of the sport if not a little rough around the edges at times, although not on the levels of other re-occurring and bigger budget sports titles from EA and 2K. There is screen tearing on cutscenes, and most facial scans of licenced players do look good, but there is a very noticeable lack of character and emotion behind the eyes of players, this give a distinct look of empty stares and lifelessness that really reminds you that this is only a game.
Commentary has never been the greatest in previous cricket titles and this is sadly true again here. I encountered many times where the commentary team, of former Aussie and English players Michael Slater, Mel Jones and James Taylor, was not actually chatting about what was happening on screen. I had bowled a maiden over (no runs lost) only for the commentary to explain that it had been very expensive to the bowling team, you would hear remarks about the conditions being very poor for play, only for the other commentator to contradict and say conditions are perfect and saying good morning in the afternoon etc… You do get the feeling though, that with a better budget and a little bit more care and attention that Big Ant Studios could really polish these issues out in future versions and build on the foundations that Ashes Cricket 2017 really brings to the table.
Major improvements to the player controls let you play with much more confidence than ever before and may just be the best cricket system on console to date. Smoother animations and better responsiveness give you a much greater feel than in the Don Bradman games and the addition of multiple difficulty settings for batting and bowling lets you customise settings to your own abilities and needs. There are still a few issues to iron out though as many times I was run out by the wicketkeeper because the batsman didn’t seem to know how to keep his bat in the safe area, made all the more frustrating that I had no control over this once the delivery had been made. A simple quick time action would be a good addition here to keep you on your toes and I don’t feel it would break immersion.
Overall, Ashes Cricket is a really nice looking and feeling sports title, and an overall good representation of the sport. Despite its budget constraints being noticeable at times, this is a recommended buy for sporting game fans and a must if you follow the sport itself, and a great foundation for the studio going forward. Ashes will never receive the numbers of the FIFA and Madden behemoths, but at times can give you just as much fun whether you’re at home in four-player couch co-op or taking on friends or foes over Xbox Live.