The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 is underway, and there are now more cricket video games than you can keep track of. However, the one cricket game you should play this season is surprisingly the one which has no flashy licenses, no real player names (out of the box at least), and none of that almost TV-like polish that typifies many of Electronic Arts' forays into sports games such as FIFA. The game to play is Don Bradman Cricket, released on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It is the anti-thesis of cricket video games, but it still delivers both for gamers and cricket fans.
In spite of its many follies, it's the rare sports game that lures you into the zone of thinking "just one more over" and then you find yourself in front of your TV half awake at six in the morning. It expertly traps you into this cycle, tempting you into just a little more, until you sacrifice any semblance of a life outside it.
How does it manage all this? By being unpredictable. Most cricket games that have followed Codemasters' excellent Brian Lara Cricket '96 have used the same basic control scheme. Bowlers and batsmen both have a limited selection of strokes to choose from - the system is more fluid than menu based combat in Japanese role-playing games, but it still boils down to a scientific game of picking moves and counter-moves. These games get predictable all too quickly, and because of this, they get boring quickly too.
That is not to say Don Bradman lacks a set of rules. But here, they're camouflaged thanks to the game's controls. In most cricket games, the controls are made explicit, and this reduces the game to just a few options, and a kind of rock-paper-scissors battle between the batsmen and bowlers as you try and pick the correct counter to trump the opposition. What Don Bradman Cricket does is hide the controls, and make the game feel more organic.
Take bowling for instance. In other games, you move a cursor on screen with your controller, and use the buttons to determine what type of delivery it will be. You get to define the amount of swing, spin, or seam a delivery has, and then you start to bowl. In Don Bradman Cricket, you'll be using both right and left analogue sticks to set up your delivery. Prior to landing a ball, you'll choose your angle with the left stick, and decide on its length with a button press - the only use of a button mind you - full, short, or the all but rare good length delivery. As your bowler runs up to the crease, you can add swing, seam, or spin with the left stick, and release the ball with the right stick. It might sound like a lot but it's rather easy to pull off. And unlike other games where you're just selecting from a menu of presets, the analogue nature of the action makes it feel like you are bowling. There are indicators to prevent you from overstepping, or if you're bowling too full or too short, but these are just there to guide you a little - you remain in control and that means that there is no guarantee that you'll get a wicket by selecting all the right options.
This makes the gameplay feel real and not manufactured. By substituting the seemingly precise, almost scientific nature of bowling with its many metres and markers in other games, and turning it into an art of sorts, there's a sense of the unexpected built in to each delivery that makes bowling in Don Bradman Cricket surprisingly fun.
The same applies to the batting. Even here, there's smart use of analogue sticks to aid in foot placement and shot selection. Before the bowler gets into his run up, you can spot the field from the batsman's eyes using the right stick, and adjust your footing at the crease with the left. The act of batting itself is dependent on these two sticks as well - with the left stick letting you shuffle your footing, and the right stick commandeering shot selection and shot direction. While you can tap a button for a slog shot there's very little that can be narrowed into a science. It makes the game's many modes a joy to play due to the seemingly random nature of the proceedings.
The fielding aspect of Don Bradman Cricket is where it is the most similar to its contemporaries, employing the use of buttons to throw the ball and triggers to sprint. Even here there's smart usage of the analogue stick, with the need to point the right stick towards the ball till it is safely in your hands.
There are also a lot of different game modes to enjoy. From your bog standard standalone matches to tournament formats like the World Cup, they're all here and are a treat to play. And you can play them with a roster of your choosing thanks to the Don Bradman Academy. When you fire up the game for the first time, you'll be prompted to download the latest squads made by the community. This nifty feature lets you play with teams that have real player names. Similarly, you can use the Don Bradman Academy to create your own winning eleven and share it with other players.
This aside, the jewel in the crown is the career mode. Borrowing from FIFA's Be A Pro mode, you'll commandeer the career of a 16-year old cricketer with the dreams of captaining his country. Along the way you'll play through a host of matches at first class level, and if you're good enough, you'll warrant a call to the national squad. This time around you can simulate matches unlike last year's edition that had you forfeiting them if you were not interested playing in specific formats.
On the topic of last year's edition, Don Bradman Cricket 14, there's very little different barring the aforementioned ability to simulate career mode matches. Sure it looks better thanks to the added horsepower of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, making it almost on par with the PC version. The lightning effects appear improved as well. This time around the frame rate is largely stable compared to what it was on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 where it creaked in a few busy sections.
However, the crowd animations are appalling, the commentary is still grating, and at times the odd player will reverse moonwalk into the stumps. If you're used to Electronic Arts' treatment of sports games, these little annoyances add up. Nonetheless, the core gameplay is good enough to forgive these errors, even more so with the developer Big Ant looking to support the game well post-release.
At Rs. 4,099 Don Bradman Cricket isn't cheap. In fact it's a lot more expensive than most games at retail on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One that are around Rs. 3,499. But if you don't own a PC or missed out on it when it hit the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, and can stomach the cost of admission, you'll be treated to the finest cricket game ever.
We reviewed a retail copy of Don Bradman Cricket on the PlayStation 4. The game is available on the Xbox One as well and costs Rs. 4,099 on either platform.
Rating (out of 10): 8