The form of cricket games over the past few years has been like the Australian team: a bit all over the place. Don Bradman Cricket 14 was a strong standard setter and, ultimately, peerless. It wasn’t peerless because it was the perfect cricket game, mind you: it was peerless because it was the only team on the field. That came courtesy of competing title Ashes Cricket 2013, which was removed from Steam shortly after its digital release. That should give you an indication of the quality of Don Bradman Cricket’s closest competitor.
Still, amazing ball physics and satisfying batting mechanics in a deep cricket simulator meant it was easy to forgive Don Bradman Cricket 14 for a lot of its bugs (and there were a lot). Fast-forward to the release of the new-gen systems, and the rebranded Don Bradman Cricket ditched the “14”, spiffed things up slightly compared to its last-gen release and, most importantly, included all of the bug fixes that helped to lift the quality of the original release in subsequent patches.
When Don Bradman Cricket 17 was announced, I was curious but hesitant: what could a sequel possibly add that wasn’t already on the new-gen version of Don Bradman Cricket? The answer is not a hell of a lot. While bowling was improved, fielding somehow became worse, and batting was straight-up broken. Hitting boundaries felt like an exercise in RNG, which didn’t even feel connected to the stats of your players. Big Ant Studios had somehow botched the most exciting part of any cricket game: the batting.
When Ashes Cricket was announced, I was nervous. On one hand, the less-than-stellar critical and fan reception to Don Bradman Cricket 17 could, theoretically, have helped right the ship. But you never know. Sometimes devs double down on bad mechanics
. But you’ve already read the review subhead and likely scrolled down to the score before reading the justifying text, so you already know that Ashes Cricket is a relieving return to familiar form for Big Ant, and a lot of fun for cricket fans.
The batting is back to where it should be. The fielding is the best that Big Ant’s ever made. And the bowling is tight, even if it feels as though you’re at the mercy of AI mistakes on higher difficulties to score wickets. From the hours I’ve played, I still can’t find a way to bowl a consistently unplayable delivery (that’s a good thing, of course). There is, however, the odd moment when a clunky shot results in illogical ball placement in what would have otherwise been a perfectly executed maiden over.
Outside of that, though, Ashes Cricket is almost as entertaining to watch as it is to play, thanks to a markedly improved animation system. In previous entries, batters would semi-teleport to a shot-making position, assumedly, to ensure the player received the appropriate feedback on bat meeting ball (which is where the best-in-class ball physics come into play). In Ashes Cricket, fluid animations offer an even greater sense of feedback, as the batter believably steps forward or back to play a shot. By the way, those ball physics are as tight as they’ve ever been.
For the first time in the run of Big Ant cricket games, Ashes Cricket has been made with newcomers in mind. Finally! As much as I do enjoy the intricacies of Big Ant’s cricket simulators, I’ve long bemoaned a newbie-friendly mode or control scheme that just lets you have a quick bash. Out of the gate, Ashes Cricket asks if you want to play with standard or classic controls. You’re free to switch between both options for batting or bowling, but standard is definitely newcomer friendly, whereas classic will be familiar to Don Bradman Cricket veterans.
Standard controls simplify batting by moving shot type (in terms of power vs precision) and timing to the face buttons, instead of having to rely on the sticks. By default, every shot is automatically played on the front foot, and you hold right trigger to override that to a back-foot shot. Given that the majority of balls against the AI are best played from the front foot, this helps newer players ease into mastering the all-important timing, stroke selection, and ball placement.
You’re still graded after each shot on your footwork, timing, and stroke selection, which is actually a lot more helpful and in line with what’s happening in Ashes Cricket than it was in Don Bradman Cricket 17. There are still moments where it’s completely off – all green rating leads to a soft, deflected dismissal or a cracking shot that’s somehow graded as the wrong stroke selection – but it’s a mostly great initial guide for mastering timing, especially between bowlers of different type and pace.
The training mode is actually worth playing, too. I’ve played through almost all of it twice with the two different control modes, and it helps a lot. Couple this with the batting and bowling games, as well as nets training, and you quickly build the kind of confidence that you’ll need to hit back-to-back sixes. The reason I didn’t play through all of the training was because, well, I couldn’t. Ashes Cricket has its fair share of bugs, and they start with training. There are frustrating bugs on the fielding training, and the reflex catch tutorial was completely broken for me.
The tutorial for learning aggressive shots along the ground refused to acknowledge progress on any of my shots. Play for long enough, and you’ll find other niggles in other areas, too. Hit a ball hard enough back at the bowler, and it’ll either pass through his feet, or even through his torso if it’s high enough. You can still sneak a single off pretty much every blocked (or padded) delivery, because there’s not enough hustle in the field to create a runout. Big Ant also seems to be confused about which batter faces the next ball after a stumping.
I was playing a match where the meter for the timing of my jump, as a bowler, completely disappeared, across multiple bowlers, only to randomly reappear later. Ashes Cricket chugs during cutscenes while the loading symbol is in the corner, and the tooltip buttons in the loading screens are unresponsive for the first few seconds. I was also popping achievements for milestones that the AI were achieving, multiple times.
I was expecting to find bugs, but Ashes Cricket is definitely in need of a few patches to iron out some of the more frustrating ones. I’ve been run out at the non-striking end, because the AI took over my batter and decided to push him well outside his crease.
The fact that I’m still having a tonne of fun is testament to how well Big Ant has middled the rest of the core components. Shoddy menu music isn’t enough to tarnish an impressive dismissal where the AI pulled off a classic relay catch for what would have otherwise been six runs. The good news is that the vast majority of my dismissals feel as though they were warranted, based on my mistakes, which is how it should be.
There’s also an all-new fielding radar, which makes the batter more accountable for shot placement, and the bowler similarly accountable for the line and length of their deliveries, based on the current field. Drop the difficulty enough, and you can smash an over of boundaries. This feels a little cheap at times, until your concentration slips, and you mistime a stroke, only to have it gobbled up by fielders who I’ve not once seen drop a catch.
Even playing as a fielder is more involved, thanks to mechanics like the option for fast returns from the field with the tap of a button, or a metered system for greater accuracy. Despite the Ashes Cricket brand name, you can still do all the stuff you would in a Don Bradman Cricket games. Download or create new teams and players (though the officially licensed players, who look the part, are a great place to start). Play a real-life upcoming series, or create your own. Jump online and hope you win the toss to bat first.
I had to fiddle a bit with the Australian and English line-ups for the actual Ashes series, because Cricket Australia decided to make a couple of wildcard decisions for the first two matches and England finalised their 11 at the eleventh hour. But once you’ve tweaked your team, you can create your own digital recreation of the big series that’s just started. If you want, you can even insert your own player to go down in digital Ashes history.
Ashes Cricket isn’t perfect, but that’s unfortunately to be expected from Big Ant cricket games at launch. But the stacks of little bugs aren’t enough to detract from the overall accomplishments of a fully featured cricket game, which is as appealing to cricket aficionados as it is to those looking to have a quick bash. If Big Ant follows the trend of its previous games, the subsequent patches will help to convert the game into a game with an even louder appeal.