What a difference a few months can make. When it arrived on PS3 and Xbox 360 in early April 2014, Don Bradman Cricket 14 was a seriously ambitious yet notably flawed cricket simulation in serious need of post-release patching (click here for the original console version review). It essentially felt like it was released a couple of months too early; the recipe was good but the dish was undercooked. But credit where it is due: developer Big Ant has listened to fans and continued to refine the game in the subsequent months, and those tweaks are all evident in the PC release of the game along with an appreciable bump to the visuals and loading times. In short, Don Bradman Cricket 14 on PC can lay a genuine claim to being the finest cricket game ever made.
Big Ant has clearly asked for the heavy rollers to flatten out the kinks in Don Bradman Cricket 14’s pitch. The tweaks are numerous, but what really becomes clear during match play is how much more balanced the game feels overall. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way the fielders have been stripped of their superpowers. Previously they leapt out of telephone booths to Superman-snare every catch that came their way, and nailed direct-hits with every shy at the pegs as though the ball was tethered to middle stump with industrial-strength elastic. Now they move slower, throw with varying accuracy and just generally behave like elite sportsmen who are nonetheless mere mortals.
But there are plenty of other fixes. Non-striker batsmen no longer dawdle a metre out of their crease with ‘RUN ME OUT’ signs sticky-taped to their backs. Stumps can now be knocked out of the ground when a batsman is bowled. Fielders don’t compulsively take the bails off even when a batsman is far back enough in his crease to sign autographs. Edges to the slips and gully occur at a more realistic rate. You’re given the option of enabling the onscreen bowling guides no matter which difficulty setting you’re on. The list goes on.
The previously notable disparity in difficulty between batting and bowling also seems to have been addressed, and in particular the addition of Rookie and Amateur settings to the Career mode means that the journey from domestic debutant to international superstar doesn’t have to be such a stiff slog. Levelling up your batting attributes is also a faster process thanks to the 60 balls you’re permitted to face in the nets between each match – a seriously valuable opportunity to increase your stats minus the risk and vulnerability of being out in the middle.
When there are so fewer things to gripe about, it makes it easier to focus on the hundreds of little things that the game gets right. Like how the AI will often use a DRS referral out of desperation rather than genuine dispute - such as when it’s nine wickets down and has just been given out trapped plumb in front – because that’s exactly what most human batsmen would do. Or how inside edges might cannon into the stumps, or agonisingly close to them, or even into the thigh pad, and just generally adhere to the laws of physics rather than an animator’s scripting. Or even how the ground announcer will occasionally make announcements unrelated to the match – such as notifying parents of lost children and so on. With most of its flaws eradicated, Don Bradman Cricket 14 consistently captures the feel of the sport more so than any cricket game before it.
Bugs are still evident, but they are mostly confined to the game’s presentation elements. During one innings my team score of 5/550 suddenly switched to 0/0 after a lunch break, only to revert to the correct score the following ball. In my career the game insisted on labelling the non-striker batsman with the name of my created player, despite the fact I was bowling at the time. Meanwhile the TV-style overlay frequently credited wickets as being caught and bowled even when they weren’t, and instant replays didn’t always automatically trigger after a wicket. Yet all of these were minor issues that never impacted on the actual gameplay in a negative way.
A couple of the other gripes I had with the console game still persist, namely the fact that spin-bowling still feels overly laborious compared with pace-bowling to the point that I rarely bowl spin unless I absolutely have to, and the game still lacks on onscreen fielding radar. However, the latter is at least mitigated somewhat by the fact you’re no longer surrounded by 11 superhuman ball-magnets whenever you arrive at the batting crease, and the labelling of fielders when you’re checking the field in first-person view makes it much easier to spot the gaps.
The inability to play the game in multiplayer co-operatively remains an odd omission from both the PC game and the console release, especially considering that the sport of cricket is so dependent on playing in partnerships. Hopefully this is something Big Ant can add in the future – they’ve certainly proved their commitment to improving the game thus far.
Meanwhile the loading times have been shortened considerably in the PC version, and it’s much faster to hop in and out of matches and bring up menus. As you may expect the PC game is also the best looking version of Don Bradman Cricket 14, although it hasn’t received a huge overhaul. Still, everything looks noticeably sharper at 1080p, and there are welcome visual enhancements such as depth of field and lighting effects. Of note is the subtle way sunlight is reflected off the manufacturer’s stickers on your bat when it’s held aloft after a crunching cover drive (although those placeholder advertisements for ‘Chicken’ remain just as ugly at a higher resolution).
Of course the phony boundary ads could quickly become eradicated in the PC version of Don Bradman Cricket 14 in the event that it’s embraced by the modding community in the same way that EA’s Cricket 07 has been previously. Already there are user-created patches to swap in real team logos and the like, and coupled with the excellent in-game customisation tools supplied by Big Ant, Don Bradman Cricket 14 on PC could increasingly resemble a fully-licensed sports game as the months go on should players take the time to tinker with it.
(Note: at the time of writing, patch 2.0 – which contains most of the fixes and tweaks present in the PC game – was awaiting approval with Microsoft and Sony for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. So sometime in the near future, console owners should have an experience – visual upgrades and modding aside – on par with this PC release).