In the video game world, cricket is shelved alongside other niche markets in the sporting genre, like tennis, lacrosse and even handball. With no competition on either PC or console, Don Bradman Cricket 17 is about as good as it gets for cricket fans. This newest iteration, a follow-up from Don Bradman 14, adds some much-needed improvements, but still has quite a way to go when it comes to sustainable enjoyment.
This sports game wasn’t crafted from a high-end triple-A budget like we’ve come to expect from the FIFA or NBA2K franchises, and my expectations were set accordingly. But what Big Ant Studios have been able to do includes a commendable collection of creation modes and helpful tutorials, from getting to grips with the different batting and bowling mechanics to customising your own kits, teams, stadiums or logos. You can also create your own tournaments and cricket formats for added replayability; it’s all here in a simple but slick main menu.
Usually, the first port of call for any sports game is the career mode. In this area, Don Bradman Cricket 17 has a surprisingly in-depth character customisation system, which also allows players to add some personal touches to their individual kits, including bats, gloves and even helmets. After selecting your preferred play style, whether that be as an all-rounder or a fully-fledged batsman, you may start out as a rookie but you have big plans: working your way up from club level to domestic, then reaching international status. But it’s a slow climb to the top, with potential contracts from different leagues in other countries mostly revolving around the Twenty20 format of cricket.
Experience is earned through match performance alone, along with completing particular challenges that offer nice boosts. These might be for hitting a certain number of sixes, taking wickets or bowling ‘dot balls’. ‘SP’, as they’re called, are allocated into detailed batting, bowling and fielding trees and effect a variety of skills and shot types. However, it took a lot of points for the improvements to be noticed – but they eventually do make a difference to the play.
Any future promotions will be purely based off your match performances – leading to a higher rank in the batting order or even assigning you as captain.
One of the few problems with the career mode, though, is not being able to actively select what format of cricket your player wishes to pursue – initially resulting in a week-by-week mishmash of domestic and Twenty20 fixtures.
From October to February of each year, my player’s calendar was jam-packed with activity for various teams – both domestically and overseas. But the downtime in-between these periods was blank and immediately fast-forwarded me back to October; that’s not right. Cricket may be a seasonal sport, but even during the off-season a sports game’s career mode should involve some form of activity, whether through in-game training drills or even a simple text-based decision-making format for interviews or contract negotiations. That’s why – outside of playing matches – the career mode fails to inspire.
The game’s lack of real-world players and genuine kits, due to licensing limitations, is a drawback. The realism takes a monumental hit when you spot identical player models in the same match, not to mention a white Australian with a culturally inaccurate name.
It’s just as well that, in-game, Don Bradman Cricket 17 is genuinely tough to master. It’s the first sports game I’ve ever played that reflects the physiology and co-ordination required from professional players with complex button combinations. Also, your timing has to be so precise – with both bat and ball – and pre-meditation is definitely your worst enemy. As a batsman, there’s an entire repertoire of shots to choose from, in the form of drive, hook, sweep, cut, glance – but choosing the wrong shot to attack with often leads to a walk back to the pavilion.
Choosing to play certain shots on the ‘front’ or ‘back’ foot is another great inclusion and results in more strategy and experimentation when batting. Your footwork, timing and shot choice are rated every ball on a scale from poor to ideal in the form of an indicator that ranges from red to yellow to green, and this is one of the most ingenious additions to the HU as it assists not only newcomers but veteran cricketers as well. For those seeking more challenge, an increase in difficulty not only alters the skill of the AI, but shortens the timing window required for all strokes.
Adding height to your shot comes with huge risk, but could lead to a six or a quick boundary when fieldsmen are close. But aggressive groundstrokes have the potential speed and accuracy to reach the boundary as well, without sacrificing your innings; the choice is yours. The only problem I had with batting was a bug in my ‘wagon wheel’ data – the diagram that displays a batsman’s scoring and shot type during an innings – which was shown for only one over at a time.
Batting has its moments of strategy and satisfaction when scoring a century, but I found that bowling was far more rewarding and fun. Unlike batting, you are treated with spurts of gameplay where your ‘spells’ last a few overs at a time – providing a window to crack the other team’s defence and cause a collapse in the batting order. Both pace and spin bowling are used in the game, with their own complex variations of deliveries. Pace bowlers mainly manipulate speed and swing to take wickets, whereas spinners work with flight and bounce to disorient the opposition. As a bowler, mistiming both your approach or release leads to a sloppy delivery that’s easily dealt with or the umpire signalling a wide or no ball. Ultimately, bowling is more challenging than batting but yields more cause for celebration when those wickets finally fall.
There’s also a fielding aspect to Don Bradman Cricket 17, too, which triggers during your non-bowling overs. Unfortunately, this feature is extremely poor and boring and not up to scratch with the rest of the game. It’s logical for every member of the fielding team to attack the ball in the outfield in order to stem the flow of runs. But here, players run after the ball at a leisurely pace or wait for it to come to them, which leads to a lot of singles to the other team.
Similarly, there’s a lot of inconsistency when it comes to catching. At risk of staining their whites, players don’t dive for the ball when it’s in their vicinity; they wait for it to bounce instead of diving to attempt a catch. In contrast, bowlers, wicketkeepers, and those in the slips, will pull off outlandish one-handed dismissals, where more simple opportunities may be dropped only a few balls later. There’s also a problem with the AI’s fielding skills, where half-a-dozen unnecessary overthrows resulted in boundaries to the other team. It’s extremely frustrating, and all of these issues ultimately undo the good work of the game’s batting and bowling aspects.
The commentary team who carries you throughout each match is mediocre at best. Big Ant Studios have replaced the voices of Matthew Hill and David Basheer with former-English cricketers James Taylor and Mike Cowan. A good commentary duo goes a long way to filling the void left by uneventful overs, impressive catches or batting milestones, but there’s no legitimate excitement from the two commentators throughout any match. The last cricket game I played may have been Ricky Ponting Cricket 2005, but its commentary from West Indian cricketer Ian Bishop had more charisma and conversational variation than Taylor and Cowan combined.
Don Bradman Cricket 17 is for those who love cricket; you haven’t bought this game for the graphics or its career mode that falls short from a couple of angles. There’s a host of creation and customisation modes to keep players busy for some time, with deep and strategic bowling and batting gameplay. In some ways, Don Bradman Cricket is everything that sports games should be: an updated release every two or three years with recognisable and welcomed improvements to boot. However, this franchise still has some obvious holes that need filling, which will hopefully be addressed in future releases.
An Average Innings
Don Bradman Cricket 17 excels at some things but fails to excite in others. On the positive side, there's lots of room to grow.