The Ashes. Australia v England in 5 gruelling test matches. One of cricket’s biggest rivalries, perhaps only surpassed by the intense passion of the India v Pakistan contests. Living in Australia, the Ashes is the big one, the one series any cricket fan doesn’t want to miss, and now, we have a video game that does the scale of The Ashes justice.
Ashes Cricket, developed by Melbourne-Based Big Ant Studios, is the third cricket game (after Don Bradman Cricket 14 & 17) to be produced by the studio in the past 4 years, but the first to include such star power that Ashes provides. This hits you immediately when presented with one of the star players of the Australian or English sides before you even get past the first menu. The realism of the player faces is visually stunning, and you are yet to journey into the game yet. As the name “Ashes Cricket” suggests, only the players of the Australian and English sides have official in game likenesses. For the men’s teams, there are likenesses for 32 Australians and 28 English players, and on the women’s side of things there are 17 Australian likenesses and 16 members of the English women’s side, for a total of 93 licenced players between the two sides. This also extends to the stadiums, with all the Ashes stadiums to be used this summer having official licensing.The player likenesses don’t just translate to their appearance either, but also as to how they play the game of Cricket. This is where the players become the real heroes of the game. Thanks to the motion capture efforts of Australian players Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Emma Inglis and Mackinley Blows, the batting in Ashes Cricket looks incredibly realistic. They captured the style and strokes in the way they play along with some shot specialties of other players. This allows cricket fans to be immersed in the game to a whole new level, with each official player’s stance, strokes and footwork all captured in game.
A similar approach to the bowling was taken, with motion capture data from the Bupa National Cricket Centre used to recreate the bowling actions of the Australian players. It’s easy to dismiss these as minor features when there are so many similarities between players in both their batting and bowling actions. As an active cricket viewer and fan of the sport it’s fun to spot the minor differences and little details that separate each bowler and batsman in their actions, you become more invested in the game because you feel like you are playing as the best cricketers in the country. This attention to detail for the Australian and English players is at a high enough standard to rival that seen in a high budget sports game. Ashes does a damn good job at making sure it gets everything at its disposal as good as it can be.How does it play? Big Ant games have always given you options as to how you want to play, Ashes is no different. If you’ve played Big Ant’s previous cricket games you will find a familiar control scheme to choose with only a few minor tweaks. On the other hand, new players can use a more simplified control scheme, allowing for easier pick up and play. You can even pick a combination of the two. My personal preference as an experienced player was to use the classic controls for Bowling and then the new ones for Batting, but I think I’ll eventually move back to the old controls when I become a bit more experienced. The same goes when choosing your difficulty as with prior games, make the batting harder if you begin find it easy, tone the bowling difficulty down if you are finding it more difficult.
You’re now at the crease, down a few wickets, with Steve Smith to face Stuart Broad steaming in at the MCG, what are you hearing? One of my complaints about Don Bradman Cricket 17 was the lack of atmosphere at each match, Ashes has dramatically improved this. The crowd has volume, not just being loud, but they feel like they want to be there, you can hear the chants of the “Barmy Army” in the background when the English get on a roll, the “Gary” chants whenever Nathan Lyon comes into the attack. Even visually you see little things like a player warming up before they are about to be brought into the attack. But wait, who could forget our own chirpy wicketkeeper Matthew Wade behind the stumps. Bowling spin has never been more pleasant than when you bowl a cracker of a delivery and you get some encouragement from your behind the stumps, and yes, this does include the occasional “Nice Gary”. Nothing feels forced or out of place, this crowd belongs at the cricket. Even the in-game UI has been given a fresh look to give it more of a broadcast feel.We can’t talk about a broadcast feel without talking commentary, and with a trio of commentators on board, there was sure to be improvement. From Channel 9’s cricket coverage Michael Slater headlines the commentary and does an excellent job. He always seems enthusiastic like a commentator should and just adds to that atmosphere that makes you feel like you are watching the broadcast at home. He is joined by former Australian women’s cricketer Mel Jones, who is another familiar voice for Australian’s as part of the Big Bash commentary team on Network 10, and former English cricketer James Taylor who returns after being previously part of the commentary team in Don Bradman Cricket 17. Slater is always a presence with Jones and Taylor swapping in around every 20 overs to keep it fresh for players. I have experienced a few bugs with the commentary at times, and a couple of repeated phrases within moments of each other, however, I spent over 85 overs (around 2 hours) bowling in a Test Match without simulating and didn’t find myself getting sick of the commentary. I think all three commentators present themselves well enough that you won’t want to turn it off.
In saying how long I spent bowling, it doesn’t feel like a bore either. The contest between bat and ball always felt balanced, and that’s because of how the game caters to how you play. I felt I was getting runs to easily, so I made the change from medium to hard, with bowling however I don’t think I’ve quite reached that level and so I keep playing on medium. As I said earlier, the animations and player likenesses work well, the controls feel more responsive and easier to work than before. I love cricket as much as the next person, but after 2 hours of bowling, I couldn’t believe I was still enjoying myself. The fact it took me so long to dismiss the opposition made me appreciate each wicket I took so much, because I wasn’t sure how far away the next one was. When I came in to bat I felt I couldn’t waste any of my wickets, they were all so valuable, and since I’d turned up the difficulty it become harder to score. You can tune your experience to suit your needs.
Along with being able to play through The Ashes series, familiar game modes return from the Bradman games, with casual, competition, online and tour modes all playable. The fan-favourite ‘Career Mode’ also makes a return, where you take your player through the ranks of club level, all the way up to being captain of your country, while competing in plenty of international competitions along the way. With the Women’s sides included I would be foolish not to give them the mention they deserve. Along with fantastic likenesses, Ashes does a great job of capturing the subtle differences between the Men’s and Women’s game. Even the pretty good representation of the Women’s game has improved since Don Bradman Cricket 17 now with motion capture data from Australian female cricketers as mentioned earlier just adds to the authenticity of Women’s Cricket in Ashes.
While Australia and England players are the highlights of the game, there is a stack of other teams in the game, across worldwide international and domestic competitions, none of them include any official players, team kits or branding. This is where the Academy will come into play. For players unfamiliar with Big Ant’s prior cricket games, the cricket academy is where all the user created content is made, with the ability to share any content across PC, Xbox and PlayStation users. This is where players can fill in the gaps of those missing teams and create players, teams, stadiums bats, logos, and even umpires. With a dedicated player and team creation community in the Don Bradman franchise, and while at the time of review, there are no users online to add content to the community, I see no reason why that wouldn’t follow through to Ashes and in no time, there will be plenty of user creations for players to download.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW.
There’s nothing about Ashes Cricket that stands out as being bad, and that's definitely a good thing considering recent Aussie sports titles. There are many smaller changes from the previously released Don Bradman Cricket, that all come together to improve the entire experience and take Ashes Cricket to the next level. Apart from buying tickets to the Ashes this summer, this should be your next purchase, as I absolutely love it.