The official Ashes Cricket game is one of PS4’s best-kept secrets, as GR tried to explain (opens in new tab) shortly after its November 2017 unveiling. If you missed it first time round, rejoice in the news that it’s now getting a sequel. A fortnight away from the Cricket 19 release date of May 28, I sat down with Big Ant Studios’ new willow-waving sim for a couple of the shortest test matches you’ll ever see: five overs against a fellow human, followed by five against the AI. The results, much like England’s limited-over World Cup hopes, were mostly promising…
1. It's big on the pick-up-and-play factor
A huge part of Ashes Cricket’s appeal was its catch-all control system. The main facets of the real sport (batting, bowling, fielding) were each mimicked with initial simplicity – on PS4, tap circle to try to wallop a six – with myriad nuance on offer once you’d built up an understanding of delivery types and shot selection. That’s identical here. My human opponent is a relative novice, yet after losing a couple of cheap wickets he’s pinging shots over the boundary by the third over. I then have to use my experience of the previous game to vary my line and length and keep the score down. I win, but it goes to the wire.
In some cases it’s possible to see familiarity as a reason not to pick up a new sports game. There’ll be many who avoid FIFA 20 if it feels like the oft-criticised FIFA 19 (opens in new tab). Here, however, it’s a sensible call from Big Ant to bring an engine that already worked more-than-capably to a wider, predominantly UK audience.
2. The AI is a touch savvier… hopefully
Ahead of the company's fifth cricket game, Big Ant has been keen to press home its determination to make AI players mimic real sportsmen. On the evidence of my five-overs-per-team match against the CPU, it’s better, but not perfect. For instance, after I clip the first three balls of an over to the leg side to notch some easy runs, the AI bowls two deliveries outside the off stump, then throws in a yorker – seemingly its cunning response to me unearthing a sweet spot.
The flipside is its apparent inability to recognise the number of overs in the match. Even limited to 30 balls per team, it takes singles off the first two balls of its innings rather than immediately swinging for the fences. If not concerning, it is at least a touch curious, particularly when I overhaul its meagre score inside four overs.
3. Licensing shortfalls are easily overcome
The match I play between England and Australia looks the part, with accurate kits and recognisable faces – albeit not to the same level of detail as those found in EA or 2K titles. Flashing wickets when a player is bowled or stumped raises a smile, too. Er, unless it’s your stranded-on-49 opener. Yet a deeper concern from a visual standpoint is the issue of unlicensed teams – i.e. all those other than England and Oz.
As has become traditional, Big Ant solves this by enabling the community to customise and share names, faces and kits for every unlicensed player, effectively giving you instant access to ‘real’ versions of all major sides and most minor ones. It’s highly effective and, in a bonus for PC players, already live on Steam (opens in new tab).
4. Scenario mode sounds tempting
One area of Cricket 19 I don’t get to experience is its new scenario mode, but development director Mike Merren insists that this will be the difference maker in moving the series forward.
“The biggest new feature is the scenario mode, where we’ve added the ability for people to add scorecards for famous matches in the past,” Merren tells The Xbox Hub (opens in new tab). “You, the player, can then go in and change history. You can start the game at any point in the match then set a condition [such as] England needing 500 runs to win in a day. Then off you go. There are 13 different conditions to choose [from], based on famous scenarios from the history of the game. You can replay history for a whole match, or play a small part of the game that might only last 10 minutes – like [having to] get a wicket in the last over.”
5. It's coming to Switch too
Here’s another differentiator from the Big Ant offerings that have gone before: you’ll be able to play Cricket 19 on the go, as it’s coming to Nintendo Switch with all the same features as the more traditional versions. This will be the first cherry-whacking sim on a Ninty machine since Freddie Flintoff’s Power Play Cricket on DS in 2010 – a game so odd that it was possible to score 20 runs off a single stroke.
Indeed, it’s a big summer for niche sports on Switch, with Snooker 19 (opens in new tab) also showing off its portable whack-a-ball powers. Moving us one step closer to the glorious era of… console croquet. Hey, a man can dream.
Cricket 19 is released on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on 28 May, with a PC version following soon after. For further niche-sports reading, check out GR’s 11 best current football games that aren’t called FIFA or PES (opens in new tab).