Here in Australia there is one sport synonymous with Summer: cricket. So ingrained is it that Boxing Day is known more for the Boxing Day test match than anything else. Fans, myself included, will spend the day watching Australia versus a touring side with beer in hand and mostly likely a BBQ for lunch. It’s no surprise then that Australian developer, Big Ant Studios, released their follow-up to Don Bradman ‘14 just ten days before this hallowed event. So does Don Bradman ‘17 carry its bat or are we looking at a confusing run out?
Having played a lot of Don Bradman ‘14 before reviewing its successor the one thing we noticed was that understanding how to play wasn’t as straightforward as it could be, especially in the bowling department. There was always the option to improve in the nets but feedback was lacking. This meant that no matter how many times we re-read the instructions, when we played against AI opponents we were just using the force. This became troublesome where bowling was concerned as it’s important to be able to control how and where you bowl. The art of bowling in cricket is one of working the batsman over either through the delivery itself or the setting of your field. Unable to understand and therefore adequately control your deliveries left things to a potluck style of bowling and wickets were scarce.
Thankfully this is now a thing of the past as the bowling in Don Bradman ‘17 is much more informative and each ball now delivered is done so knowing how and what we’re trying to achieve. This is thanks, in no small part, to the excellent tutorials but also the tweaks made to how bowling is done. Whereas before it was mystery dip you’re guided through things this time around. The new system means you can easily understand how to bowl two or three good length, outswingers to set the batsman up before putting in a slightly fuller pitched inswinger. Your initial choice of the delivery type of say an outswinger is done on the left analog stick followed by pitch choice, X for yorker, Y for a full pitch, A for normal and B for short. As you run in you can then change your pitch type and tweak it further by changing its pace via the triggers and make it shorter or fuller on LB and RB. Your delivery stride is done via pulling the right analog stick back to commence and forward to complete. Each part of this final action needs to be completed before a timer bar hits red, otherwise a no ball is called. Your final decision is the release which is dependant on the angle at which you did the forward motion of your delivery stride. When you’re swing bowling this is crucial as if you just bowl it straight then you’ll like see your ball dispatched to the boundary. You will need to understand the prevailing conditions as to how much swing there is a subsequently where you’ll need to release the ball. This was especially useful for spin bowling which was even more of a dark art on Don Bradman ‘14 than pace bowling. The process is very similar, however in this version after selecting your delivery type you’ll use the left analog stick to set the amount of spin on the ball. It’s slightly more fiddly but not overly so and again means you’re not guessing what to do.
So what of the batting? Well things have remained pretty much the same but thanks to the same level of tutorials that improved our bowling ability, having a step-by-step approach allows you build up the components of batting allowing for a greater understanding. To begin with they’re only concerned with timing, then footwork is introduced before shot selection. They then advance onwards when you’re ready to master unorthodox shots like the paddle sweep but for beginners and seasoned players alike there’s something to be gained from them. This reviewer's batting was atrocious but having taken the time to go through the tutorials I can now confidently hold my own rather than being the walking wicket I was previously.
One of the other big changes in Don Bradman ‘17 is the inclusion of Women’s cricket. The Women’s Big Bash League here in Australia is gathering traction and there is a definite increase of interest in the women’s game. Much like last year’s FIFA it seems the gaming world is slowly waking up to gender equality. It’s great to see its inclusion as it also allows for both sexes to create their own pro’s for the career mode. The career mode has been improved by having your pro start at a more local level. From there you can then be selected for your state or national side. It lengthens the career out a little bit and gives you more time, and under less pressure, to get used to things before hitting the higher levels.
The usual game modes are all present and correct. There’s the one off game (with a myriad of lengths from five overs to a full five day test match), tournaments, tours and career. In the latter you can choose to either create your own pro or take over the career of an established player in the game. Most, we suspect, will go for the former and it’s easy to create a rough likeness thanks to a pretty decent creation tool. The tournaments and tours are also a great way to explore the different teams and game modes available and with the community creating custom and real life teams there’s lots of fun to be should you get bored or wish to do something different outside of the career mode. In this mode Big Ant have also changed how your pro’s skills improve. Previously it was tied to how well you playedif you were weak at on-side shots you needed to, during games or in the nets, play them more often to improve this stat. Play them badly say and the stat would decrease. This could often be unfair and it’s nice to see them change this to a more traditional, slider style approach. As you play your pro levels up and skill points are awarded which you can use to increase your stats. Once added they’re set in stone and will not go down.
So far, so good, then. However the fielding AI in Don Bradman ‘17 leaves a lot to be desired. As we created our pro we decided to create a Flintoff-style player who was strong with the bat and the ball. Any bowler will tell you that, in order to create pressure on the batsman, your fielders are crucial. If they let through easy runs or make mistakes then the pressure you’ve spent the last few overs building is lost. However, once we took to the field we were dismayed to see some, at times comical, errors by our AI controlled teammates. We’re not sure if they’ve been made deliberately aggressive but after almost every ball they’re determined to take a shy at the stumps. If this occurs at the bowler's end it’s 50/50 as to whether overthrows occur. So much is the worry over this that you, as the bowler, are forced to about face sharply and sprint back to your stumps to intercept the ball.
Sure, mistakes should happen to imitate life but watching your teammates routinely overthrow the wicket keeper, walk the ball over the boundary or throw missiles at the bowler’s stumps gets old rather quickly. What deepens the mystery of the AI is that, despite the randomness that occurs in general, they seem more than able to pluck the ball one-handed out of the air whilst diving several feet in any direction. Some of the catches we’ve seen them execute seem almost implausible and only frustrates the player. When you’re trying to defend a target, watching your mid-on fielder throw a fastball for four is almost rage-inducing.
Frustrations aren’t only limited to fielding. Whilst batting, in an effort to aid the player’s development, after each delivery and stroke you are advised on how well your footwork, timing and shot selection were. However, even with all sections green which indicates great footwork, great timing and shot selection, we’ve seen the ball get edged and caught by the keeper. The indicators seems to suggest we did everything right but if this is the case why did we just lose our wicket? These issues really dent the game’s immersion and enjoyment factor at times, especially if they cost you a victory.
Online Don Bradman ‘17 is pretty impressive. You can choose from any of the different match types, even including Test Match, and create public or private lobbies. The default game mode is a five over smash fest which is rather enjoyable and, for an online game of cricket, is perfect. It’s not too long that you get bored but long enough to be fun. We had no discernable lag which when you’re batting is kind of important. There’s also a thriving community creating content in the form of real-life teams (to replace the fake ones) and stadiums all the way down to custom bats. The creation tools themselves are pretty easy to use and means, as a fan of the sport, you could create your local pub side and take them online to lay waste to all who oppose you.
Overall Don Bradman ‘17 is an improvement over its predecessor, especially visually. What’s holding it back, however, is the erratic AI fielding and uninspiring commentary. Still, it’s reassuring that despite being pretty much the only cricket game available, it hasn’t rested on its laurels. There are plenty of game modes and content to keep any fan of the game going as it rewards those with patience who are willing to put in the practise. Hopefully some of the fielding issues will be corrected by patching and if this is the case then things will be pretty close to perfect; a jaffa of a delivery that will bowl over any cricket-loving gamer.