Cricket games have not always been massively successful. Brian Lara Cricket is one that springs to mind from my childhood, but the market hasn’t exactly been rife with them. That’s why it came as a surprise to me when I played Ashes Cricket 17 recently, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It captured the feel of the game well, and was accessible. But can Cricket 19 improve on these strong foundations?
Like its predecessor, the bulk of the game is centred around the upcoming 2019 Ashes series, which will be held in England this time. You can play as either England or Australia, both of which have fully licensed teams, in either a mens or womens Ashes series, depending on your fancy. There’s a fun little opening cutscene that helps set the scene for the series before you’re allowed to get properly stuck in. What then follows is a simple game of cricket. You try to score as many runs as you can, and get the opposition out as quickly as you can.
The gameplay mechanics for both aspects of the game remain largely untouched from a couple of years ago. As a bowler, you’ll be able to rotate through your bowling options, choosing when to switch out one bowler for another. What works well here is the variation and flexibility you’re afforded, similar to that of Ashes Cricket 17. Both fast bowlers and spinners have a wide range of deliveries to choose from, and being unpredictable is your biggest asset here. Mixing up your deliveries against the AI will lead to wickets.
The batting mechanics also remain largely untouched. The left stick decides the direction of your play, while the buttons dictate what type of shot you want to play; aggressive, precision or defensive. Shot selection and timing are vastly important here. Time a shot poorly, and you could miscue it straight to a fielder. Time one well, and watch it sail over the fielders heads for a boundary. Once you get the timing down, it becomes extremely satisfying to smash runs off the bowlers.
Aside from the Ashes series, there are several other game modes available. One of the more intriguing variants is the career mode, which lets you create your own cricketing superstar that you can take from the bottom right to the very top. You’ll start on the lowest rungs of first class cricket, playing for a region in a country of your choosing, but as you play matches, score runs and take wickets (depending on what kind of player you choose to be), you’ll gradually work your way up to eventually getting selected for your country. You have challenges to hit which allow you to increase your character’s skill quicker, including scoring a certain number of runs and bowling a certain number of maiden overs, to name a few. While this mode can start to feel like a bit of a grind, the sense of progression is satisfying.
Other modes of Cricket 19 on Xbox One include shorter form tournaments, with both 20 over and 50 over World Cups available, as well as the ability to create your own custom tournaments. Much like the last game, only the Australian and English teams are fully licensed, so other international teams will instead be filled with random bots, who have entirely different names and appearances to their counterparts. A way around this last time out came from the fantastic community members who created statistically and aesthetically accurate versions of real life players. These were available to download, and thankfully, some wonderful soul has done the same again.
Also available are specific scenario modes that have been put in place by the team at Big Ant Studios, which throw you into difficult match scenarios, and see you attempt to salvage the situation. These are a fun alternative to standard matches, and usually come with some kind of inherent time pressure, making them a fun diversion when you get bored of everything else Cricket 19 has to offer. There is also an online mode, but it isn’t particularly busy with a constant struggle to find anybody to play against.
The visuals have improved a fair amount from that which has gone before it though. The colours are bright, and the (licensed) character models are pretty lifelike. Unfortunately, some of the animations are very clunky. Frequently, the ball never quite looks right when it comes off the bat. See, the ball often impacts the bat at an awkward angle that doesn’t look the slightest bit realistic, and it breaks the immersion somewhat. And sometimes the batsmen readjust themselves to hit the ball in bizarre ways that just aren’t believable. The batsman’s movements often don’t look fluid, but when they do, it looks as good as any real life cricket shot.
I also experienced some problems with the AI in Cricket 19, in both the opposition and the umpiring. There’s one decision that particularly stands out early on in my experience with the game. I was bowling to the opening Australian batsman, and (almost jokingly) decided to appeal for an LBW after I hit the batsman in the stomach. To my shock, the umpire somehow gave it out. Luckily the AI had the sense to appeal, and the decision was overturned, but I was stunned that a decision could be so obviously wrong. That is however the only time this happened, but I wonder if any other players have encountered problems with the umpiring. Further to that issues with opposition AI stem from their fielding – on so many occasions, I’d hit the ball to a fielder who would just stand there as I took a quick run and not throw the ball back. So many times, I could have been run out, but clearly the fielders couldn’t be bothered. That is a huge immersion breaker.
Overall though Cricket 19 is a decent, but slightly disappointing follow up, with technical issues and glitches letting down an otherwise solid cricket simulator. The wealth and variety of game modes will likely keep you occupied for a while, but a few patches might be needed before the game becomes a real winner.