It’s difficult to translate the complexities of cricket into the cadence of a video game. Where the moment-to-moment dynamism of football and basketball lends itself naturally to arcade-style sports games like FIFA and NBA 2K, cricket’s languid delights don’t quite fit the formula. The usual sports sim approach, which is based on a 12-minute exercise in instant gratification, cannot capture the experience of a sport where a large chunk of a match is spent standing around. That’s where Big Ant Studios’ Cricket series takes a different route.
The Australian developer’s deeply flawed but admirably meticulous and oddly satisfying simulacrum of the gentleman’s game has tried to bottle the slow-burn drama of the sport over several iterations with mixed results. Cricket 24, the studio’s latest cricket sim — out today on PC and consoles — retreads similar ground. It carries over and builds upon the successes of its predecessors, but it also replicates a lot of their failures. During my three-hour hands-on preview of Cricket 24 at a recent PlayStation launch event, I got the full spectrum of the experience, ranging from fun to frustrating, that I’ve come to expect from the series.
During the gameplay preview, I got a chance to explore the different game modes, check out the licensed team rosters in the game, and take part in a couple of matches to get a feel of how Cricket 24 plays. Of course, to experience the game fully and dive into all that it offers for an in-depth review would require one to spend more hours in the game, but from my hands-on preview experience, it seems that much of it is familiar territory, with a few new bells and whistles. If you’ve dabbled in the Cricket series from Big Ant and played any of the recent cricket games from the studio, you’d not have much trouble finding your footing at the crease in Cricket 24. The controls, the gameplay systems, and even UI and menus maintain the series’ status quo. There are improvements, too, most notably to some of the facial likenesses of players, on-field animations, and an overall glow-up to the game’s presentation. This is certainly a more polished cricket sim than the ones that came before.
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Cricket 24 also feels a slightly slower, more deliberate experience when it comes to actual gameplay. There are, of course, two different control schemes that bring a distinct game feel and change your inputs and feedbacks considerably. Arcade controls for both batting and bowling, true to its name, make for a leaner experience — a simpler button press-based approach that relies on input timing, not too far from a quick time event. The Pro (Classic) control scheme, on the other hand, opts for a more precise, stick-based approach. I tried out both, but stuck with the latter as I’ve played previous games with the same scheme. Both control systems, however, have issues with player feedback, especially in the bowling department, leading to unpredictable and imprecise reaction to your inputs. There is an Aftertouch wheel that shows up on the HUD during seam bowling that lets users add slight variations to their deliveries after they’ve locked down their line, length, and type of ball — an inswinger, outswinger, off or leg cutter, bouncer, or yorker. But you’re never quite sure about the degree of input required to produce the desired result. Heavy input often led me to bowl horrendous wides, and I found not meddling with the Aftertouch wheel to be the safer option.
Bowling sensitivity, in general lacks consistency and balance, the ball often behaving like a beast you need to tame. The flip side of that is, intentionally or unintentionally, it lends to a more authentic cricket experience, where bowling is never an exact science and a true-to-intent perfect delivery depends on dozens of factors, not all of which are in your control. Batting, on the other hand, definitely feels more responsive, with greater control leading to a more consistent and precise representation of your inputs. Animations are better for the batting side of the game, too, with fancy footwork, contorting bodies, and wristy flicks resembling real-life movements of batters. Bowling animations, meanwhile, blend into singular templates for fast, medium, and slow/spin bowlers, rarely adding distinct touches to specific players or delivery types. Your shots also generate better player feedback than your deliveries. When you hit the sweet spot of ideal timing, shot selection and footwork, your shots fly off the bat with a decisive crunch. You already know you’ve hit a boundary before the ball crosses the ropes. And this never really gets old, bringing ASMR-like satisfaction to Cricket 24’s willow wielding.
The peripherals of a cricket match have also received a fresh coat of paint and polish. There are new and improved highlights packages, commentary, and stat screens. The usual stuff is all there, from detailed shot graphs, hawk-eyes, and hot spots to score cards, slow-motion replays, and rituals. These not only add to the gameplay experience, but also bring a layer of immersion and believability to the simulation. HUD, menu, and UI elements get a visual polish, but the menus remain tricky to navigate, like in older cricket games. In-game graphical fidelity also feels improved, bringing in closer to life player likenesses, detailed stadiums, and natural looking team kits. These are not without inconsistencies, though. For example, player faces for the Australian team receive extra attention. Most players on licensed teams like New Zealand and England also resemble their real-life counterparts, but others get the generic treatment. The lighting during day-time matches also feels flat and stadium detail leaves much to be desired.
Then, there are the bugs. No cricket game is quite complete without the clunk, and Cricket 24 is no different. I encountered a variety of bugs and glitches during my playthrough, ranging from the charming to the jarring, depending upon your tolerance levels. The worst was when I got an edge off a batter with an outswinger, which was promptly caught behind by my wicketkeeper. To my frustration, the batter was not adjudged out despite my appeals. The delivery was fair and the commentator confirmed the edge, too. The game just bugged out and the batter stayed at the crease when he should’ve been walking back to his dressing room. In another rather funny instance, my fielder ran to catch an ill-timed shot, dived to get to the ball and missed it completely, only for the ball to hilariously bounce on his head. And when it was my turn to bat, my openers literally walked through the sight screen like disembodied ghosts before making their way to the pitch. I must admit, though, that Cricket 24’s bugs made me chuckle more often than they made me want to chuck the controller. They never delved into the game-breaking realm, instead their silliness evoked a Bethesda-like oafish charm. I’ve experienced all gamut of glitches in previous cricket games, from stupid overthrows to coked-out keepers, but it never stopped me from having fun.
Where Cricket 24 peaks is in its ability to capture the entropy of a cricket match. A Big Ant cricket sim, with all its flaws and jank, somehow inexplicably remains faithful to the way a game of cricket unfolds and unravels. Its unwavering commitment to cricket fundamentals, its near obsessive and indulgent adherence to the game’s ideals, and its unabashed recreation of even cricket’s most trivial details is a thing to be admired. These same commitments bring a higher level of immersion and form a big part of Cricket 24’s charms and delights, too.
There is also something special going on in all games in the series: they all require equal intent and commitments from the player’s side to maintain that immersion. If you get really good at these games, you could be smashing every ball for a six. But is that fun? Cricket games somehow urge you to play along with the narrative of a cricket match, responding hand in hand to you and your efforts to ground the game and not break immersion. You can go for the big hits in early powerplay overs, and then the game naturally slows you down in the middle overs with a change of bowling pace and strict field placements. The final act then can be a desperate blitz to chase the target down, with the game forcing you to take risks. Isn’t that how most cricket games unfold? The way Big Ant’s cricket sims achieve this by establishing a transactional relationship with the player is rare.
Cricket 24 brings familiar modes, too. There’s Play Now for quickly hopping into a custom match; a Career Mode that lets you create a player or pick from an existing roster to journey through club cricket and make a name for yourself on the international stage; The Ashes mode that takes you through a detailed simulation of the iconic Test series between Australia and England; an Online mode to challenge other players and friends; and a World Championship mode that doubles for the World Cup. There is, of course, the option to create and embark on custom tournaments and tours. Like its predecessors, Cricket 24 also features the Cricket Academy, where you can create and edit players, teams, stadiums, umpires and more, and tap into the vast online library of user-created content to replace your unlicensed team rosters with accurate and updated players.
When it comes to licensing, Cricket 24 features a healthy amount of official content from the get go. Among major teams, England, Australia, New Zealand and West Indies are fully licensed, with updated teams, player likenesses and names, team kits and logos. The rest, including the Indian team, feature unlicensed rosters, which can be swapped out for updated players via the Cricket Academy. In addition to the men and women’s international teams, there is a wide variety of leagues and domestic setups to choose from, including the Big Bash League, the WBBL, The Hundred, the Pakistan Super League, the Caribbean Premier League, and an Indian T20 League that is meant to stand in for the Indian Premier League (IPL). While the IPL branding is missing due to licensing complexities involved, the Indian T20 League includes licensed teams, players and logos for Mumbai Indians, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Rajasthan Royals, Gujarat Titans, Lucknow Super Giants, Delhi Capitals, Punjab Kings, and Kolkata Knight Riders. Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore, however, are curiously missing.
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I’d imagine that cricket fans, especially on the subcontinent, will have a lot to enjoy in Big Ant’s latest release. The addition of official IPL teams in the Indian edition of the game does help, and the fact that the game comes out the same day the World Cup begins (definitely not a coincidence) doesn’t harm Cricket’s 24 chances either. There’s also a considerable marketing push for the game in India this time around, with PlayStation set to launch a Cricket 24 PS5 bundle at a discounted price of Rs. 47,990 starting October 8. While a three-hour hands-on preview does give you a taste of a sizable cross section of a game, it cannot measure its entire scope and ambition. In my experience with the game, Cricket 24 did not come off as a pitch perfect sequel that brings new ideas, but it did hold its own as a flawed new entry that builds upon the series’ fundamentals.
Like its predecessors, the game oscillates between a special kind of satisfaction and a special kind of frustration, both of which would be hard to find in other sports games. With its faithful recreation of intricate cricket ethos, Cricket 24 somehow manages to trap lightening in a bottle, but at the same time drops the ball, quite literally, on basic technical boxes that you’d expect any game to tick. At the end, warts and all, just like the bugged-out batter, Big Ant’s latest clunky cousin of sports sims stays at the crease, not out.
Disclosure: Sony sponsored the correspondent’s flights for the preview and console bundle launch event in New Delhi.
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