Our national summer sport in the UK may have fallen off the terrestrial TV schedules, but nevertheless cricket has managed to grab the spotlight in 2019 with the Cricket World Cup (with England unprecedentedly installed as favourites). Later this summer, England and Australia with thrash out another Ashes series too. So, the arrival of a rare cricket videogame is timely indeed.
Cricket 19 was developed by Australian outfit Big Ant Studios, which has very much been the prime keeper of the cricket-videogame flame in recent years - its 2017 game Ashes Cricket impressed in gameplay terms, despite being a tad rough around the edges, particularly in visual terms. So what of this new game?
It's worth bearing in mind that expectations should always be tempered somewhat as far as cricket games are concerned: they occupy too small a niche to ever attract the vast budgets, huge development teams and expensive licences of the likes of EA Sports' FIFA.
Cricket 19 does at least possess the official licences for the England and Australia men's and women's teams, and is an officially licensed Ashes product. But, similarly to the Pro Evolution Soccer games, all the players from other international teams (plus the likes of the Indian premier League, which features in the game along with all the other big T20 competitions from around the world) have fake names and randomly generated physical appearances.
Which might have been a blessing in disguise to an extent, since it has allowed Big Ant to address one of Ashes Cricket's biggest failings: its computer-generated renderings of real players were so bad that they entered creepy territory. In Cricket 19, however, the English and Australian players are recognisable at least, which, at a stroke, makes it feel like a much more polished game than the last.
Big Ant has also worked hard on another aspect for which Ashes Cricket received criticism: the artificial intelligence (AI). Previously, AI characters would take some strange decisions, like playing in an overly defensive manner when hitting out was required. But in Cricket 19, their actions ring truer.
So, for example, if you're bowling in a Twenty20 game, pinning a batsman down with a few dot balls will inevitably induce an ambitious shot accompanied by funky footwork, opening up possibilities for you such as knocking the stumps over with a well-directed off-cutter. Against AI-controlled opposition, Cricket 19 feels convincing.
Another welcome addition to the game is scenarios, which challenge you to perform feats like beating Australia's record total of 18 sixes in a Twenty20 International. We Poms may choke a bit at the pro-Aussie bias of the ones which Big Ant has included (although like pretty much anything else in the game, the player community can also create its own scenarios), but they are great fun. Albeit with one caveat: having set up the challenges, the game fails to create any excitement around your attempts to meet them.
Cricket 19's control system is exemplary. It has been slightly simplified, at least as far as bowling is concerned, in comparison with Ashes Cricket, but not at the expense of being able to put the ball exactly where you want it to go. You can choose between a timed button-press system or one which uses both sticks for both batting and bowling (and you can use different systems for the two disciplines). The stick-based system at least plays lip-service to some of the movements you make when bowling and batting but, in our opinion, is fiddlier than the button-based one.
With a vast amount of customisability, an excellent career mode with a new perks system - in which you can build a character and work your way up from club cricket or take control of an established international star - and the ability to play everything from five-day Test matches down to five-over bash-fests, Cricket 19 has an awful lot going for it. The online side of the game seems satisfyingly customisable and solid, too.
A huge catch
But there's one huge catch: a recurring, repeatable bug which is so egregious as to put a huge dent in your enjoyment of Cricket 19, and which infuriated us so much that we had to revise its review score downwards. Worryingly, it hadn't been fixed in the game's first post-launch update.
Cricket 19 has a catching mechanism that first appeared in Ashes Cricket, in which you must move a marker into an on-screen circle as the ball approaches a fielder. In Cricket 19, every time the ball snicks off an edge towards your wicketkeeper (and sometimes when outfield players are involved), both markers disappear off the edge of the screen, inevitably causing your keeper to drop the simplest of chances (sometimes, in our case, several times in the same over).
The game also has some other minor niggles, such as terrible commentary which often contradicts the evidence of your own eyes and gets bowlers' names wrong.
While it lacks polish compared to the megabucks likes of FIFA 19, Cricket 19 is still much more polished than its predecessors, and has a superb control system, decent AI, bags of customisability and is sufficiently well structured to satisfy lovers of all forms of cricket.
However, until Big Ant fixes the catching system, beware: it will present moments of hair-tearing frustration. But if an update rolls out then Cricket 19 would present a plausible case for being acclaimed as the best cricket game yet made.