The Wisden verdict on Cricket Captain 2018.
The legendary (in some quarters) Cricket Captain video game has returned for 2018. Since 1998, the game has been revised and updated nearly every year, and the latest release feels fresh but also very familiar to those acquainted with previous editions.
For those new to the series, Cricket Captain is a management game allowing players to take control of domestic and international teams.
The 2018 edition allows you to captain the domestic teams of eight different countries, taking in England, South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies. Of course, if domestic stuff isn’t for you can always get stuck in with a Test nation straight away. Test cricket newbies, Ireland and Afghanistan, are available in career mode for the first time.
Immediately embarking on a full game as captain of Kent, with the dream of returning Division One County Championship to Canterbury, your reviewer confidently sidestepped the task of recruiting players. Given the county’s surprisingly good real-life form, no new additions, surely, were required.
Happily, loading a career is quick and easy, comparing well with other sports management simulations which can take an age to load and start.
From there it’s quickly into the first match – for Kent, a comfortable innings-and-14-run win against Oxford MCCU.
If investing time into multiple seasons’ worth of selecting teams, managing squad fitness and climbing through the County Championship table isn’t your thing, tournament mode might just be. This feature allows you to arrange any fixture you fancy. Adding to the mode’s excitement is the chance to relive classic England Test series from throughout history. Setting up an ‘All-Time Greats Series’ is great fun too, because why wouldn’t you want to be able to select Geoff Boycott and Kevin Pietersen as opening batsmen for a T20I?
The pool of over 6,500 past and present international players now includes every player that’s ever played men’s international cricket and is completed by their full career records. The massive database is a good source of cricket statistics and landmarks, but records are made to be broken, and this year there are more achievements to unlock than ever.
The 2018 match engine is much improved. Aggressive batting appears less rigid than previous editions and batsmen also seem more intelligent than ever, reacting to field settings as opposed to smashing the ball anywhere on the field. Wicket replays occasionally feature a strange moment – the odd impossible catch remains eminently possible – but there are gameplay gems to savour. During lbw appeals, for example, the umpire sometimes hesitates over making decisions: a slight twitch of the arm before ultimately not raising their finger brings forth a great sense of relief or, on the other hand, bitter disappointment.
Still, unfortunately, missing from Cricket Captain is DRS. As the umpire denied what seemed like endless lbw appeals, it began to seem unbelievable that he was right every single time. A rendition of Hawk-Eye already exists (adding to your misery as the umpire is confirmed to be right every single time), but the addition of DRS would not only further align the match engine with modern cricket, it would also create an extra subplot for players.
Many will welcome the familiarity of the latest Cricket Captain. I hadn’t jumped into the game for a couple of years, but it feels exactly as it always has done. Setting up the game and getting into the cut and thrust of a domestic season or a Test series comes with relative ease. Its simplicity is a virtue at a time when other sports management sims are becoming increasingly complex.
But Cricket Captain 2018 is still just a speck of inspiration away from being a seriously great sports management game. An aspect other games excel is in giving a mass database of characters personalities. “I would not like to join your club, Delhi have much bigger ambitions,” said Jason Roy as I attempted to add him to Kolkata’s IPL roster. Unfortunately, that’s as far as conversation goes. There also remains no voice from the fans. And the prevalence of cricket boards and the media which could add extra storylines to the already engrossing seasons.
But these quibbles are simply a yearn for a couple of luxury features. What Cricket Captain 2018 does do is continue the series’ legacy as the most comprehensive and complete cricket video game. For Cricket Captain enthusiasts, this year’s edition will be exactly as you’d expect. Returners and newcomers, be prepared to be stunned by an impressive volume of statistics and minute details which help to subtly enhance a 20-year-old idea. And gather the patience required for dealing with bowlers and field settings every over, and then adjusting your batsmen’s strategy as the innings flows. As for my journey back to Division One with Kent? There’s always next season…
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