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Don Bradman brings cricket back to life

It’s been a long dry spell for cricket fans in the video game industry. We’ve been taunted with one or two possibly good games, only for them to fail at the last hurdle. GAVIN MANNION takes a look to see Don Bradman Cricket 14 is a game worth batting for.

Pedigree

When I heard that Don Bradman Cricket was coming the first thing I did was to go and look up the studio making it to see what their abilities are like and whether they could handle such a technical title.

The game is developed by Big Ant Studios who are famous for developing… well nothing outside of Australia actually. They have done two Spyro games and a bunch of Rugby League games and appear to have ported Jetpack Joyride but there is nothing here that made me confident they could handle it.

And then the game was delayed and a cloud of depression settled over my hopes and dreams.

Licenses and Player Likeness

Another really important aspect to me personally in sports games are the licences and player likenesses in the game. I don’t enjoy playing sports games where you can’t recognise anyone and the stadiums are just generic nonsense. So again when I heard that Don Bradman had only two licenced stadiums and one licenced player, Don Bradman, I was disappointed. However the very clever guys at Red Ant have been, well, very clever here.

When you start the game you are asked if you want to import the current top community created teams from The Cricket Academy. So basically what this means is the game ships with no real teams but when you load it up and are connected to the Internet you can import these community teams and suddenly you have all the best players looking like themselves with the correct attributes.

It’s an awesome way to work around licences and I hope there aren’t any inflated egos out there who try and stop them doing this.

Game Modes

Don Bradman Cricket 14 ships with a multitude of game modes with the most common being Tournament, Tour, Career and Practice Nets..

In career mode you get to customise your cricketer to the nth degree and then you start off a career as a 16 year old whippersnapper and try and fight your way up to the best cricketer in the world over a maximum of 20 seasons. It’s a long hard slog and is really only for the serious cricket fans out there.

The more common mode is tournament where you can play anything from a best of 1 T20 game to a full round robin tournament mode. This is easily my favourite mode and hoisting the trophy at the end of a thrilling T20 tournament definitely gave me some pride. Each team you play against has got an entirely different play style and you are going to need to learn how to bat against seamers and spinners as well as bowling as both. The Tour mode lets you recreate some fantastic tours of the past and just last night I smashed the Bangladeshi test team in just under a single day. But the game is not easy, I will cover this later on.

Controls – Bowling

The controls are definitely unique and take some getting used to. When playing on an easier level the game will give you some guides on how to bowl. As a fast bowler you start your run up by pushing a button that corresponds to how you want to pitch the ball, You then hit either the right bumper for a fast ball or the left for a slow ball. As you near the crease you push the right stick up to start your jump and then push it down when you have chosen exactly how you would like to release it. all while aiming down the pitch.

Every bowler has a different run up speed so the spot where you need to jump and release changes depending on each. After a few overs you get comfortable with this and can easily send down a blitzing yorker or a slow full ball and skittle their stumps. This is when you need to up the level and by the time you get to veteran the guides all disappear and you have to figure it all out for yourself.

The difference between a perfect yorker and a simple full toss is now decided by milliseconds making the game so much more difficult. I got absolutely smashed trying to play on veteran. Spinners work in a similar manner where you hit the button and bumper to pick options and then as your man gets close to bowling you spin the left stick to get a certain type of spin and let it go with the right stick. Spin bowlers are very important so you will want to practice this.

Controls – Batting

If bowling confused you then batting is going to drive you to drink. The idea is simple, you use the left analogue stick to move your feet and shape your body while the right stick swings the bat. It feels weird in the beginning but after a while it becomes very intuitive and I’m now semi-comfortable leaving a ball late only to step back to the right and cut the ball to 3rd man. Or step across my wicket and hook it over my left shoulder for 6. And you need to learn all these tricks as the game will alter the fielding and bowler if you think you’ve found the perfect shot.

You can also use the left trigger for power shots, the left bumper for reverse sweeps and the right trigger for defensive shots. My hands can’t hit the right bumper and the sticks at the same time so who knows what that one does, but it will do something.

Graphics and Physics

The graphics in Don Bradman Cricket 14 aren’t terrible but at the same time you aren’t getting a game that even remotely approaches FIFA 14 in visual quality. The crowds are flat and boring and the stadiums are equally as dull. The fields all have a certain amount of canned animations and it won’t take long before you get irritated with your bowler taking off the bails every time you throw the ball at him. But none of that really ruins anything.

The animations and graphics in the instant replays and appeals system are very good and the hot spot is definitely my personal favourite. Appealing a nick and then seeing that tiny bit of white on the bat is depressing.

But that does raise another point. The game has been designed for the umpire to get it wrong sometimes which I think is absolutely brilliant. I have successfully appealed being given out and for my opponent to be given safe. As in real life the umpire is generally right but if you are sure you got him LBW and the umpire isn’t giving it, then appeal. It’s there for a reason.

And it’s in the appeal system that you see how very good the physics of the game actually are.The collision detection of the ball and the player, stumps and bat appears to be spot on. I haven’t seen a mistake yet and when you are going through the appeal system everything slows down to a frame by frame follow through and the slightest nick does change the path of the ball.

Overall

Overall you can see that this game hasn’t been made by a billion dollar company. The graphics and out of game experience (menus and such) are clunky and definitely not refined through user experience testing. However you can also tell this game has been made by fans of cricket and all the important aspects are definitely included in the game. From the in-depth appeal system to the control you have over batting and bowling and even down to the difficult in catching.

Just being in the way of the ball isn’t going to assure you of a catch and a fast bowler catching a ball smashed right back at him is incredibly difficult to pull of. If you’ve been waiting for a real cricket game since Brian Lara or Jonty Rhodes cricket then wait no more.

Don Bradman Cricket 14 is a pleasure to play and the different difficulty levels will hopefully have you hooked for years to come. I’m personally hoping the sales are strong and the sequel keeps the base experience and ramps up the graphics, adding a bit of polish to mitigate the small hiccups.

* Article courtesy of Lazygamer.net. Follow Gavin on Twitter on @Lazygamer

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Product Reviews

Bose Portable: quality at a price

The Bose SoundDock Portable looks great and performs well, but SEAN BACHER finds the price doesn’t justify the better sound quality.

Since its inception in 1964, American-based audio specialist, Bose, has built a name synonymous with quality. Along with that, it has built a reputation of being more expensive than many of its competitors, but not deterring many from making the expensive investment. The mini sound speakers are quite often used in boardrooms, bars and restaurants around the world and offer crystal-clear sound that rivals most speakers twice their size.

Testament to the Bose sound quality is that it is used as the standard audio system in luxury cars like Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and according to Wikipedia, Bose products can be found in many military and NASA applications.

It is therefore not surprising to find Bose accessories compatible with smartphones. One example is the Bose SoundDock Portable. A portable docking station for iPhones and iPods that works off rechargeable batteries.

We put the Bose SoundDock Portable through the Gadget Five Question User.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

Although the Bose SoundDock Portable, comes with instructions, they are not needed and in most cases, it will be ready to operate the minute it is removed from the box and an iPhone or iPod is plugged into it.

If the batteries on either the phone or docking station are flat though, the charger needs to be plugged into it before it can be used. You don’t need to wait for the batteries to charge fully before using it.

Bose has taken the minimalist approach with the SoundDock as on the right are two touch-sensitive Volume buttons and that’s it. No Power or other controls. The included remote is also very easy to use. It uses standard Play, Pause, Volume and Skip buttons, all well labelled.

The front of the docking station is made up of a silver grill, below which is the retractable iPhone dock. Although the casing around the connector is designed to accommodate an iPhone’s protective skin, it was not big enough to for the bumper I had on my phone, which meant I had to take the phone out of the case every time I wanted to plug it in.

On the plus side though, unlike many other portable docking stations, the Bose will charge a docked phone even if it is just running off battery power.

The Bose SoundDock Portable’s ease of use along with its elegant design cannot be faulted. But its dock connector counts against it.

Score: 18/20

2. General performance

The two front facing speakers offer crisp sounds and when the volume is cranked up all the way the SoundDock does not distort at all and is deafeningly loud.

At the rear is 3.5mm jack, allowing you to connect non-Apple phones, MP3 players and other audio equipment.

According to Bose, the 1 900mAh rechargeable battery pack will offer up to three hours of music at a maximum volume a different approach to rating battery life as most other vendors rate operating times at ‚”typical listening volumes‚”. I have been using the SoundDock on and off and not at full tilt for the past week without having to plug the mains adapter in yet.

This is however a good thing. Although the Bose SoundDock Portable is elegant and well made, Bose didn’t pay to much attention to the adaptor. It is a bit bigger than two cellphone chargers placed next to each other. It monopolises all the other electrical outlets, when plugged into the wall, meaning you need a dedicated plug for when you want to charge the battery.

The Bose SoundDock Portable provides a beautiful sound, its battery life is great, but the giant-sized charger is a complete let down.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Unlike many docking stations that are designed for bedside listening, the Bose SoundDock Portable is powerful enough to offer good sound in an average sized dining room or lounge.

Weighing in at just under three kilograms, it is not the lightest of them all, but the rear, recessed-handle makes carrying it fairly easy. (A carry bag is available as an optional extra.) Overall, it is a nice addition for a picnic or where an electrical outlet is not available.

18/20

4. Innovation

Sound docks have been around for years, and although the SoundDock offers superior sound, it offers nothing in the way of innovation. In fact, the lack of Bluetooth or any wireless connectivity for that matter is limiting.

13/20

5. Value for money

Much like the die-hard Apple Mac fans that will spend more on a product that performs much the same as cheaper alternatives, you get the same in the audio/visual world.

This becomes especially clear when reading the various reviews posted on the Internet. Reviewers either dislike the Bose SoundDock Portable due to it price, while others like it, saying the sound quality justifies the price.

But at R5 000 for a docking station I would have to agree with the former reviewers. R5 000 is ridiculously overpriced, even though it offers superior sound.

10/20

Conclusion

There is no faulting the Bose SoundDock Portable in terms of elegance and sound, but its clunky charger and high price are complete turnoffs.

Total score: 71%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Product Reviews

Nokia Lumia 720: Well rounded: great battery

The new Nokia Lumia 720 has been punted as a mid-level phone. This means Nokia would have had to cut back on features and specifications to keep the phone’s price down. SEAN BACHER checks what’s missing.

For a few years, Nokia was almost forgotten in the smartphone market. This changed with the release of the N9, running its in-house developed MeeGo operating system. Sadly for its many fans, MeeGo was then summarily dropped. Instead, Nokia unveiled a range of high-end Lumia phones running the Windows 7.5 operating system and, finally, a second generation Lumia range running the Windows 8 platform. At the same time, the company targeted the entry-level market with its Asha feature phones, running the Symbian Series 40 operating system.

Between the top end Lumias and the Ashas, it has been quietly filling out its offering, The latest, the Lumia 720, is intended to be a mid-level phone with high-end features.

We put it through the Gadget Ten Question Task Test to see how it copes as a mid-level phone, and to find out what’s missing.

1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)

The Lumia 720 follows a similar design to its siblings in that it uses a unibody design, meaning there is no removable back plate or battery. Three virtual buttons are located below the screen and it has a Volume rocker, Power and Camera button on the right.

The plastic chassis has a rubber feel to it, which makes it easier to hold and less prone to scratches and dings. On the right is a microSIM card slot and at the top an SD card slot, both allowing for easy access.

The phone fits comfortably in your hand and is quite easy to operate with one hand.

7/10

2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)

Nokia has significantly cut down the weight of the Lumia 720, which comes in at 128g: the 920 hits 185g. Size-wise, it measures 128x66x9mm, making it a confortable fit for most pockets and its curved edges make it easy to lift off flat surfaces.

The phone cannot be faulted in terms of size and weight.

8/10

3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)

Running the Windows Phone 8 operating system is a 1GHz Qualcomm dual-core CPU, which is complemented by a dedicated Adreno 305 GPU. The phone packs 512MB RAM and 8GB on-board storage. On paper, these specs are not too impressive, but in practice there is nothing wrong with them.

The Lumia shows no signs of slowing or freezing, even after numerous apps are opened. The active tiles update effortlessly and playing processor-intensive games like AE 3D Motor, which uses the phone’s accelerometers to guide a bike through traffic, does not jolt.

The 8GB of on-board storage is not that great, especially when movies and music start to fill the memory, but the Lumia 720 accepts SD cards, meaning that the storage can be beefed up to 64GB putting it on a par with high-end devices.

The phone performs very well, even with a lower-end set of specifications: the ability to install an SD card really is a plus.

9/10

4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)

The non-removable Li-ion 2 000mAh battery is said to provide up to 520 hours of standby time and over 13 hours of talk time. Both of these claims are tall orders for most smartphones that typically provide just over a day’s usage before they need to be charged.

But, the Lumia 720 lives up to Nokia’s reputation of having some of the longest-lasting batteries found in a phone. Although I did not count the number of hours the 720 went without being charged, it was able to hold its own for over three days. In that time it was bombarded with new apps, was constantly being used for WhatsApp messaging and was also continually used for making and receiving calls. The battery went over and above what is required in terms battery-life on a current smartphone.

10/10

5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)

The IPS (In Plane Switching) LCD capacitive touch screen measures 4,3‚” and boasts a maximum resolution of 480×800 pixel per inch. Although this is not the biggest, nor the clearest of screens, it was more than sufficient to view videos and images. In fact, the only time the sub-standard screen quality was noticeable was when the 720 was put next to its bigger brother, the 920.

Windows Explorer on the phone launched effortlessly and displayed all websites without any hassles: the pinch to zoom option came in very handy when inputting credentials to access a website.

The Lumia 720 uses a 6.1MP rear-facing camera, which features Carl Zeiss optics and thus makes images vibrant and clear. The front 1.2MP camera made a viable option for video calling and both record videos.

When making an entry or mid-level phone, manufacturers have to cut back on certain specifications to keep the price low. Even though the Lumia’s screen is not the greatest, it is more than adequate. But the oversized bezels around the screen count against the phone.

The bezels all around measured more than 5mm, which could have been converted into a larger screen.

7/10

6. Talk to me (quality of audio)

The Lumia 720 single loudspeaker is clear enough to hold conference calls, and is great for streaming music from TuneIn radio. No distortion was heard when the volume was cranked all the way up.

Overall, the audio quality is on a par with most other smartphones, but is not anything that will blow the user away.

7/10

7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)

Adding e-mail, Twitter and Facebook accounts is very easily done through the Account Settings function, but the phone streams all this content to a single hub, making it difficult to work out which message is from which account.

That said, individual apps are available from the Windows Phone Store that will present their relevant streams. Many of these apps can also be moved to the Home screen, and can be set to update on the fly, meaning that the latest content will be updated and automatically displayed.

8/10

8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)

The physical buttons located on the right of the phone are all within easy reach when using the phone with one hand, and do not sit flush with the chassis, so are easy to identify in the dark.

The three virtual buttons at the bottom of the screen allow users to return to the Home screen, go back when in an app and quickly search the phone for a contact or app. Pressing and holding the Home button launches a task manager, from where apps can be closed and sent to the background and new ones opened.

The control buttons are very similar to other Windows Phone 8 smartphones, so the Lumia scores average here, too.

7/10

9. The new new (innovations, unique features)

On the hardware side the Lumia 720 offers no unique or ‚”wow‚” features, but a few of the preinstalled apps deserve a mention.

The phone is Office 365 ready, meaning that a user merely has to input his or her Office login details and is immediately able to view, edit and download documents from SkyDrive.

The Nokia Drive app contains most country maps, and a user merely has to choose a country, and the map is downloaded to the phone. Turn-by-turn instructions can also be downloaded and different languages can be chosen. Ever heard a woman giving you South African driving instructions in Chinese?

Then there is Nokia City Lens. Launch the app, calibrate it and point the phone down a street. The phone employs augmented reality and puts shopping, dining and points of interest on the screen with descriptions and contact details.

Although these apps are not unique to the Nokia Lumia 720, they count in its favour, especially when considering it is a mid-range phone.

8/10

10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)

Coming at R5 500, the phone fits comfortably in the mid-range market. It also slots in well between the entry-level Lumia 520, which retails for R1 899, and the higher-end Lumia 820, which will cost R6 400.

8/10

Conclusion

Overall, the Lumia has a great set of features built into it. Its battery life is amazing and, even though the screen is of sub-quality, it is adequate.

Total score: 79%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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