You know those negative Steam reviews with hundreds of hours played? I get where those people are coming from.
For the last two decades, there's really only ever been one game for cricket fans if you wanted the full coaching experience. Beloved arcade titles like Shane Warne Cricket 99 or Beam Software's Cricket 97 didn't have a managerial mode.
Fortunately, a game called International Cricket Captain came around, with an Australian-specific version featuring our domestic leagues released a year later.
The principle is pretty straightforward. You pick a side to captain at the start of the year, as well as country if you want to be catapulted straight into the national setup. You go through the contracts for the one day, T20 and first class sides, setting a rudimentary budget for training, physiotherapy, and just planning the rest of the year ahead.
At its heart, Cricket Captain is a giant spreadsheet steeped in RNG. There's a good amount of work to be done in recruiting players for below their preferred value. You can easily cock-up the match itself with bad field placings, have crappy part-timers bowl too many overs, or just fail to respond to how the opposition are playing.
But all in all, if the game decides that Pakistan's openers are going to tonk you for a double century inside the first three sessions, tonk away they will. And to a degree, that's part of the fun.
There's no Australian Cricket Captain these days, primarily because the game has been updated so many times that every major domestic league is included. And that's generally been the major changes year in and year out. More players are added, the stats go a little bit deeper, the odd tweak gets made to the match engine.
And then a new version comes out, looking just as antiquated as the last
Playing something I hate stems predominately from a lack of choice. There's no other good cricket management sim out there, even though there's no shortage of interest in cricket apps and games. You can find plenty of Indian-developed arcade games, some of which are surprisingly good. Real Cricket just got a substantial graphical overhaul as well, although the IPL auction element is still that game's outstanding feature.
But despite cricket's rampant popularity in India, there's still no good alternative for International Cricket Captain. And that's eternally frustrating. But hey, that's not a reason to hate a game. If the core gameplay is good enough, you can overlook the rougher edges, dodgy graphics, archaic ways of displaying information.
Where I venture from "this is annoying" to infamous No Man's Sky Steam review levels is the refusal to implement basic quality-of-life features, things that would fix issues the game has had. From the very beginning. I'm talking little UI changes, bugs in the game that serve no other purpose but to waste the players time.
Problem is, your choice doesn't stick.
Say I change the main screen from the commentary view to ball tracker. It's handy if you want to see how accurate a bowler is. Maybe you asked them to pitch the ball up, but they keep dropping half-trackers every second ball. Alternatively, perhaps your best bowler is being tonked around the park. It's not their fault - maybe the bowler is just in top form, and you need to manipulate the field a little better.
Anyway, you can get that sort of information no matter what version of Cricket Captain you're playing. But say you change to that screen, and a batsman starts racking up the runs through a particular gap. Naturally, you open up the field for that player, and adjust accordingly.
But when you head back to the main screen, the layout's changed. It's gone back to the default commentary screen.
Why? Why override my choice?
And this carries on throughout the rest of the experience. Setting a field and adjusting on the fly is pretty much crucial to success. But sometimes you have a fairly balanced field, but just want to target a batsman's weakness. Or perhaps you're simply getting flogged through the offside, and you want to cramp the batsman a little bit.
So you tell your bowler to shift their aim - and the field reverts to a default setting. Over the course of a four-day first class game, or a Test, you might end up resetting your field over a hundred times. In a T20, when things start to get tight? You might want to adjust your bowlers aim multiple times an over.
It's annoying because fixing something like this isn't asking for a new graphics engine, or adding support for something that would require substantial testing (like the IPL draft). It's just asking that the game prioritise user's preference over default settings, and not to revert that until otherwise told.
But this behaviour has been baked into the series since for as long as I can remember.
There's other 'features' that have carried over from one year to another, without any consideration to whether there's a better mechanism. Form in Cricket Captain is represented as a series of stars, although the stars are really just a visual reference to an actual number from zero to 100 per cent.
And even that doesn't really provide usual information. A player that gets plucked from your state squad to the national setup will have terrible form if they get pasted on the international stage. But they're still an above-average state level player - the game just isn't smart enough to display form in a manner that properly accounts for domestic cricket against international competition.
Similarly, training has remained principally opaque for 20 years. You can assign training sessions - aren't all players in a squad training by default? - to a certain number of players in between matches. But until you get a tiny, one line prompt that says "your player has improved X", you don't know whether your player got any benefit out of it.
Was the training effective? Are they close to getting better? Do they have much potential in the first place? The game tells you nothing, beyond giving you a set of averages and basic statistics that could be impacted by anything.
Then there's the RNG of the opaque "aggression" system, where setting a batter below five bars in a T20 result in them ignoring half the balls that come their way. Or you somehow rolling through the top and middle order only for the second coming of Shane Warne to get 150, the only time in their first class career they've ever gotten past 55.
And, for whatever reason, the national selectors just love your side. Even if you're literally on the bottom of every domestic table, they've got no qualms with gutting your first-choice lineup just before an important match.
I could go on forever, but the gist is that Cricket Captain has been coasting for years. The closest competition was Cricket Coach, but the last release for that was in 2014. A new version has been in the works for years, but there's still no screenshots or footage of what to expect.
So Cricket Captain trundles along, like your Dad in low level grade cricket on a Sunday. Most 14 year olds bowl faster, he's buggered in the field if he bends down too quickly, and he can't see the ball that well once the helmet's on. But he still turns up every week, never needs a lift and you can count on him paying regularly next year because its either that or church with the extended family.
It's better than nothing, I guess.