All-Star Baseball 2003
April has finally arrived, and the battle for baseball supremacy on the PS2 is in full swing. 3DO's High Heat MLB 2003 was the first to step up to the plate. With an impressive combination of stellar game play, an amazing attention to detail, and improved graphics, the game proved to be a hit right out of the box. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for EA Sports' Triple Play 2002. Sporting bizarre player graphics, questionable AI, and an obvious devotion to its arcade heritage, for baseball purists, the game fails to impress on many levels. That leaves us with the third entry into this year's baseball sweepstakes'All-Star Baseball 2003 by Acclaim Sports.
As you may recall, it was about this time last year that Acclaim Sports debuted its highly regarded baseball franchise on the PS2. Regrettably, All Star Baseball 2002 was rushed to market with disappointing graphics, uneven control, and enough bugs to turn a programmer's field of dreams into a world of nightmares. Hoping to rebound from last year's setback, All-Star Baseball 2003 gears up for a second season on the PS2 with over 500 new motion captured animations, several modes of play, including a new Franchise Mode that tracks player stats for up to twenty seasons, all 30 MLB teams, and a legends team consisting of some of your favorite Hall of Fame sluggers. But as all sport gamers know, game play is paramount. And with 3DO's masterpiece already takin' an early lead, All-Star Baseball 2003 has a lot of catchin' up to do.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
All-Star Baseball 2003 offers several different modes of play including: Quick Play, Exhibition, Season, All-Star Game, Series, Batting Practice, and Homerun Derby. You also get an Expansion Mode where you first set your team up by selecting a city, name, ballpark, and the league your team will belong to. Then it's off to the expansion draft where you select your team's staff from a list of unprotected players from each club. You can then save your team and play for up to twenty seasons. Diehard baseball fanatics will enjoy the new Franchise Mode, which allows you to follow a team through twenty seasons of play. From year to year, you'll have to deal with free agents, player trades, injuries, and retirements. You can begin this mode of play by entering the franchise draft or by using a selected team's default roster. And if you ever get tired of pitchin' and hittin', you can play an interesting nine-inning trivia game, which tests your knowledge of baseball.The game includes three different modes: Classic Baseball Trivia, Home Run Trivia, and Speed Game Trivia.
Once you're out on the field, you'll notice the control interface for pitching and batting is pretty much unchanged from last year. The familiar cursor-based system is used for pitching and hitting. A rectangular box representing the strike zone appears above the plate. Inside the box is a triangular-shaped batting cursor, which represents the sweet spot of contact. The size of the batting cursor will vary from player to player'the higher the batting average, the larger the cursor. A split second after the pitcher makes his delivery, a small white circle designating the location of the pitch will suddenly appear. As the hitter, you must line up the triangle with the white circle and swing away. If you're lookin' to smack one over the wall, you can also press the square button to take a power swing.However, you'll want to use this option wisely, as this will decrease the size of the batting cursor even further. Other hitting aids include the ability to guess the pitch (which will also increase or decrease the size of the cursor depending on whether you guessed correctly or not) and the use of the right analog stick to hit to different parts of the field. There's no question, the game puts you in total control of the hitting process. But for my taste, it makes hitting more work than fun and quite frankly a lot harder than it should be. I personally prefer the cursor-less batting system made popular by our friends over at 3DO (you know, the one where you keep your eye on the ball and not at a collection of polygons?).
When you're on the mound, you'll be able to select from an arsenal of different pitch types based on the actual Major Leaguers. First choose a pitch by pressing the corresponding controller button. Then use the analog stick or directional button to choose the location. Once the ball is on its way, you can further adjust the location of the pitch. This pitching system works quite well and makes for an almost infinite number of possibilities for retiring the batter.
The controls for fielding are quite intuitive. A red circle highlights the area on the field where the ball will land. As the fielder, you're required to stand in front of the red circle to catch the fly ball. It took me a few dropped balls to realize this, but after a while, making the play became a matter of routine. To throw the ball to a base, you simply press one of the four face buttons mapped appropriately to the diamond, the circle button for first, triangle button for second...etc. And once again, "future throws"'a staple of the series' are achieved by pressing the buttons in advance, making for seamless execution of double plays.
No question, the control mechanics have been improved, but the real problem with last year's game was in regard to the AI. So, how does this year's game fair? Well, I can tell you this; it is better...much better! The first thing you'll notice is that home runs are less frequent, and in general, much more believable. For the most part, dingers are hit by the power hitters and not by everyone in the lineup. Heck, you'll even play through some games without any homers at all. Secondly, the base running is much more realistic this year. Balls hit to the wall will now result in doubles and for the more fleet-of-foot, even triples are possible. And this year, the developers seemed to fix another nagging problem from last year's game. ?CPU base runners are no longer faster than their human-controlled counterparts (It's about time!). And while I still may prefer a cursor-less pitching/batting system, the game's interface does provide for some interesting match-ups. There's a certain sense of cat 'n mouse going on here that's kinda hard to explain. Mixing up your pitches is an absolute must, especially on the harder difficulty modes. In any event, CPU batters do not fall prey to the same lame crap that I threw at them last year...and I must say it is refreshing. CPU pitchers also seem to play with a certain level of smarts that was missing from last year. They'll constantly keep you guessing with a variety of different pitches and speeds. And just like real baseball, the game will reward you for exercising patience at the plate. The only key element missing from the game is the ability to work out a walk. It seems that CPU pitchers always have the uncanny ability to throw strikes when they need to (talk about yer sharp shooters!).While I can't say that walking is impossible, it's not as much a part of the game as it should be. Unfortunately, this leaves out several strategic situations that would otherwise be commonplace.
When last year's All-Star Baseball 2003 made its debut on the PS2, anticipation was high among diehard fans of the series as to what Sony's next-generation hardware could do for their beloved baseball game.Unfortunately, the title's apparent rush to market produced a game that had the looks of an unfinished product. I am happy to report that this year's game, while not perfect, takes the field with a much-improved aesthetic package.
Without a doubt, this year's player models are a definite step up from last year, displaying cleaner and more detailed textures, a wider assortment of realistic player sizes and shapes, and facial features that bear an uncanny likeness to their real-life counterparts. The first few times I played the game, I especially enjoyed watching each of my beloved Mets parade up to the plate to take their hacks. Big-name players like Piazza and Alomar look absolutely stunning. Lesser-known players are not quite as impressive, but acceptable nonetheless.Each of the 30 MLB stadiums, as well as some of the old-time parks, is modeled to near perfection. You'll recognize superbly detailed scoreboards, grandstands, and various signs scattered about that mimic their real-world counterparts quite nicely. The fans in the stands are adequately modeled (at least more so than the blotches of color that we get with most games), but they seem to be stuck in a permanent cheering frenzy regardless of the results on the field (geez...take a breather folks, will ya!).
For the most part, player animations are extremely impressive. Before stepping into the batter's box, hitters will flex their muscles, kick the dirt, and take their warm-up swings. Several of the top Major Leaguers are realistically represented with their actual batting stances and swing animations. Likewise, pitchers' signature windups and deliveries come off quite convincingly. Furthermore, defenders will effortlessly jump, dive and scoop-up grounders to make the play. However, you will come across a few animated anomalies here and there, most of which are harmless, but annoying nonetheless. For example, when an infielder makes his throw to first or second, he will not always be facing the appropriate base. As a result, his arm will swing around in an unnatural manner, making for a peculiar animated sequence. And once again, after every put-out, players will freeze into a two or three second crouch, as if they were standing at home plate ready to swing the bat (I hate that!). Most troublesome is when one of your infielders unnecessarily dives to catch a ball hit right at him. Hey, it may look way cool, but all too often, it hinders your chances for completing a double play or nailing a guy at the plate.
Several different camera views are utilized to capture the on-field action. On the whole, they do a nice job of following the play as it unfolds. However, I am somewhat disappointed in the game's lack of manually controlled customizable cameras. Likewise, automatic replay cameras will zoom and rotate the field to give you a second look at that monster homerun or diving grab. But once again, the game has no manual instant replay feature'the automatic replay is the only one ya get!
Overall, the game does a decent job of capturing the sounds of the ballpark, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. The various sounds of the bat hitting the ball, for example, are handled quite nicely. You'll hear the familiar 'thwack' when there's a hard-hit ball, but it's definitely less pronounced when you make just a little contact or when you lay down a bunt. For the most part, the fans in the stand are brought to life with a suitable mix of sound samples. During non-action sequences for example, the mild drone of chatter will be accompanied by the occasional hoot n' holler of a crazed fan or by a couple of vendors barking out their assorted snacks. However, when the on-field action gets hot and heavy, the crowd will erupt into a deafening roar of approval or a sea of boos to voice their discontent. Unfortunately, the crowd samples do not always appropriately match the outcome of the play. Consider the following: it's top of the second inning and the crowd goes hysterical after an opponent gets thrown out at first base for the first out. Later in the same game, it's top of the ninth, and another opponent is thrown out at home plate while attempting to score the tying run. All we get here is a mild cheer of approval (uh, hello...did anybody see that?). Another huge disappointment is the lack of umpire calls. Instead, the men in the broadcast booth call the balls and strikes. And if you elect to turn the play-by-play commentary off, other than the crowd, each at-bat comes to you in almost complete silence (whutz up with dat?).
Pre-marketing material boasts a three-man broadcast booth, but this is somewhat misleading. Thom Brennaman handles the play-by-play and Steve Lyons offers his color commentary. And while Bob Brenly is listed as the third man in the booth, you won't hear him during an actual game. Instead, he'll offer his remarks about the different stadiums during the Homerun Derby (cheap' definitely cheap!). Brennaman and Lyons do a decent job of calling the action, but it's pretty standard stuff. Unfortunately, today's "standard" for sports-game commentary is fairly weak. For the most part, we get the generic, "That was a hard hit ball," kinda stuff. Throw in the usual repetitive banter along with Mr. Lyons half-witted attempts at humor and you get a broadcast package that's simply not worth it.
In the end, what we have here is an exceptional baseball title that improves upon last year's version in almost every way imaginable. It looks great and it plays a spirited game of baseball. And while I still give the nod to High Heat MLB 2003 as this year's best overall PS2 baseball game, the fact that All-Star Baseball 2003 makes it a close contest says volumes. As usual, it really comes down to your own personal taste. If game-play realism is your priority (as it is mine), then you're better off stickin' with High Heat.However, All-Star Baseball 2003, which features some of the best baseball graphics the console world has ever seen, offers decent game play, reasonable AI, and a robust Franchise Mode. If nothing else, give it a rent and get ready to play ball.
All-Star Baseball 2003 DownloadsAll-Star Baseball 2003 download
It's been about four months since the last release for the All-Star Baseball series and this time it appears to be a more complete and less buggy game. For those familiar with the series, Acclaim's first multi-console attempt wasn't quite up to the standard of previous ASB games with the finished product loaded with minor AI issues and gave a feeling it was released before it was finished. This year's release however seems more solid and less buggy with the graphics noticeably improved and the announcer's commentary appearing more dynamic. Also, with the addition of new modes of play like franchise and expansion mode, baseball fans will have even more options then before, visibly increasing the game's life span.
All-Star Baseball 2003 gives its fans what they're used to from the series. As always, multiple modes of gameplay are available, all 30 teams and over 900 players are represented, and official stadiums, logos and uniforms are all included. Although some bugs still persist, this latest release appears in much better shape and if All Star Baseball 2002 left a bad taste in your mouth, this one might renew your interest in the series.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Those familiar with the All-Star Baseball series are aware that one of its strengths is multiple gameplay options. This latest release follows the same trend with numerous options encompassing almost every aspect of the baseball game genre. In addition, these options include a high degree of detail and in-depth control that expand the experience to a level more consistent with an actual professional baseball game. These gameplay options include a quick play option where the computer selects the two teams competing against each other, MLB play, Franchise, and Expansion option. The features don't stop there however as trading cards are included, a home run derby is available, and other special features like batting practice, a trivia game, team management functions, and statistics are also incorporated. Basically, there are enough options to keep any baseball fan busy for some time as a number of these modes have long term cycles taking months to complete.
One of the more involved options is the MLB play mode. Although the major component in this option is the ability to play a season, exhibition and All-Star games can also be played here. One nice thing about the inclusion of exhibition is that any two teams can be selected as opposed to the quick play option that selects the teams for you. Most, however, will spend more time using the season option and for good reason. The MLB mode starts a season with the standard schedule of 162 games. Although a shorter schedule can be selected, games will be set up similar to an actual season playing opponents both in your league as well as inter-league rivals. If the amount of games to play through a season seems overwhelming, there are ways around them as the computer will simulate any games you're not interested in or if you want to play every game even if your team isn't playing, that can be done as well. Once the season is started, other features like checking the weather before a game, viewing the standings, or checking the statistics can be done. For those who enjoy managing a team as well, a team management option is also available where the line up can be set by switching, swapping or substituting players. The pitching staff rotation can also be modified in addition to viewing the injury list, trading players, and getting free agents.
The most involved option however is the Franchise mode. Also a new addition to this year's release, up to twenty seasons can be played through. Players will retire, rookies will become veterans, and superstars will be created. By combining the expansion mode with the franchise mode, you can select a city, a name, and ballpark for a new franchise of your design. An expansion draft is also available and players can be created, allowing you to follow their entire career. Other bonuses like record holders for the top career and single season records are given, the franchise history including team leaders and team records are shown, and retirement announcements are all available in the off season. In addition, Hall of Fame inductees are accepted, players' development can be followed, and free agents can be acquired. Unfortunately, this option isn't without its drawbacks as Acclaim ran into hardware problems with its execution. The problem is focused around the size of the standard Nintendo memory card.Basically, it's not even close to being big enough to hold all the data for the franchise mode and a third party memory card will be required. This can be problematic for those who will now need to buy a new memory card in addition to the game to use all its features.
For most however, it's not how many options the game may have but how well they are executed. If you played last year's version and were frustrated by the bugs and poor AI, you'll be pleasantly surprised with this latest release. Gone are the outfielders who stare off into space and the AI who sends his base runners when there is a pop fly to the infield with less then two outs. Although not all the bugs are gone, the game seems to be in a more complete state and the bugs aren't nearly as distracting.
As far as the control structure, it's basically the same as last year. The fielders throw to the base selected using the A, B, X, and Y buttons as a baseball diamond. In addition, they can dive, jump or scale a wall, and be told to use the relay man.
This is still a challenging game when batting however, and plays more like an actual professional baseball game. It's definitely a pitcher's game as multiple strikeouts are fairly normal but after some time, the hitting does get easier. It's more of a personal call if a game like, where multiple home runs every inning are common, or if the style in this game, where hitting in more difficult, is preferred. Personally, hitting home runs every two or three batters gets old and although it's harder to get on base and stay there, having to use more strategy instead of brute force makes for a better game.
The pitcher also has a number of options as they can change the location of the pitch or pick off a runner after the pitch type and location has been selected. Other issues like batting and base running are easy to control and intuitive. Bunts can be laid down, runners can increase their leads or steal, and the batter can switch between hitting for contact or power.
Although you wouldn't expect a huge different graphically since this installment was released about four months from the last, one area was noticeably improved. Apparently Acclaim is using a new technology called 3-D Cyberscan and it obviously paid off. Instead of being able to recognize only some of the players, now most of the players are recognizable and definitely look better. The players' bodies are also more representative of their real life counterparts including their batting and pitching styles. There is an issue with the crowd as it's generally weak and almost distracting but other than that, most will be pleased with the improvements.
Another area of improvement is focused around the commentating. It was a pleasant surprise to have commentating that is dynamic enough to sound real. Background on players is given as they walk up to the plate including recent performance. After a play is made it's discussed in an intelligent manner, and time in between innings is filled with information that isn't noticeably repetitive. All things considered, it's one of the better commentating attempts I've heard in a sports game. The rest of the sound quality is at least average as the crack of the bat and other sounds of baseball perform adequately.
All-Star Baseball 2003 is a couple steps up from the last attempt. With a clearly improved AI and a reduction of gameplay bugs, this release has brought the series back up to the standard it held previously. Other issues like dynamic commentary and improved graphics also help put the series back on track with the only serious issue being the requirement of the larger memory card when using the franchise mode. As long as that doesn't bother you, All-Star Baseball 2003 will keep many fans busy with its many options.
I know baseball can be done right on GBA. Just look at the awesome Baseball Advance that shipped earlier in the season. All Star Baseball 2003 pulls up short in almost every category when comparing the two titles and winds up leading to more frustration than fun.
On the surface, this game looks harmless enough. The graphics are decent and the stadiums are very detailed. The player models are respectable and the animations get the job done. The batting interface uses the same cursor-based system as the game on the next gen systems and it is actually easier to hit. Pitching the ball is also a breeze. So what went wrong?
Base running. Nothing is more frustrating in a baseball game than poor base running and it is abysmal in this game. Players wearing cement shoes would run faster than the players in this game. Turning double plays requires no urgency as you have all the time in the world. There are even times the runner will be thrown out at first before he is even 10 steps away from home plate. I had a runner on first and hit the ball back up the middle into center field. The center fielder played the ball and threw to second base to get my runner out by 15 feet. To make matters worse, your runners never lead off. I tried to figure out how to do it but was unsuccessful.
My other major beef with the game is the player stats. Since this game just came out, my assumption is the stats were based off of last season. Since I am a huge Seattle Mariners fan, I picked them to play for the season. I knew something was awry when the team that won a record 116 games last year had an overall ranking in the 70's. When batting, the batting cursor adjusts in size to the skill of the hitter so the better the player is, the larger his batting cursor will be, or that is what you would think. I stepped up to the plate with Ichiro, the AL batting champ last year (hit .350) and his cursor is so small you would think he hit .150. Later on, Mike Cameron steps up (he hit about .265 last year) and his cursor is huge! Don't even get me started on Jamie Moyer and his 97 MPH fastball.
Baseball is a game of details and All Star Baseball 2003 missed the boat on the minor details. The game is fundamentally solid but when you can't tell which outfielder has a play on a fly ball because both outfielders are off the screen, you'll become extremely frustrated. I don't mind a challenging game of baseball but only if I feel I had the opportunity to succeed. Throw in the dog-slow base running and you will be shutting off your GBA with a frown on your face more often than a smile.
Last year's World Series was seven games of adrenaline, excitement and torture, punctuated by a dramatic bottom-of-the-ninth comeback in Game 7 against baseball's biggest dynasty. For fans around the country, and for that matter, the world, we had experienced what baseball is truly about. Following the playoffs, fans were left with the cold, harsh reality that next year's baseball season was an agonizing six months away. After much anticipation, the grass is being cut, the popcorn popped and the players are taking to the fields. Just like clockwork, the 2002 baseball season has arrived, and with it comes All Star Baseball 2003 featuring Derek Jeter.
Acclaim Sports attempts to recreate this American pastime for Xbox utilizing its popular platform introduced last year on PS2. This game has set the benchmark for baseball video games, and has yet to be challenged. The big question on my mind was whether or not the transition to the new game console would be a successful one. The answer is an astounding yes! They started off by utilizing the actual statistics of each player and coupled that with up to date rosters which even reflect changes made in the past month of the off season. With this foundation, all that's needed is killer graphics and smooth game play. Indeed, Acclaim Sports did deliver.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The options on this game are so large in numbers that even after playing this game for a week, there were still areas I had yet to see. For starters, if your baseball skills are a little rusty, go ahead and try out the practice mode. Here you can work on grooving your homerun swing or practice making those spectacular catches in the outfield. From there it is only natural to arm yourself with your favorite MLB team and head into regular "Season Play." There is nothing left to be desired while playing in this mode. While your games progress, so do others throughout the league. In between innings the scores of simulated games are displayed on the bottom of the TV, along with highlight statistics for that game. It's just like watching the real thing. At the beginning of the season, all of the player's stats sit at zero. The cool thing about this is the ability to make or break players during the season. If you think you can play that bench warmer on your home team and make him bat .315, go for it. Using the built in hard drive on the Xbox, all of the season totals and options will be saved, allowing you to pick up where ever you left off. The "Season Mode" is a true test to your ability to manage a baseball organization.
You might be wondering what other options are out there. For starters, you can hit up some All-Star action or if you'd like, go back to the roots of the game and play using Coopertown's finest Hall of Famers. If smashing the ball into the upper deck sounds more up your alley, then the home run derby is definitely for you. This feature allows the user to pick from the biggest and baddest bunch of players in the league. Really, you can choose any player for this mode if you'd like. The only person not available is the nerdy batboy. The only goal to this mode is to go yard and send that ball screaming over the fence. This feature is great for working on overall batting as well. After playing this mode, trying for a bloop single to center field seems like a waste of time. When it comes to aggression-relief and automatic excitement, home run derby scores big.
Even with the hundreds of players to choose from as your favorite, I was still left wanting more. Well you can create your own player as one method to personalize the game and create some change from the standard options. Here you'll be able to select the player's name, number, look, abilities, position, and team. The only things you can't build in this game are stadiums, but I'll continue to hold out hope for next year. Now that the player's options are completed, I was able to put my man into circulation and give Alex Rodriguez a run for his money. The designers of this game made it obvious that personalization ranked high in developing this game.
One area that I felt deserved no complaints is the control system. With a learning curve of maybe 15 minutes, most players will have no trouble picking up the control setup. In addition to the basic controls, more advanced fielding and running are also possible, adding a level of realism. For instance, as you track towards the wall while chasing down a long hit fly ball, hit one of the triggers and your player will scale the wall. Base stealing has never been so much fun until now. As soon as the pitcher begins his wind up, hit y + the base you're on, and he's off to the races. You had just better hope that the catcher isn't a human canon waiting to gun you down. The 2003 version of this game has brought many improvements over last year's model, only adding to its arsenal of game play excellence.
The multiplayer option is personally my favorite feature of the game. The game allows anywhere from 1 to 4 players, allowing a room of friends to get together and grind it out on the playing field. The realism and nostalgia of the game are not lost when taking on head to head games, something that is not always true. When utilizing this game play mode, the user has every option in the book available at their disposal. You can choose everything from the weather, stadium, or just calm the crowd noise down. The multiplayer experience has very few shortcomings.
Another area that gives this game polish is the graphics. As with most Acclaim Sports games, it looks fantastic. The players move realistically and you'll be hard pressed to see any faults physically or otherwise. They are also detailed well with faces that aren't distorted or bodies that aren't misshapen. At one point I thought I was actually watching Ichiro at bat. That was then followed by a called third strike, but you get the point. The players and stadiums alike are so lifelike that it leaves the user wide-eyed and wanting more.
The audio was done with as much detail as the other portions of the game. Whether it's the sound of the splitting bat, or that annoying idiot yelling behind home plate, the sound effects put you in the game. In fact the level of detail and realism did at times get on my nerves. I don't like dealing with any guy yelling, "hey batter, batter" at a real ball park, so the fact that this carried onto my television, I was forced to silence him in the options panel. The audio options really make this game for any player. If you want 1000 people heckling you, including the commentators, the game will allow that. The detail in the audio soundtrack is there at your disposal'use or abuse it at your discretion.
This game takes the purity and excitement of America's favorite pastime and brings it to the Xbox flawlessly. Every team is well represented and created with the utmost detail. If you bought or played the PS2 version last year, I definitely advise you to pick up this version. The players move with fluid movements, gracefully racing across the field in hunt for a deep fly ball. The only thing missing from the action is the smell of fresh air and popcorn. So open a window, and cook up some Jiffy Pop, because this is one baseball experience that shouldn't be missed.