I did a scouting report on this game several months ago, but could only tell you a little about since I hadn't played the game then. Well, time has passed and with the arrival of summer came an early copy of 3D Baseball.
I'm happy to announce that this game looks as though it will be excellent; a step above CD's other sports title. Slam N'Jam. From this alpha version, I can tell you that Van Earl's color commentary is excellent. Full of life and variety,Van Earl, like the commentators on the Japanese version of WSB, has greatly enhanced the overall feel of the game.The visuals of 3D Baseball are no less spectacular.The motion-capture of the players is amazing, including several types of running catches, tag moves and dives. The players themselves look great; the best of any polygon baseball game.
As of now it's too early to assess the gameplay fairly, but I saw no obvious flaws when I played. Good Al, a firm grasp of the basics, and, hopefully, a decent amount of stats will make 3D Baseball a major title. I'll have a review next issue.
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I remember the first time I saw a preview for Crystal Dynamics' 3D Baseball. It was over a year ago. I had just loaded my then-favorite Playstation game, Gex, into the machine when the phone rang. The game loaded and started going through a demo while I was talking on the phone. Then, something magical happened. The demo stopped and a preview started. A kid was getting pelted on the playground with rubber playground balls. I immediately told whoever I was talking to I would call them back. I had to see what was going on. Well, what I was watching was a trailer for upcoming games to be released by Crystal Dynamics. The one game that made me stand up and yell "YES!" was 3D Baseball. The graphics were incredible. Remember, this was back when the Playstation was still a young pup, so my head was full of ideas of what the future would hold. I remember making all my friends watch the promo, commenting that even if this game carried none of the professional sports licenses, as long as the graphics were that good, it didn't matter. This was going to be the ultimate baseball game ever. That 15 seconds was going to change the way baseball is played at home for years to come.
Well, here we are over a year later, and 3D Baseball has finally hit the shelves. This game carries the Major League Baseball Players Association license, so all of your favorites are here. To be exact, 3D Baseball boasts 700 actual Major League players and their stats. Crystal Dynamics used a trademarked proprietary 3D technology called Real Motion Control to translate motion-captured movements into 3D polygonal models that bat, pitch and hit like real players. Actually, Crystal Dynamics went out and took 50 actual all-stars' batting stances and motion-captured them. So here is the real question: is this game just another grounder in the infield or does this one go deep? The answer is a simple "both."
3D Baseball is just what the title states -- a baseball game played in a 3D environment. Like I mentioned above, this game carries the MLPA license, so all of your favorite players are here. The team names can't be used since they are the property of Major League Baseball. Also, the stadiums are fantasy stadiums. I can live without the team names, but not having the actual stadiums really hurts. You are limited to four stadiums that are fairly basic. It would have been nice to have more to choose from.
The players are the best part of the game. The Real Motion Control that was used to capture player motion is incredible. The popular stars have their trademark batting stances and the pitchers have their wind-up and pitching motion. This makes the players look as real as any other baseball game on the market. All of the movements are fluid and realistic. The coolest is the base running. The player must actually place the tag on runners. The swipe tag looks very realistic and adds tremendously to the realism.
When it comes to most games, gameplay is the most important aspect of the title's success. Baseball is no exception. I want my baseball games to be as real as possible. I want the control to be tight but not over-sensitive. When I throw to second, I want the ball to go to second. 3D baseball incorporates some easy fielding techniques with easy pitching and hitting. I picked up the controller without opening the manual and I was able to complete a game without getting killed. Catching fly balls in the outfield and line-drives is very simple. I was a little disappointed in that it is almost impossible to beat out a grounder in the hole. The fielder can dive deep in the hole and make an amazing stop get up and still throw the runner out by 30 feet.
3D Baseball has a number of different game options. Want to get in a quick nine innings? Just select an exhibition game and go. But if you are like me, you want substance. That is where the pennant race shines. You can pick a team and play them through either a 26, 81 or 162 game season. If you win the division or wild card, it is on to the playoffs. If not, better luck next year. The pennant race keeps the actual stats of your players throughout the season. You can view the schedule for all of your games for the season so you can plan accordingly. After every game, you can take a look at the computer played league stats. See how you rank in the league for home runs or RBI's.
After you start your season, you can use the General Manager mode to trade away that player that is just not performing. This is one of those areas where you have to have some self control. It is difficult to resist trading a sub par player for Greg Maddux. We have all stacked our team and dominated before. It's fun for a while but loses the competitive edge after a while.
The other thing you can do in the General Manager mode is alter a player's stats. This makes one of my major gripes about the game a little more tolerable. The gripe is that the game uses stats for the 1995 season. I don't understand this. The game came out after the completion of the 1996 season.
The designers went back and placed all of the players on the team they ended the 1996 season with, so I don't understand why they didn't change the stats as well. You can change the stats of your player to match the end of 1996, but it takes a long time and I don't know every stat for every player.
And now for those annoying little things in 3D Baseball that really don't affect the gameplay but still keep it from being a top-notch game. The first annoyance is that between every inning the camera zooms up to the scoreboard and sits there for about 10 seconds. You can't hit a button to override this and get on with the game. I found myself getting frustrated with the delay. Another area of annoyance is along the same lines. When a batter comes up to bat for the first time, a career stat is displayed. This stays on the screen for 2 to 3 seconds and you can't override this. At the beginning of every inning, the pitcher's stats are also displayed. So, let's add this up. 10 seconds to look at the score board, 3 seconds to look at the pitcher's 1995 stats or career highlights, and another 3 seconds to look at the batter's 1995 stats or career highlights. That is 16 seconds. I know this doesn't sound like much but it is frustrating. They don't affect gameplay, but they affect the overall game.
The graphics in 3D Baseball are nowhere near the graphics I fell in love with on the Gex promo. They are just OK. The best way to describe them is "Workin' Man" graphics. They are good enough to get by, but they don't break any new ground like I was hoping they would. I will say that the motion-captured movements are very impressive and the swipe tags when sliding headfirst into third are very cool. The different camera angles add a lot to the game. A fly ball to left will be shot at a different camera angle than a grounder to the right side. This gives the game a fresh perspective on every play.
3D Baseball is a fun title that has some up-sides and down-sides. I enjoy the tight gameplay and the stats available, but I just wish they would have taken a little more time, added more stadiums and updated the stats to reflect the end of the 1996 season. The fielding is very simple to learn, and just about anyone will be able to pick up a controller and start knocking the ball around. I think with a few adjustments, 3D Baseball could have been one of the best baseball games ever. All of the little annoyances don't really do much more than frustrate me, but the idea is to have fun, not frustration. I waited a year for this one, so I guess my wait for 3D Baseball 2 begins now.