Accolade's original Hardball was a welcome addition to the lineup of computer baseball games. Offering a TV-style view of the pitcher and batter, Hardball demonstrated why a well-pitched baseball is so difficult to hit. The game had a few playability problems, but graphically it was as good as any sports game.
Now comes Hardball II, and things are much better. To its credit, Accolade preserved what was good about the game and reworked everything else. As a result, baseball fans have another immensely enjoyable game to play with.
One of Hardball's strengths was its pitcher-batter view. Unfortunately, it was more effective when pitching than when batting. Hardball II not only corrects this problem, but also makes sure there aren't any more such difficulties.
You can now choose from four different views, and you can change them for each pitch. First is the view from over the pitcher's right shoulder, looking toward the plate. Next comes the view from behind the catcher, looking straight at the pitcher. Third is a combination of these views, automatically switching from the pitcher view to the batter view as your team moves from offense to defense. Finally, there's an overhead view, used most frequently when managing a team rather than playing.
Other improvements abound. You can now play one of several kinds of baseball teams (although there are no "real" teams available, since Hardball II lacks official endorsement from Major League Baseball), or you can build your own team. Several different ball parks are available, including Boston's Fenway Park (with the Green Monster), Chicago's Wrigley Field (with ivy-covered walls), and Toronto's SkyDome (with its dazzling scoreboard). You can't create your own parks, but at least the ones included in the game are realistically represented.
The game play is also improved. Gone are the slow throws from the outfield and the infield over which you had little control. Now your players must be moving from the crack of the bat, and their throws must be quick. Errors are possible, too, and base running is dramatically improved. The only disappointment is that outfielders can still throw from the outfield wall to home plate without even a bounce. Let's hope the next edition includes the cut-off man.
As if all these improvements weren't enough, Hardball II allows league play, too. Using the team editor, you can modify existing teams or create new ones, and the process requires you to supply fewer numbers than most stats-oriented games demand. You can even create a draft pool and draft new players for your teams (most enjoyable when playing against friends). Finally, you can organize the teams into a league, tell the computer how many games each team will play, and then let the program run the league for you.
Fans of Earl Weaver Baseball and Micro-League Baseball may be wondering what Hardball II offers that their favorite games don't. There are two answers. First, Hardball II is easier to use, because its lack of enormous statistical detail makes it extremely playable. Second, Hardball IVs graphics are exceptional. From the moment the batter connects, you can tell whether the ball is well tagged or simply a routine fly. And from either the batter or the pitcher's viewpoint, there is still no better game than Hardball II.