If HardBall 5 for the PlayStation is what baseball games have come to, there should be another strike.
How a good Genesis and PC game could fall apart on the PlayStation is beyond comprehension, but somehow it happened. Fielders miss easy grounders, pop flies somehow drop for hits, and the placement of pitches is easy to judge because of the simplistic cursor, making two-player games an unrealistic slugfest.
Grainy graphics and missing frames of animation during dives and jumps make the action frustrating, while the close-ups of players' faces make the players look psycho instead of heroic. Rock versions of stadium PA music are annoying, while A1 Michaels is often late on his announcing.
Playing a couple of innings of HardBall will have you singing "Take me out of this ballgame.
- Aggressive base running will often lead to extra bases and runs. Steal whenever possible.
- Pitch the ball on the outside corner while changing speeds to keep the batter off balance.
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Playing Hardball 5 with a friend via modem or network is, in this reviewer's honest opinion, the best way to get your money's worth. Head-to-head play stresses both physical (timing swings and placing pitches) and mental (pitch selection, base running) skills. There is no greater joy than to see your opponent swing a month too early at your well-chosen changeup pitch. Indeed, trying to guess what the opposing pitcher or batter will do on the next pitch constitutes the majority of the fun in a head-to head-game. The rest of your energy is spent praying that your fly ball finds a gap or stays fair, or hoping that the opposing batter will chase your best garbage pitch. Such intense hopefulness is what being a baseball fan is all about, but in Hardball 5, you will often find yourself wishing for more control over where the ball goes when hit.
Hardball 5 gives modem or network players an overall rewarding gaming experience, but (and there's always a but) the game has some obvious glitches which can be utterly maddening when they cause you to lose a close game to an undeserving friend. For instance, the squeeze play: There is no possible way I have found to defend against it in a head-to-head game. You can set your players on automatic fielding, but they are too slow to stop the play, and trying to get your catcher to field the ball and still tag the runner ... well, forget about it. This basically means that when a runner reaches third base, you may as well put another run on the board. Friends and I have developed an "honor system" (agreeing not to use such a play) in an effort to guard against such unfairness.
Another problem concerns pitch placement. No matter how far out of the strike zone your pitch is, it is always possible for the batter to hit it out of the park; this just should not be. What this results in is the player controlling the pitcher losing heart and throwing everything down the middle of the plate -- with surprising success.
Hardball 5 has a very intuitive setup program. The whole process, including joystick calibration, took me about five minutes -- tops. The only problem one might face is during the sound card setup -- for some reason, the game tends to have a cow when detecting non-SoundBlaster cards.
The player interface is one of the game's strongest selling points. The game gives you control over almost every facet of the game's configuration, including team and lineup selection, difficulty settings, fielding and base running options, and batter or pitcher view. During a game, team managers (that's you) are allowed to warm up and substitute pitchers or bring in pinch hitters off the bench. Pitching and hitting also allow a variety of player interactions. When pitching, you get to select the pitch and then move it around for placement when it's thrown. As a batter, you must not only time your swing correctly, but you have to find the pitch as well (e.g. swing high if the pitch is high). Together, all these variables make for a very exciting and "real-time" gaming experience, especially in a head-to-head game.
Graphically, Hardball 5 is one of the best sports games on the market. The graphics themselves are both fluid and dependable; my run-of-the-mill video card had no trouble keeping up with the action, and even in long head-to-head games, eye fatigue is rare.
Fully represented in all their glory are the major league players (on player-card-type photos) and the major league ballparks themselves (with true-to-life dimensions, of course). Noticeably missing, however, are the MLB team logos and names; although you can play the New York team -- with your ace David Cone -- against Ken Griffey and the Seattle club, you will not see the Mariner or Yankee emblems represented. Most gamers will be able to overlook this "shortcoming" and enjoy the game's addictive action.
Despite the beautifully-rendered ballparks and enjoyable "feel" of the game, however, the realism of the actual gameplay often suffers by comparison. Often, the ball seems to fly in unlikely directions. One time in particular, my "mighty" batter Chuck Finley (actually a pitcher) muscled a high-inside Roger Clemens fastball over the OPPOSITE field fence. I don't think so. Such occurrences, especially in head-to-head play, can leave one foaming at the mouth.
Another complaint some people have about the game is that the players don't seem to act like "themselves." In real life, Felix Fermin cannot pitch well. But Hardball 5 allows you to get away with such strange player substitutions. Likewise, in real life, Kirby Puckett is a much better hitter than Otis Nixon, but in Hardball 5, the players' abilities seem to even out. Therefore, it doesn't matter if your last hope in the 9th is Frank Thomas or Omar Vizquel. You can also have two or three first basemen in your lineup if desired. Admittedly, these will be small drawbacks to the casual gamer, but they can cause extreme headaches -- or worse, apathy -- in a serious head-to-head game.
I found the music of Hardball 5 to be more than adequate. The quality of the audio is quite good, and the music itself is well-conceived: It varies enough to avoid the annoyance factor yet still maintains an energetic, upbeat tempo. The sound effects are fairly realistic, and they also avoid the common sports-game trap of noxious repetition. The commentary by Al Michaels is smooth and well-recorded, although some players turn it off after its charm fades. My only suggestions to Accolade for the sound design of future baseball games would be to include more of the game's environmental sounds: the cheesy organ playing "La Cucaracha," the Brooklyn accent of the beer vendor touting his wares, or the roaring (or hissing) of the crowd. But I would rate the audio of Hardball 5 higher than the average sports game.
486 SX-33, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, 16 MB hard disk space, VESA compatible video card, DOS 5.0 or later version, sound card
Reviewed on: 486 DX4-100, 4X CD-ROM drive, 8 MB RAM, S3 VESA video card
I couldn't quite smell the hot dogs or enjoy the sight of fans throwing a home run ball back onto the field, but whiny criticisms aside, I would recommend Hardball 5 to most players. The only people who shouldn't shell out their $39.95 -- a great price, by the way -- are serious sports-game players who might be put off by some of the game's unrealistic tendencies. But Hardball 5 is definitely one of the more addictive and visually stunning of the sports games I've played. What it loses in realism, it makes up for in action. I anoint it with a score of 86.
Accolade was on of the first companies to start developing baseball titles, dating back to the days of the Apple HE.That's probably why its titles maintain the highest quality of baseball play, at least from a purist's point of view. What I find confusing is why no one over there has put any effort into developing a good second-generation engine to complement the already brilliant amalgam of stats and simulation, in order to appease the basic baseball fan.
Hardball 5 remains the best in the categories of stats, realism and overall baseball smarts.You can tell, when you're playing, that the guys who developed this game know baseball. I mean really have an understanding for America's favorite pastime. Hardball 5 contains all of the options and plays that are available to any manager in today's Major Leagues. You've got the hit and run, steal, and intentional walk; you can shift your D all over the place to compensate for a hitter.This game has it all. And stats. What about stats? Hardball S's got everything from running speed and batting averages against RHP and LHP, to arm strength and fielding ability.The depth is there.
Also, the players act and react just like they would in real life. For once, a computer controlled player will throw to the right base, stop mid-way during a fly ball and know where to run, in the field, on every hit. Hardball 5 is the only baseball game I've seen to date in which you don't start noticing the little play mistakes half a season into it.
Why the 6, you ask? Well, for one, the graphic capabilities of the PlayStation aren't even delved into.The game still plays on a 2-D playing field in which it's super-tough to judge depth. Also, the players look a little grainy, including the pitcher and batter (although I'll admit that the motion-capture is pretty good). If we could only somehow get the guys at Accolade to show the guys at Konami and Sega how it's done--a joint effort--then we'd really have a game!