High Heat MLB 2003
With the PS2 football wars safely behinds us (and what a war it was!), springtime creeps closer and closer, and for sports video-game enthusiasts, that could mean only one thing'the battle for baseball supremacy is fast approaching. Of the four major players from last year, currently, only one title is ready to step up to the plate and play ball and that my friends, is none other than 3DO's High Heat MLB 2003.
Considered by many (including myself) to be the best all-around representation of our national pastime, last year's High Heat dazzled many gamers with a combination of stellar game play and a remarkable attention to detail. At the same time, it also disappointed a considerable number of people with sub-par graphics and animation. I have to admit, as much as I loved last year's game, considering the power of the PS2, the graphics were substandard at best, especially when compared to the competition. And for that reason, I knew it was going to scare off many a potential buyer.
Well, it must have been just as obvious to 3DO, because according to their prerelease marketing material, their first priority indeed, was to address the game's visual presentation. But along with an enhanced graphics engine, the developers have been hard at work creating a new feature set and improving upon the already impressive game play. This year's game swings for the fences with many new game modes, such as a Create-a-Player, Player Editor, Home Run Derby, Fantasy Draft, Stand Alone Playoffs, Batting Practice, and for arcade-oriented players, the brand new Two-On-Two Showdown. For High Heat diehards, this is icing on an already tasty cake. But several huge questions remain: In terms of game-play realism, is High Heat MLB 2003 still the game to beat? And if so, does it finally provide enough visual punch to convert the nay sayers? Well, grab yer Louisville Slugger and step into the batter's box' we're takin' our cuts and goin' deep!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
When High Heat MLB 2002 made its debut on the Sony's next-generation hardware, it marked the first time the successful franchise could be played on a video-game console. And like its PC cousin, it focused on capturing the most realistic and believable elements of baseball, and packaging them into a fast-moving, fun-playing video game. On many levels, thousands of gamers and baseball purists agreed that its inaugural appearance on the PS2 provided an experience unrivaled by any other competing product. Alas, in terms of game play, as compared to its PC counterpart, its sparse feature set and lack of a franchise mode prevented it from attaining mass-market appeal. Well, High Heat MLB 2003, for one or two players, greatly expands its feature set, but unfortunately it still does not include a franchise mode (please 3DO, say it ain't so!). I'm afraid that's not going to bode too well with a lot of gamers.
Nonetheless, along with the Exhibition and Season Modes, the first thing you'll notice about this year's version is the addition of several new game-play modes. These include Home Run Derby, Stand Alone Playoffs, Fantasy Draft, Batting Practice, Create-A-Player, Player Editor, and Two-On-Two Showdown. The highly customizable Season Mode branches into several submenus, where among other things, you can choose your team(s), access starting lineups and pitching rotations, make trades, view league standings and stats, and change season options in an assortment of categories. You can play a normal 162 game season or select a custom length for a season anywhere from 1 to 162 games (a one game season' hmmm, very interesting). Use the default team rosters or create your own by entering a fantasy draft. Last year, I was one of many gamers who complained about the lack of a Create-A-Player and Player Editor. I'm happy to report that it made it into this year's installment. For whatever reason, last year's rosters omitted several Major-League players and also included several fictional ones. This year' game does so also, but at least this time you can do something about it. And what a player editor it is! Besides the normal editing of created players, you can also adjust the physical characteristics and skill ratings of every major league player, in a myriad of hitting, pitching, fielding, and base running categories'now we're talkin'.
The Two-On-Two Showdown is a game within a game that features a one-inning match-up between just the pitcher and the batter. The players do battle against each other and earn a specific number of points for predefined outcomes, such as balls, strikes, walks, outs, singles, doubles, triples, and homers. It's an interesting and fun little game that can be played against the computer, however, it's best enjoyed with two human opponents.
Two new features have made it into this year's game, and dare I say they are revolutionary to the genre of video-game baseball. First is a Tuning Menu that, by adjusting sliders, allows you to tweak game play to your own personal standards. These include increasing or decreasing running speed, fielding speed, throwing speed, and the speed that pitches reach home plate. Furthermore, you can adjust CPU and human controlled hitting, as well as the frequency of errors and injuries. The second is a 'simulation'? scale that ranges from zero to ten. This scale determines how much the game is weighted toward arcade play vs. statistical ratings. 'Zero' creates a true arcade experience, whereas a 'ten'? is almost entirely stats driven. When you combine these two features with five levels of difficulty, you've got a game that redefines the meaning of game-play customization.
Once your out on the field, the real beauty and brains of the game, once again, shine through. The classic pitcher/batter confrontation is back and better than ever. Each pitcher has a specific arsenal of pitches at his disposal (the 'cutter'? is new to this year's game). Pick a pitch, choose to throw a ball or a strike, and then hit the directional button to choose the location ' simple, yet elegant. As the batter, you don't have to worry about any targeting cursors. The key to successful hitting lies in your ability to time and direct your swing to meet the ball. The better you can predict the type and location of the pitch, the better your results will be. Sound like real baseball? It is!
With a little practice, fielding and base running controls become second nature. This year's game features analog or digital control. Either way, you'll never feel cheated because of a sloppy or unnecessarily complicated control scheme. Of course at any time, you can have the CPU manage just about every aspect of game-play control, from pitching and hitting, to base running and fielding. But from one gamer to another, if you do so, you'll be missing out on half the fun.
To date, no other baseball video game comes close to matching the level of CPU AI like High Heat MLB 2003. And more than anything else, this is what keeps fans coming back for more and more. I don't know how the developers did it, but suffice it to say, I'm just glad they did! There are so many little nuances to the game of baseball. The more you play it, the more you realize this game's got the bases covered (pun intended). Whether it's pulling the double switch, bringing in a reliever at the right time, or bringing in a pinch hitter, High Heat MLB 2003 exudes a level of smarts that's at once, rare and refreshing. It'll have you scratchin' your head wondering, 'How'd it do that'?
At this point, I have only scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. It truly is a remarkable effort that I will continue to play throughout the upcoming Major League season. And speaking of the upcoming Major League season, it is my duty to report one of the few downers of season play. Apparently, because of the game's early release, the developers were forced to use last year's schedule. My guess is that because of the ongoing rumors of contraction, the Major League office was late in publishing this year's schedule. Wouldn't it be nice if 3DO provided an updated schedule on an inexpensive memory card? You betcha' but I'm not holdin' my breath! I haven't even mentioned the wealth of stats (there, I mentioned it), which like the game play itself, is deeper than deep and all very believable. Cap it all off with a robust selection of customizable camera angles, unlimited replays, and a nine-inning game that can be completed in less than thirty minutes. Other than a franchise mode, what else could a baseball video-game fanatic ask for? Uh' how about graphics to die for? (I knew you'd ask!) Read on.
Considering the fact that the visuals were a key focus for the developers, I gotta be honest with ya' I'm a bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong, they're not bad by any means. As a matter of fact, while it may not be immediately apparent, they are improved over High Heat MLB 2002. But, I realized this only after giving last year's game another quick look. And let's face it, if I have to do a side-by-side comparison between the two games to see a difference, well, that tells ya something.
Nonetheless, this year's player models have been cleaned up a bit. Along with better shading and lighting effects, more rounded edges, and a greater variety of player sizes and shapes, no question, they do look a little more realistic. Likewise, the stadiums and fans in the stands have also undergone subtle improvements.
The biggest improvement to the game's visuals, however, comes in the form of smoother animations. As a result, player movements, especially of the transitional variety, are more believable. They're still not on the same level as you'll see in its two main competitors, but nonetheless, they serve their purpose quite well.
Like the graphics, the audio package is not a big selling point of the game. Then again, I can't really remember buying any baseball game based on the merits of the sound effects. Having said that, all of the various sounds of the ballpark, such as the crack of the bat, the umpires' calls, and vendors barking out their assorted snacks, are quite acceptable. Crowd noises feature what 3DO refers as the 'Interactive Crowd Excitement System.'? This is a fancy way of saying, "they cheer and boo when they're supposed to." An occasional heckler will get his two cents in as well' good stuff.
This year's game also boasts smarter play-by-play and color commentary. Overall, the announcers do a respectable job of reporting the action. You will hear some slip-ups every now and then along with the usual dose of repetition, but you'll probably still want to leave it on (and considering what I've heard from other games, believe me, that's a compliment!).
Consistent with its PC counterpart, when last year's High Heat MLB 2002 made its debut on the PS2, it quickly established a reputation for being an accurate simulation of our national pastime that was fast moving, and fun to play. Unfortunately, a lot of gamers couldn't get beyond the weak visuals'and 3DO knew it. With this year's version, the developers' mission was quite clear; clean up the graphics, add some much-needed options and modes of play, and further refine the game play (if you build it, they will come). So have they succeeded? Well, yes and no. While the graphics have improved, let's get one thing straight'if 3DO thinks their 'all-new'? graphics engine is gonna convert the masses, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it's not going to happen anytime soon. And while the new game-play modes and features are a welcome addition, I can already hear a lot of gamers clamoring about the lack of a franchise mode' and quite frankly, I can't blame 'em. Nonetheless, choosing the right game for you is all about priorities. If graphics are what floats yer boat, this game just might sink the ship. But if you're anything like this reviewer, and your lookin' to have a good time (no, make that great time!) with a baseball game that emphasizes accurate game play with believable results' once again, this year's version is the game to beat. Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go check tonight's lineup' Let's go Mets!
Download High Heat MLB 2003
- Backyard Football
- ESPN NFL Football
- Front Page Sports Football Pro '97
- Jimmy Johnson's VR Football 98
- Legends '98 Football
- Madden 97
- Madden NFL 99
- NCAA Football 2003
- NCAA Football 99
- NCAA Gamebreaker 2003
- NFL 2K
- NFL Blitz 20-02
- NFL Blitz Pro
- NFL Fever 2003
- NFL Fever 2004
- NFL GameDay 2002
- NFL QB Club 2002
- NFL Xtreme