Inside Pitch 2003
, the last scheduled Baseball title of the season has finally hit the shelves and if you are like me, the words 'on-line play'? clouded my better judgment and knowledge of videogame history. If I would have just taken a step back, I would have seen the handwriting on the wall and my expectations for the game would have been less than they were. This game had all the warning signs of a sub-par outing'it was announced very late in the development cycle, the launch date was 2 months into the season, this was the first baseball game released by Microsoft on the Xbox and the first game to include on-line play. All of this adds up to biting off more than they could chew.
First off, I do have to give props for putting together a very accessible and playable game of baseball. If you have played any of the other games on the market, you will be able to sit down, pick up a controller and start playing. Both the batting and pitching interface are simple and intuitive but far from innovative. Where games like MVP Baseball have upped the ante by bringing something new to the table, Inside Pitch stays with a more tried and true method.
While the game is easy to play, it falters in the details. First off, the game features no franchise mode, which I personally do not miss but understand many fans come to expect this in a sports title. Also, the game misses the mark on fundamental scorekeeping. For example, I was playing against the AI, who had runners at first and third base, with 2 outs. The batter hit the ball right back to my pitcher, who did not field the ball cleanly, booting the ball off to the side of the mound. The pitcher was still able to recover, field the ball and throw the runner out at first. Unfortunately, the game still charged the pitcher with an error, which is unacceptable. Another glitch I ran into was unintelligent computer-controlled base running. I was pitching and the computer-controlled batter hit a sinking line drive to my left fielder. As I was charging the ball, I made a last second dive attempt which I missed. The ball squirted passed my outfielder and rolled all the way to the wall but the base runner did not react to my miscue and remained standing on first base the entire time. I have come to expect more out of AI these days.
In my mind, all of this can be forgiven if the on-line play is solid but unfortunately, on-line play springs up a new set of quirks to contend with. With baseball relying on timing, lag was a primary concern and while the traditional definition of lag was not too evident, there was lag that did affect gameplay. For some reason, even the most routine grounder to short would end up as a close play or the runner would beat the throw, even if fielded cleanly. I could only attribute this to some sort of lag. Also, there was a slight hitch right before the batter would swing from time to time that did not seem to hamper the swing, but it just looked odd. If you can work through these minor issues, playing baseball on-line is the only way to go. This game gives me hope for next year when the development team has an entire year to work on solidifying the on-line component.
With all of the other good baseball games on the market, I have a hard time recommending this game unless you absolutely must have on-line baseball and you can look past a few warts. The game is not terrible by any means and it is easy to play but if you do not have Live, there is nothing this game does better than any of the other games. I say pass and wait until next year.
Download Inside Pitch 2003
Inside Pitch reminds me of another Microsoft first-year sports effort, NFL Fever. Both are fast, fun, and playable, but yet not deep enough to be really rec-ommendable. Still, in terms of establishing franchise roots, IP makes some strides. The highlight is its Create/Train Player mode, where you build a bailer and put him through an amusing regimen of stat-building situations before adding him to a team. Fun stuff. The Championship Challenges that have you trying to re-create memorable moments from 2002 prove entertaining, too. Unfortunately, a few big flaws undercut the promising start. The pitching, with only nine strike-zone locations to throw to, feels like a step back compared to other series' pinpoint engines. Plus, the requisite Franchise mode and instant replays are foolishly MIA--what gives? The graphics also fail to impress, and trying to control more than one runner at a time gave me headaches. A decent first effort--certainly fun for a few pick-up games with a friend--but I hope for substantial improvements next year.
IP is like a hot Triple-A farm prospect: It has flashes of greatness, but needs another season in the minors to work out the kinks. It's got the basics down--the fast-paced innings, tight controls, and addictive minigames are fine. But Ford's right: The total package is stuck in the shallow end. IP lacks the necessary eye-candy, replay options, and Franchise mode to go up against other hardball efforts. I give it a little credit for including online play, but coping with nasty net slowdown is a chore.
In a baseball crop festering with both quantity and quality, IP makes its mark--as the most average experience of them all. If you choose this over the beautiful-but-too-easy MVP, the hardcore High Heat, or the middle-ground WSB 2K3, you're dumb--wait, I mean, you'll have a good time. IP plays like a Will & Grace marathon: It's fun enough, but after eight hours, you know there were better ways to spend your time. Plus, the ball physics are lousy, and where's the instant replay?