All Star Baseball 2005 Review (PS2)
By Tim Martin -- Reviews Editor
The All-Star series made its bones originally on the Nintendo 64 where it had little competition other than the old Triple Play Baseball series. The series won universal praise, winning many of the N64 Sports Games of the Year during that time. Acclaim in the mid 1990s was still living off the insanely popular NBA Jam series, and a similar high quality was found in ASB. The company and the baseball game were hot. So, when three years ago Acclaim made the decision to bring its successful baseball series to the PS2, expectations were high. Expectations were similar to when the Dreamcast folded, and Sega Sports (now ESPN Videogames) announced it would port its games to the various consoles. For Acclaim, High expectations didn't result in high results. The first game, All-Star 2003, stumbled, as did All-Star 2004, but this year the game brings innovation to the table. A creative field camera mode is the biggest addition.
Presentation/Graphics : 92
ASB05 looks great. Unlike EA's MVP Baseball, the player models are more narrow, the color palette a little darker. The result? A game that looks less cartoonish and more realistic. The high leg kicks of pitchers like Russ Ortiz or the half-turn of a Kevin Brown or Pedro Martinez are well done. Only ESPN Baseball compares in terms of capturing a realistic look. The level of detail is pretty good, as player models have good shape to them. The player models overall do lack uniqueness or significant detail. For example, Johnny Damon has a choir boy hair cut when he should be King of the Amazon; Rafael Palmerio looks pre-Viagra commercial svelte; and Fernando Vina looks like a linebacker, when he has the body of a cheerleader. That is where MVP shines over ESPN or ASB; the level of detail in the face structure and bodies. The stadiums have a good quality, but some areas they got lazy. Many of the stadium's amenities like the the flags, often blow in the wrong direction.
The throwing animations are hurried and not varied enough, as they tend to rocket from point A to point B. Too many throws are replicas of that famous Bo Jackson toss where only a few steps from the warning track he threw out Harold Raines. The running animation could use some adjustment, as everyone runs with this Sam Perkins-like laid back style. It looks like none of the fielders don't really care while they're chasing down a ball; worse off, it seems like the ball's flight is timed with the outfielder's run. The ball's descent and the player's "no, I'm really awake" run coincide too perfectly. It would be nice to see a ball fall short or long in the outfield for once, but it rarely happens in this game or MVP (ESPN Baseball is pretty good at this).
Presentation/Audio : 62
The play-by-play announcing is too quiet, while the menu music blends both Beethoven and Vengaboys, something I'm not sure works. The duo of Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons lack much insight. While an occasional tidbit will float in, the announcing is incredibly flat and uninteresting. You'll hear the obvious, like Brennaman saying, "deep fly to right," but there isn't much color commentary. For example, in MVP Baseball, the announcers often add either pertinent statistics (like Milton Bradley's high batting average against left-handed pitchers when facing the Big Unit) or interesting comments (like the reason why John Olerud always has to wear a batting helmet). In ASB, those comments are few and far between, and when they do come, they often are long-winded and off-topic. The two go on a long rant about how painful their experiences were in recording all their comments over a weeklong span. The music isn't much better. The main song played is the Vengaboys "We Like To Party." For a game of DDR, that track is fine, but for baseball it just doesn't work. The in-games sounds are mediocre. The crowd, even at jubilant moments, sounds muffled and bottled up, not a rippling roar as in real life. The sound of baseball just isn't present, as there is no organist, players don't chatter and the fans, unless the game's paused, don't say a thing.
Interface/Options : 94
For the first time, ASB has online capability through the GameSpy network. The returning game modes are fantastic, trumping the competition. The game offers the standard stock of game modes: Quick Play, Franchise, Pick-Up Game, Batting Practice and Home Run Derby. But, where the game options multiply, is in the "This Week in Baseball" mode, which is similar to the scenario modes in other games. For example, one of the TWIB's gives the gamer the ability to replay the Steve Bartman foul ball debauchery and other key moments from last season. Trivia Game tests the baseball gamer's knowledge, while Fleer baseball cards can be unlocked. The game also has a comprehensive training mode, which is critical for beginning ASB gamers, as the game has a steep learning curve.
You also have immense control over many facets of the game, ranging from the speed of the pitches, to the fielding camera, to the type of batting. The game tweaking comes at the expense of game sliders, but, actually, I prefer having the pitch speeds laid out at three distinct levels, instead of having to crank a meter up or down a few notches. It's a less precise method, but it's nice because the tweaks come up as a pre-game menu, so you can really adjust the game to your talents. For example, in other sports games, you adjust the difficulty level, then adjust the sliders. In ASB, you can adjust a difficult level, but you can play the game with the CPU batting at rookie, CPU pitching at advanced and so on.
The game offers a tremendous amount of batting modes, ranging from zone hitting, to time-based hitting, to a 2-D cursor and 3-D cursor. The zone hitting breaks down the strike zone into nine areas, and the gamer must match where the ball crosses the plate with the D-Pad or analog stick. Time-based hitting is simpler, forcing the gamer only to press the X button when the ball crosses the plate. The 2-D cursor is a big blob that you move across the strike zone; whereas, the 3-D cursor looks similar, but you can now angle the big blob so that you can tilt a player's swing to the right, left, up or down. The 2-D and 3-D cursors are nice because the contact area varies based on the skills of the player. In the middle of both of those cursors sits a power zone that also fluctuates. For some players, like Sammy Sosa, the power zone takes up 2/5 or more of the strike zone.
The game's main interface sticks and twitches between screens, so the experience jerks you around somewhat. The information blows away MVP and is very similar to the thoroughness of the all-text baseball games like Baseball Mogul or OOTP. The tracked stats and ratings make the Franchise mode enriching.
Gameplay : 84
Certainly not flashy by any means, ASB does wield a baseball savvy that goes unparalleled in this year's crop of PS2 games. The game just isn't as pick-up-and-go as MVP Baseball, as hitting, pitching and fielding take more thought. Hitting, as mentioned above, has a number of options. I enjoyed the 3-D mode the best because it gave you the most control. The strike zone is a ghostly, milky white that is hard to spot making working the count difficult. The pitches do break with more realism than in MVP, but not quite as crisply as ESPN. It's the middle game in terms of quality. Regardless of the hitting mode, a little dot tracks the pitch's movement. I dislike it because you follow a dot, which makes your eyes dash, like staring through a gun's scope trying to shoot a fly on a wall. I prefer no pitch dot, relying instead on the natural track of the ball, which you do not see with this interface. Overall, hitting is realistic.
The big hoopla for this game comes from the Fielder's Cam, which like ESPN's first-person camera view, is a solid stab at innovation. However, the fielding camera's degree of difficulty will make most gamers cower. Why? Because you have to have Ichiro-like reflexes to pull it off. The normal fielding camera view in baseball games, one where the view is set behind home plate allowing the gamer to see the ball's path in front of them becomes flipped in ASB. As soon as the bat makes contact with the ball, the camera zooms so that the view is seemingly from the outfield watching in. This, as the instruction manual states, is to simulate the view of an actual player. In some ways, the view works, especially after dedicating 10 or more games to adjusting to it. You are guided, somewhat, as when the ball moves toward the fielder an arrow points you in the direction of the ball. And instead of a flat target area seen in ESPN and MVP, a vertical spinning stack of circles gauge how close the ball is. The shorter the stack of circles, the closer the ball is to the area. But the camera angle has problems, major problems that had me changing back to the traditional view. As stated above, the unrealistic reaction time makes fielding difficult. Catching a ball in the gap is nearly impossible, as you almost never see the ball in flight. You rely mainly on the directional arrows. That lack of sight makes it near impossible to dive for a ball. Sure, you can rotate the camera with the L analog stick, but it's useless when the ball arrives in one or two seconds. To improve on this, it would be nice to get a picture-in-picture view of the ball's flight, so you could maybe see yourself in the traditional camera view. It sort of makes the Fielder's Cam moot, then, but I really like the idea, it's just the setup is bad. And, when the ball is fielded, the picture-in-picture view could then change to a view of the base runners to see where to throw the ball.
Pitching is the true joy. A new broadcast camera view seems to really enhance the experience. ESPN has a similar view where the camera is set behind the pitcher. ASB actually allows a little after touch, which is something the other games do not have. After touch pitching means after you select and throw the pitch, you can still move the pitch a little up or down or to the left or right. But, the pitching interface relies on the placement of the dot in the strike zone, which makes accuracy too pinpoint for my liking. Base running, as in the other PS2 games is a chore, but in ASB it's even more frustrating. In MVP, ESPN, and 989 Sports' MLB 2005, you get a thumbnail camera shot of your runner when they're on first, second or third. This helps time stealing bases and is nice to see your runners in action when the ball is in play. In ASB, all you have is the small diamond in the corner of the screen with little dots.
ASB's strongest attribute is its baseball savvy. You'll see drag bunts, appropriate pitching substitutions (In MVP for example, it is not uncommon for the CPU to start warming pitchers in the third inning when the game is 0-0), and snap throws. The intelligence keeps you aware at all times, casting off the sort of "the CPU does it this way every time so I can exploit it" zombie feeling I get playing other games.
Replay Value : 90
This game has a wealth of game modes, a deep franchise mode and a smart gameplay engine. What's not to like? Not a whole lot. The game also gives you the option to "Save Game and Quit," which is something that I have begged for in other sports games for years. Compared to other baseball games, ASB has a solid showing in replay value. But because of its steep learning curve, with the Fielder's Cam and when the game is set on the harder difficulty levels, the game takes time to learn. I don't blame the game for that, but multiplayer is restricted somewhat, unless you have two experienced players. I tried playing the game with friends, and they quit because the controls were too complex. We, instead, grabbed MVP Baseball which we were all able to succeed at early. Baseball, unlike football and even basketball, has a long season. It's rare, even if you play only one game out of every series, for a franchise to go more than three or four seasons. The amateur draft, the form of restocking your team, doesn't have the same excitement as NCAA Football's recruiting or Madden's scouting combines. This makes extending a franchise to multiple years less of a personal experience. I simmed most of my drafts, which are like 40 rounds long.
Overall : 82
This is a solid baseball game, and is a great fit for those gamers who previously went with High Heat Baseball. The game has no major flaws, but it's stuck in the middle of a crowded selection of PS2 baseball games. It's not as user friendly as MVP, nor is it as realistic as ESPN. Still, it's a worthwhile purchase if you like simming games and take on the front office duties.