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Hardball 6 2000 (PC) Review

Publisher: Accolade

Background Info

Sometimes, a major league team finds a prospect who has put together a few good seasons in the minors, so they bring him up for a cup of coffee...and find that he has totally disappointed all those who had such high hopes for his success. A good, and patient, team lets the player in question return to the minors, season himself a bit, then return for another shot. If he still sucks, well, "Hello, kitchen counter installations!"

Accolade definitely has a well-ripened piece of garbage on their hands in Hardball 6 2000 Edition (HB62K). This game was one of last year's underperformers, although it really seemed (for awhile) as though Accolade was going to make a mondo patch to fix all that ailed the game. Of course, they mainly just wanted to wait for the furor in the gaming newsgroups and the review web sites to die down before they let the game die its natural death.

This year, though, they've come out with a bargain version of their venerable franchise, confusingly named Hardball 6 2000 Edition. Wait a second: Hardball 6 was last year's game! But, this says 2000 Edition. Hmm... For the sarcasm-impaired out there, let me translate: this is a patch which some of you are paying $20 for! Basically, it's a slap-dash, worthless patch on top of it all. Yes, Accolade has graciously decided to give the 2000 Edition for free to owners of Hardball 6. This calls to mind the old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." People, let's not get fooled again...

[Editor's Note: This is basically the same game as Hardball 6 and is not being reviewed as if it were a brand-new release. However, the length of time the game has been available and the revision opportunities this should have afforded Accolade has been taken into account.]

Graphics : 60
Graphics were never a strong point for the Hardball series and there is no noticeable improvement in this year's edition. The players still seem to be poorly rendered 2D sprites and there is absolutely no sense of immersion in the game. I have seen what can be done with graphics (EA's FIFA series and Sierra's Grand Prix Legends come to mind) and this game comes nowhere near that desired suspension of disbelief. The graphics are choppy, with very little detail. The player faces are completely generic. Accolade didn't even attempt to make the players' bodies realistic, either (unless Mark McGwire had a couple of ribs and 40 pounds of muscle removed, there's no way he would fit into the uniform Accolade has supplied him). When the players run, they take mincing, choppy steps as if they were reluctant participants in a firewalking ritual. And the throwing! The throwing is so bad, I couldn't stop marveling at how inept it was. These strong-armed professional baseball players will field a ball (occasionally--see gameplay, below), turn to the desired base, rear back...and rainbow a helium-filled softball in the general direction of the base! Not only that, but the animation of the throw includes a series of inconsistent cuts. When the catcher attempts to throw out a runner stealing second, the first part of the throw is shown from the catcher's perspective. The, perspective changes to an overhead view-and the ball noticeably "jumps" in the transition. They don't even have the same trajectory between the two shots.

The pitching cursor is also a ridiculous failure. It's too small, it's too jumpy, and it's impossible to control where your pitches are going. And that's the good part of the cursor (pitching)! Don't even bother trying to use it on the batting side as it is worse than useless--it will actually decrease your hitting ability because it is so inaccurate and misleading.

One more major pet peeve: the game completely messed up the alignment of the icons on my desktop numerous times, due to the unusual way it switches resolutions when you are going into game mode and then exiting it. A couple of times, only the top-left quarter of my screen would show up. Other times, all of my icons would be rearranged, with no hope of getting them all back.

Audio : 70
The audio was clean and easy to understand. The sounds of the game are accurately reproduced and the play-by-play announcer is easy to understand, not too repetitive, and generally pleasant to listen to. There are some weird quirks in the play-by-play, including a call of "Ground ball to the mound" on a ball that was caught on the fly for an out. Several of these missed calls occurred, but they weren't really detrimental to the gameplay, so I found myself more willing to let them slide.

Interface/Options : 40
The interface for HB62K seems, at first, to be relatively well done. There are lots of options you can change and they all seem pretty straightforward. Plus, and this is nice, you can use the mouse, keyboard or gamepad to make your selections. Things go downhill pretty quickly from there, however. For one, I defy you to find a way to exit the game within 3 minutes of when you first consider quitting.

OK, OK, I'll take a little pity on you. There is no option to end a game. As a matter of fact, you have to go into Lineups, then Main Menu, then confirm that you want to Abort Game, then choose to close Hardball 6. No, there are no shortcuts. Try warming up a pitcher. Both starters and relievers are listed in one long (and not easily navigable) list. It takes a full inning to warm up a pitcher...but you receive no notice of when he is warm. You have to keep going back and checking his status to see if he's ready to be the next sacrificial lamb to be brought in. Which segues nicely into...

Gameplay : 25
I'm not sure what game Accolade was trying to simulate for us, the dedicated sports gaming fans, but I'm pretty sure it isn't baseball. At least not major league baseball. Although, even an 8-year-old who showed such a poor understanding of the rules and strategies of the game would have been benched by his coach in a second. Where does HB62K go wrong? Let me count the ways:

1. Cardinals against the Twins. Runner on first (Mientkiewicz, Twins' first baseman) with a speed rating of 42 out of 100. With one out, and a 1-1 count, he attempts to steal second. No, it wasn't a hit and run. Yes, I retired him handily. 2. Runners on first and second, nobody out...and my infield decides to play In. Whom are they attempting to retire at the plate, anyway? As long as we're talking about the location of runners: why doesn't the box in the upper corner (with the little diagram of the diamond) show the current runners' positions on the bases? 3. Runner at 3rd, 1 out. Fly ball to right field...and the runner goes for home (beyond half-way). Of course, since he wasn't tagging, he was unable to score after the fielder made the easy catch. 4. My outfielder threw the ball to the cutoff man (2B) who was standing just beyond the infield dirt. This phenom then relays to the shortstop, who then throws on to third base!

I could supply you with many, many more examples, but I find myself being angered by the memory of this game, so I'd best stop now.

In terms of the simulation side of things, and the manage-only aspects, Hardball as a series has always been well-respected for their statistical engine. Things haven't changed in HB62K. The simulations seem believable and the numbers appear accurate. The actual simming of the games allows you to choose how many games you want simmed-full season, to the All-Star game, full season including playoffs. There is also a draft function, which I didn't play around with too much.

Difficulty : 40
The difficulty rating is, of course, heavily influenced by many of the comments listed above, under both Interface and Gameplay. It's rather difficult to assess accurately how difficult the actual gameplay of a given game is, when it's so hard to get beyond the numerous other flaws of the game. The batting cursor was so misleading, for example, it definitely made hitting (even on the rookie level) far too difficult to be enjoyable. So, for now, at least, the game is too difficult to be played and enjoyed fully, thanks to the show-stopper type bugs listed above.

Overall : 40
I find it confusing, and frustrating, how Accolade could release this game once, have an entire year to listen to user feedback and fix the problems with the game, then release it again (at a bargain-basement price, admittedly) and still not make the game right! This game, at the very least, should rate at least as well as the top games of last season, given the amount of time Accolade has had to work on it. Instead, though, I would rank this game as being the worst baseball game currently on the market-for both this year, and last year. They squandered an opportunity to make things right with the gaming community and to try to repair the damage they had done to a once-proud gaming franchise.

I hope Accolade is ashamed of what they have done with this game, and I hope they listen sincerely to what their users have told them over the last one to two years. I am not wishing for this franchise to die, mind you: I with all my heart hope they can fix what's wrong and bring a truly major-league-worthy offering to the plate with Hardball 7, 2001 Edition (or whatever they end up calling it).

By: Rick Worrell 4/21/99

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