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High Heat Baseball 2000 (PC) Review

Publisher: 3DO
Release Date: April 1999

Background Info


We here at SGN continue plowing through this year's offerings which purport to simulate the national pastime. Already we've weighed in on Hardball 6 and Triple Play 2000. Now, stepping up to the plate is High Heat Baseball 2000 (HH2K). As you may recall, we were great fans of last year's model and chose it best overall among baseball games. It even made our top 10 games of the year list, and was baseball's only representation.

However, not all was perfect in High Heat 1999. Once again, let's cast our minds back to a simpler time. When a baseball game could simulate the swing of a highly trained professional athlete by having a model come in and swing...a tennis racquet...awkwardly...maybe two or three times. Yes, the graphics in HH99 were so bad as to be distracting (at least until you got used to them). Surely, this had to be a priority for the good folks at Team .366 in this year's game, right?

Graphics : 85
Much, much, much improved. Team .366 has really made great strides in addressing the major complaint about HH99. The swings are very believable looking, the pitcher animations are accurate (and varied-pitchers can have full overhand, three-quarters, or side-arm deliveries), and the players themselves look really good. I don't believe they are actually mapped images of real players' faces, but they are a very good approximation of how most of the players really look. Some of the graphical touches are just plain entertaining-the withering look a batter gives the ump after a called third strike, or the pitcher's arms-thrown-in-the-air display of exasperation after a close pitch doesn't go his way. Not to mention the amusing, and real-life accurate, tendency for bleacher bums to throw the ball back onto the field after a home run by the visiting team. As good as the graphics are, however, they mainly impressed me as an improvement over last year's sprites. They do not compare to the unbelievable graphics of Triple Play 2000 nor those of Microsoft Baseball. Very good, but not great. Team .366 is to be commended for their improvements, however.

Audio : 84
Ted Robinson, announcer for the San Francisco Giants, is back again this year. Maybe old Ted's schedule is too tight, but Team .366 should really look at getting an announcer in who has the time to record all of the players' names. As it is, the game call is bland and lifeless-"ground ball to the second baseman," "he's having a hard time at the plate," that kind of thing. No personality, no names, very blah. On the other hand, the calls he does make tend to be very accurate and very timely. None of the Twilight Zone aspects such as Triple Play's oddly disjointed commentary.

The crowd noises are, once again, very welcome and very entertaining. They get excited and noisy during a home team rally, they boo the pitcher when he's getting shelled, they even heckle the players on easy plays (during infield pop-ups, there's frequently somebody yelling "Drop it!" or "I've got it!" which always brought a smile to my face). Plus, the old, loud, drunk bleacher bum from last year must have renewed his season tickets, as he is here to loudly express his (indecipherable) opinions especially during the later innings. Nothing special on the audio, but nothing too negative, either.

Interface/Options : 70
Again, a big improvement. Last year's game allowed only gamepad control of the interface and I found it to be awkward and limiting. Rescuing the mouse from its seemingly vestigial status in the Team .366 lineup, HH2K has a very nice Windows-esque front-end. It includes mouse support, menus along the top of the screens, and keyboard shortcuts for many of the options.

I found making substitutions a little difficult, however, especially when making a double switch. Frequently, I would go into the bullpen and then realize that I didn't know when the pitcher was due to hit next. Unfortunately, there was no way (that I saw) to quickly check the batting order from that screen. Yes, it's my fault for not checking first, but I wish the game were a little more flexible about it. Also, when I did know that the pitcher was due up and I started a double switch, the indicator of who was due up when looking at my line-up was very unreliable-sometimes it was there, sometimes I had no idea who was coming up when.

Another bug I encountered was that the game kept forgetting options I had selected. The only "assist" I used was automatic defensive positioning (because I got tired of manually putting the infield at double-play depth, for example). HH2K also gives you a really cool option for alternate throwing controls (discussed below). Whenever my team went on the road, or started a home stand, these options would no longer be selected. In other words, changing between home and visitor status cleared all of the gameplay options I had set.

Also, one of my least favorite crashes in any game occurred with HH2K and I suspect it's a problem with the interface. I was beating Houston (whom my Cardinals were fighting with for first place in the NL Central) in the eighth after coming back from an early deficit. My pitcher really got tired, so I went into my bullpen and selected a reliever. I mistakenly double-clicked instead of single-clicking at one point and the entire game crashed, hard, dumping me out to my desktop-which it also had messed up. It moved icons and resized the whole thing and I couldn't recover. I ended up rebooting and then manually replacing everything just the way I like it... I am not certain if this was an HH2K interface problem or not, but it seems likely and it was really frustrating.

Of course, all of the above comments refer to taking the controller in hand and actually playing the games as they occur. When we turn to the simulation-only mode, serious problems emerge. This has to be one of the most ill-conceived and infernally difficult to use interfaces I have ever seen. Players get called up from the minors to the bigs without my input. The batting order changes, without my input. Players get injured, come off the DL-and have nowhere to go. The manual is singularly useless in providing any help in these matters, also. Here's a puzzle for you worthy of Myst:

    1) Player gets injured, goes on DL
    2) Manager (me) sees that it's only a 2 day injury, so I don't call anyone up and just sub for the injured player
    3) Injured player heals, manager looks at lineup, only to find...
    4) Some stupid AAA player is now on my big league roster, although I never called anyone up
    5) So I, rationally I'd say, drag my now-healed player off of the DL and over the name of the second-stringer who's been covering his position (which, by the way, is a word they apparently can't spell at Team .366-they use "Postion" as the header for the roster category of "Position")...
    6) Only to be told that I can't do that, but can only put them into a slot marked EMPTY, of which there are none...
    7) So, I look at AAA-no empty slots
    8) AA-no empty slots
    9) Rookie-finally! One empty slot. Remember, now, that I never made any of these promotions-never asked for them, never made them, never approved them. What happens when I try to drag a player from a higher level into the only EMPTY slot I have? I get an error message that the player isn't qualified to play on Rookie level. From AA to Rookie. A player I never even promoted.
    10) Stuck. Frustrated. Just let the damn game sim itself out...
    11) And I check in later and my lineup has changed yet again (close to what I wanted, although still quirky).

To be honest with you, I've never been much of a sim-head. I find watching the computer process games I'm not involved in to be incredibly tedious. I enjoy actually playing the games. I don't want arcade baseball, mind you: I want realistic baseball action in a game which I am directly controlling. From what I've seen, this is not possible with the sim engine provided with HH2K.

Gameplay : 92
This game is a joy to behold, if you are actively playing the game, controller in hand. High Heat 2000 is the baseball simulation equivalent of a Steven King novel-I found myself drawn to the computer for "just one more game" over and over again. The gameplay is engrossing, challenging, and highly believable. Playing HH2K will allow you to feel as though you are truly running your own little baseball squad (and physically controlling the players, as well). The players behave as though they really know how to play the game of baseball. They position themselves properly, throw to the appropriate base in a given situation, place themselves defensively in the right place at the right time. If you swing at every first pitch, you can be guaranteed to see nothing but junk tossed up as punishment for your impatience. If you are cautious and can run the count to 3-0, there's a very good chance the pitcher will groove a nice fat pitch right down the middle...for you to watch if you haven't the green light! :)

The alternate throwing control option (mentioned above) is one of my favorite options. Basically, this switches you from standard D-pad plus button throwing into button-only control. The normal throwing arrangement is that you press the D-pad in the direction you want to throw and then press the throw button. With the alternate throwing control option on, four of your gamepad buttons (arranged in a roughly diamond-shaped pattern) allow you single button access to each of the three bases or home plate on the diamond. I really think this is a better way to control throwing, especially because I could use the D-pad to move my fields while at the same time getting my thumb ready for the throw in. I think it definitely cuts reaction times a little.

The picture is completely different, unfortunately, if you want to have the game run things for you. The simulation engine is very flawed and nearly impossible to work with. The stats, limited though they may be, seem believable and accurate. Trying to manage your roster, though, is a tedious exercise in frustration. The trade AI seems fairly intelligent, as I could never manage any of the "Are you serious?" types of trades that all too many baseball sims will allow you (i.e. two minor league pitchers for a very successful major league closer such as Rick Aguilera...oh, wait-that really did happen). I couldn't get the M's to agree to trade Junior for anybody I put on the block, for example.

Oh, yeah, and the Minnesota Twins (who currently have, if I'm not mistaken, 15 rookies on their roster, won the AL Central. Then, in the first round of the playoffs, they beat the wild-card Cleveland Indians (or, as the idiotic Minneapolis StarTribune refers to them: "the Cleveland American League baseball club"-doesn't that just roll off the tongue?). Then, for the ALCS, they faced the also-surprising Texas Rangers (who knocked off the Yanks in the first round). Not only did the Twinkies beat the Rangers, but they then proceeded to defeat the Houston Astros in five games to win the World Series. I will make you this promise now: if Tom Kelly can lead this useless bunch of rookies to the World Series championship this season-I will actually eat the CD that this horrible simulation shipped on. That's how unlikely this outcome really is.

Difficulty : 93
This game just feels right. I always felt that my skills needed to improve (early on a skill level) or had improved (later on as I started to master a setting). There is no sense that the game is artificially manipulating gameplay to pretend to be altering difficulty.

Additionally, the opposition AI is smart. The substitutions the managers made almost always were smart and correct. They would pull pitchers as soon as they were no longer effective (including once in the first inning as the Cards exploded for 8 runs-early shower that day...). If they were on the losing end of a blowout, they would not hesitate to pull their starters for the rest of the game to avoid injuries. I don't recall ever seeing such intelligent management in other games I've played. Mind you, the subbing isn't perfect-one of the bugs that really bit me once was that the opposing manager pinch hit for his pitcher late in the game. I was extremely happy to see the pinch hitter come up because the pitcher was a sidearm hurler and I really have a hard time judging balls and strikes with them. My joy at seeing the pinch hitter was somewhat short lived as he hit a home run against me. "Oh, well," I thought, "at least the pitcher's gone." Imagine my dismay when I came up the next inning-and the same pitcher was on the mound! Terrible, terrible bug (I ended up winning, I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear).

Overall : 90
Although this year's competition appears to be much tougher than last, Team .366's perennial all-star has once again emerged as the best of the crop (so far, any way). The game doesn't have the eye-candy that overflows from EA's Triple Play series, but the updated/upgraded graphics are more than up to the task of displaying the baseball action and involving you visually in the game. The simulation mode is sorely lacking-although one must commend Team .366 for trying to grow the game and increase its appeal among all you stats-heads out there. The gameplay is once again top-notch. For the second year running, if you want to play baseball on your PC (and are willing to overlook some incredibly annoying bugs-come on, patch!), you have to have a copy of High Heat Baseball from 3DO and Team .366.

Reviewer's Equipment
Pentium II 400, 128 Megs of RAM, 2 12 Meg Voodoo 2 cards, SLI, Sound Blaster Live!, Microsoft Sidewinder Gamepad

By: Rick Worrell 5/28/99

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