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High Heat Baseball 2001 (PC)
Hands-on Preview

Publisher: 3DO
Release Date: Spring 2000

So, it's early January, perfect time to start thinking about the upcoming baseball season, right? Well, it is if you're lucky enough to have an Alpha copy of the hotly anticipated High Heat Baseball 2001 in your hands (or, in this case, in your CD-ROM drive).

As you are probably aware, the High Heat series is a perennial first-division finisher in the annual baseball wars. From their first release, no one has captured the feel, sounds, tension and strategy of baseball the way that Team .366 has. Each subsequent iteration of the game has shown improvements, especially in the areas of graphics, statistics, and league play.

This year's version is no different. One of the changes planned for this year's game was realistic body types for the different players. This is done, almost too well. Skinny little infielders look quite slight at the plate; bulky big men cast an imposing presence, for certain. Mark McGwire, for example, is so large that his body makes it difficult for me to track the pitch from the pitcher. I'm not sure if he's actually blocking part of the path, or if I'm simply distracted by his immensity, but I don't hit as well with him as I should.

Or, at least I didn't hit as well as I should until I availed myself of another innovation in HH2001—batting practice! Yes, good old BP. Nothing quite like being able to stand at the plate and exorcise your demons without worrying that the game is on the line. As I mentioned in my first preview, you get to set up batting practice just how you want it: what pitches are thrown, are they balls or strikes or a mix, what delivery should the pitcher use. Now, in the interests of fairness, you can't choose a specific pitcher to practice against. Although that would be quite nice (though, let's face it—I could hit batting practice against the Big Unit all night and probably still would not hit him consistently in a game situation!), it wouldn't be very realistic, would it? I mean, I would like to hear the phone call where a team's best hitter calls up the opposition's best pitcher and asks him to stop by and throw him some practice balls!

The game is looking wonderful, and I didn't see much that screamed "Alpha" copy at me. The stadiums look great, the player models are very nice (realistically sized in the field, as well as at the plates), the fields have nice coloring and realistic looking grass and dirt.

Sound, however, is a slightly different matter. They have included some sound effects which I hope will be Alpha only—especially those of the hitter at the plate. The first two or three times I heard the sound of the bat being dragged through the dirt before the pitch as the batter readied himself, I thought it was kind of cool. The first two or three times I heard the sound of the batter's back cracking as he stretched between pitches, followed by a disturbingly satisfied "Ahh!" I also thought it was cool. That quickly came to an end. Maybe they are too loud in the mix of sound effects, but I found that these effects got very old, very quickly.

I had a couple of other glitches, but nothing major, and nothing that merits mention in a preview. The game appears to be on-track for a splendid spring.

One other touch which I really liked is that when the game is showing you who is due up in the next half-inning, they now show the portraits of all three of the hitters. Not sure why I enjoyed that one so much, but…

Also, when a substitute pitcher comes in, the game automatically displays his pitching repertoire as he is inserted in the game. Actually, I'm not certain this is new, but I don't recall it being in last year's game.

Finally, there has been one other change that I'm ambivalent about: what happens when you press the button for the base of the player who already has the ball. By this I mean, if the first baseman has the ball and you press the first-base button, what happens?

In last year's game, the first baseman would throw the ball to the pitcher. This, I think, is acting on the assumption of if he already has the ball, he can't very well throw it to himself.

In this year's game, the first baseman will run and stand on first base.

So, why am I ambivalent about this change? Because the old way of doing it (throwing to the pitcher) sped the game up a lot. Probably a couple of seconds were saved by not having to wait for the fielder to throw the ball to the pitcher. The new way, though, eliminates one annoying problem from before: I sometimes had trouble tagging a runner out or beating him to the bag because my direction pad usage would be a little inaccurate. I remember getting quite annoyed that the fielder couldn't run straight to his own bag.

So, what's the conclusion? I think it's a good change…but now I want a different button I can use to throw the ball back to the pitcher. I detest sitting and waiting for the fielder to decide it's time to throw it back to the mound. Most people no longer have 4-button gamepads—pick a higher-numbered button and let us have that one. Please!

One part, which I haven't delved into too much, but looks quite promising, is the league play. You can set up custom leagues, with custom divisions, teams, playoff schedules, etc. In the alpha copy, I could change the name of a city that a team played in, but not the name of the team. However, this change didn't carry through. When I changed the name of Baltimore in the league setup, it changed it on that screen only. When I went to play an actual game in that custom season, though, it was back to Baltimore again.

In conclusion, I'd say that Team .366 has another probable winner on their hands. Improved graphics, improved gameplay, and improved league-play all add up to a recipe that should keep the number one baseball game number one for another year.

By Rick Worrell 1/3/00

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