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High Heat Baseball 2001 (PC) Review

Publisher: 3DO
Release Date: April 2000

Background Info

It's the third year now for the newly Sammy Sosa-endorsed High Heat Baseball franchise, and it's time to check in on how things are going in 3DO-land. As you probably recall, High Heat has had by far the best baseball game on the market the last two seasons and now they are first out of the box in their quest for a three-peat. Will High Heat 2001 (HH2K1) score a baseball hat trick?

Graphics : 92
High Heat really seems to have beaten most of the graphical bugs which have historically plagued this franchise. This year's model has excellent graphics, including wonderful depictions of the various stadiums in the league, realistic representations of most players' faces, and mostly accurate body shapes based on each major leaguer's actual physique. The expressions on the players' faces are priceless—the questioning glance a batter throws back at the ump after a called third strike, the frustrated thrust of arms in the air by a pitcher who didn't get a close call are all great.

What's not so great are the bizarre bodily extensions of the players—most notably the ability of every pitcher in either league to suddenly extend his neck like a giraffe looking for the tenderest leaf at the very top of the tree. It's just plain weird. Speaking of weird, 3DO must be fans of gene-splicing or something considering how frequently the players have intermingled body parts between a runner and a baseman after a play at a given base. Nothing major, but highly amusing. Speaking of amusing, wait until you see your hitter float down the first-base path after drawing a walk—light in one's loafers, indeed!

Other graphical changes are very welcome—the rotating target under the player who's being controlled (yellow) and the player who has the ball (red) make it a lot easier to see what's going on in the game. There is a variety of camera angles available, and you should have no problem finding the perfect angle to play the game. Also, one of my new favorite additions is something pretty simple: the game now displays headshots of each of the hitters who are due up in the next half-inning. Very nice.

Audio : 80
There's admittedly not a whole lot one can do with audio in a baseball game. A little crowd noise, the “sounds of the game,” an announcer. The crowd noise is very well done in HH2K1, rising to a fever pitch during a home-team rally, booing lustily at the opposition's success. The sounds of the game are also entertaining to listen to, especially since 3DO seem to have toned down the sound effects of a hitter at the plate (in the preview, these were often overwhelming). Now, though, the tapping of the bat or the scratching of cleats searching for purchase in the batter's box are well done and perfectly balanced with the flow of the game.

The announcing, though, is a different matter. Yes, Ted Robinson is back this year and I, for one, have always been a fan of his measured, calm, knowledgeable delivery—he brings a lot to the game and I would consider him one of the game's signature pieces. However, what audio snippets the game chooses to play are at fault here. The call of the game is frequently out of synch with what is actually happening in the game. I've had pitches described as “High and outside” which the batter had to jump out of the box to avoid. Ted would also often excitedly announce, “It's a double switch!” after a pitcher would come in to replace the pinch hitter who had hit for the pitcher in the last half-inning. Team .366 should know better that that is not a double switch—it's simply a pinch hitter, followed by a substitution. Finally, there's way too much repetition. The woman who screams “Put some stick on it” needs to take an extended seventh-inning stretch, if you catch my drift.

Interface/Options : 85
Now, we get into a bit of a murky area. Let's start positively—you can customize almost anything you would like to customize in this game. Not just the usual options for what's automated in control, or which team you'll control—you can actually set up custom leagues with custom divisions, alignments, playoff schedules, etc. (no custom teams or cities, though!). The custom league option is very well done and surprisingly fun to play around with. Additionally, you can view schedules and statistics and league leaders and you can go into the bullpen and modify rosters and… You get the idea. The interface would be great…if it weren't so annoyingly buggy.

For one, I had the game crash on me and dump me out of at least five different games, trying to save games or go into the bullpen or whatever. Of course, I didn't mind that so much when I was losing a game, but I got pretty hot under the collar when a hard-earned victory was stolen from me.

Also, the bullpen interface, especially, has major problems. I never encountered the much-discussed double-switch bug, but I did on numerous occasions get into the bullpen only to find that whenever I tried to choose a reliever to look at his stats, all that would change on the upper right of the dialog box was the name of the pitcher. The repertoire and the picture, however, remained that of the currently throwing hurler. Plus, I couldn't drag and drop the reliever into the pitcher's slot. I would have to exit back into the game, then go back into the bullpen to make the substitution.

One final item that is now broken again and yet was, surprisingly, fixed during one of last year's patches is the switching from home to visitor bug. Once again, when your team switches from being at home to being on the road, you need to check all of your option settings to make sure they're set as you like. The game has a nasty habit of clearing your selections for items such as controller (I got switched from my gamepad back to the keyboard!), automatic defensive alignment, alternate throwing controls, etc. They've fixed this one before, so they should be able to rectify this problem pretty easily, I'd guess.

Gameplay : 83
Gameplay, overall, is quite fun, especially with controller in hand. The game does a great job of simulating the batter-pitcher confrontation, hitting is natural, pitching is fun, fielding couldn't be easier. I can't steal a base to save my life, but bunting is significantly easier to do and I was able to win several games through judicious use of a sacrifice bunt to put a runner into scoring position.

There is a major flaw in this game, however, and I'm going to write about it despite numerous published denials by the developers: catch-up logic. The game's designers have gone on the record in other publications and other web sites that there isn't any catch-up logic. I, and others, have found evidence to the contrary. Too many times I took what should have been a secure lead into the late innings only to have a previously moribund team suddenly spring to life and wallop me. One of the worst examples I witnessed involved the Cardinals against the Twins. I went into the top of the ninth with a healthy 6-2 lead. The Twins, who had done nothing all game at the plate, suddenly had runners on first and second with one out. Time for the old DP—or it would have been, were it not for a passed ball. OK, I get the next out. Then, two outs, ground ball to likely Gold Glove winner Edgar Renteria—who commits the first error I had seen him commit that season. Bases loaded, number 8 hitter at the plate…jacks a grand slam. I can't tell you how the game turned out as I threw the controller down in disgust and exited the game. They can deny the catch-up logic as much as they want—I lost way too many games to way too many bad teams in late innings for me to believe that the logic doesn't exist. There are also far too many errors and passed balls/wild pitches for the game to seem believable.

As far the simulation engine goes: Sammy Sosa, call your agent. In the only full season I simulated, Sammy came in a poor eighth in the majors with a puny contribution of 37 home runs. Big Mac didn't fare much better, ending at 46.

I suspect the guys at 3DO must be closet Minnesota Twins fans, as the Twinkies always do far better in simulations in this series than they ever do in real life. I believe that last year the game simulated the Twins actually winning the World Series (they had one of the three worst records in MLB last year in real life). This year, they were within a game or two of winning the AL Central against the Tribe. Other than that, and the elimination of the Yankees in three straight games in the first round of the playoffs, the simulation seemed accurate and believable (spoiler alert: the Atlanta Braves are going to win the World Series this year…).

Replay Value : 93
Assuming you can get past the above-mentioned bugs and keep playing, I would rate this game very high on replay value. There are now five levels of difficulty, and it is easy to see the difference between the different levels. The bottom two levels (Triple A and Rookie) should have you winning games frequently and handily after only a few outings. Pro gives you a good stiff challenge and the game only gets harder and tighter as the difficulty level increases.

Overall : 88
HH2K1 is a fun, but fairly flawed game. 3DO has a good track record for patching what's wrong, so I suspect they'll quickly address what's wrong. Additionally, they have the benefit of a passionate fan base who create “tune” files, which allow everyone to tweak the gameplay to their exact liking. All of that bespeaks a bright future for the game. Out of the box, though, I found HH2K1 to be a little disappointing. I'm not screaming “Say it ain't so, Joe,” but I do feel a bit let down by someone I expected better from. I always thought of 3DO as being “different from the other companies.” They cared about creating the best baseball game they could and not being slaves to the release date. This year, though, I feel they have rushed the game too much to be first out of the box. Yes, they were first on the shelves this year (although I think the near-simultaneous release of Sammy Sosa Softball has diluted their credibility, as most retailers I've seen have shelved the softball game with its garish, cartoony graphics right next to HH2K1), but I think they gained the first release at the expense of proper quality assurance.

I'd recommend buying this game, but I'd also recommend that you quickly learn what a tune file is and how to apply it—and keep an eye on 3DO's Web site for what I hope will be a killer patch.

Note: This review was written prior to the release of the patch.

By: Rick Worrell 4/6/00

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