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High Heat Baseball 2002 (PC) Review

Background Info

It's been four years now since 3DO revolutionized baseball simulations on the PC with its perennial powerhouse, High Heat Baseball, this year in its 2002 edition (HH2K2). Two major licensing coups are clear with this year's game:

1) Official MLB approval and naming of the game, as Major League Baseball is now part of the title;
2) The coveted signing of Meatloaf to provide the soundtrack, as it's difficult to finish a game without the woman from “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” jumping in to halt the action while screaming “Stop right there!” OK, so Meatloaf isn't really providing the soundtrack, but given the frequency with which this game crashes, usually at critical junctures, he might as well have.

Graphics : 93
A lot of time has passed since HH's first offering encouraged the jeers of graphics fans everywhere. This year's edition features numerous improvements, including new player models with double the polygons, new uniform textures, and excellent looking stadiums. They still haven't mastered the idea of different players having different builds, however, and so Mark McGwire appears quite slim in this game, while Edgar Renteria seems to have spent quite awhile in the gym bulking up for the 2002 campaign.

The graphics overall, however, are really something to behold. The players look realistic without the creepy appearance of stitched-on faces such as the Frankenstein monster players of old had. Everyone moves very realistically (although certain animations still feature players who step a little lightly) and it's easy to become immersed in the gameplay with no jarringly bad animations to remove the illusion of the game.

There are nice touches, as well, in the very realistic stands, including lights flickering on in the St. Louis skyline as the game progresses, and the looming presence beyond the left-field wall in Cincinnati of its new stadium (still a work in progress).

Audio : 87
Audio has been greatly improved this year, as the announcers are very animated and excitable, and there is both a play-by-play announcer as well as a color man (Dave O'Brien from the Marlins does play-by-play; Ray Fosse from the A's does color). Some of the tidbits the color guy throws out are really interesting, until the repetition gets to you. For example, in almost every game I played as the Cardinals, he felt compelled to say that Jim Edmonds had gone from a good centerfielder to one of the best in the game last year. This bit of information was always shared with me during Edmonds' first at bat in almost every game. It was a good, accurate observation…once.

The sounds of the game are well represented, with bats cracking, gloves popping, and hitters scratching their bats across the plate and the batter's box. The umpire's calls seemed much clearer this year, as though they decided to move away from the dramatic calls of previous games and go instead for a more subtle, professional sounding call this year. You'll be glad to know our drunk bleacher bum buddy has not yet completed his 12-step program and will still lustily, and boozily, express his opinion of the goings-on during later innings. He still cracks me up…

Once again, the crowd provides an exciting atmosphere in which to play. They knowledgeably respond to the game situations, and are quick to boo a weakening pitcher who is jeopardizing the team's success, and equally quick to work themselves into a roaring frenzy as the home side stages a furious late-inning rally. The crowd becomes more than a backdrop to the game, they are so well done. When they are excited and cheering, I found that it greatly increased my enjoyment of the game and my excitement with the current gameplay. More interestingly, I found them to be a more accurate barometer of when to yank my pitcher than either the fatigue meter (usually showed the pitcher to be stronger than he really was) or the pessimistic color announcer (who was ready to throw in the towel on a pitcher after just a hit or two). The fans, however, seemed to allow a mistake or two, but would readily voice their decision that a pitcher was done. They were frequently right, too.

Interface/Options : 93
Man, I really found the interface in this year's game to be intuitive and quick. Not only is it clear where to go to set various options, but HH2K2 also provides multiple ways to do things. You can use the on-screen buttons to, for example, go into season mode, then load a season, then check the schedule. Or, if you're in a hurry, there are easy-to-use menus at the top of the screen which allow you to do the same things more quickly, albeit without the fancy graphics.

I really liked the ability to look at a pitcher's repertoire and see what percentage of his pitches were assigned to each of the balls he was capable of throwing. When using a pitcher I wasn't familiar with, it allowed me to work his mix of pitchers to favor his stronger pitches without relying on weaker pitches too much.

You can, again, customize almost everything, including league alignments, numbers of teams, playoff formats, etc. If you choose to play a full season, you can specify any number of games up to a full, 162-game season (not just preset lengths of, say, 8, 16, 32, etc.). You can choose whether to play interleague games, and whether to hold an all-star game. You can pick what kinds of weather you'll have to deal with, whether to allow suspensions, trades, injuries. The game will play however you would like to play…and I found it very easy and intuitive to set any options I wanted.

3DO has finally fixed the perennial bug where you would lose your preferences settings when your team switched from being at home to being on the road—thank you! However, this is where the first of many bugs I encountered reared its ugly head: a double-switch bug. On several occasions, I would engineer a double-switch in the game, usually when I was pinch-hitting for the pitcher, and the game would crash when my defensive half of the inning began (i.e. when the new pitcher had to come to the mound). I did not, however, have any difficulty if I was already on defense and pulled the pitcher—I could execute a double-switch with no problem. So, I would term this as a delayed double-switch bug. Immediate double-switches weren't a problem, but double-switches due to pinch hitting frequently caused a total crash of the game back to the desktop.

Gameplay : 95
Without a doubt, this is the most engrossing baseball game I have ever played, and it rivals any other game I can think of, regardless of genre, in terms of the sheer sense of immersion it provides. Believe me—I have spent hours playing The Sims, and I think I identified more with my players in HH2K2 than with the citizens of my Sims game. The players in HH2K2 are so lifelike, so smoothly modeled, so believable in their reactions to game occurrences, it's hard not to start identifying with the little fellows. Sure, pitchers still express shock when a pitch doesn't get called a strike, but the new emotional displays are very involving. Hitters on 3-0 will start toward first, then grimace when called back to the plate following a called strike. The Bo Jackson response of snapping a bat over one's knee appears to be gone from this year's game, but a very believable pounding of the bat on the plate by a dejected batter has taken its place. Hitters will argue called third strikes with the umpire (grounds for automatic termination in real-life, if I recall correctly). This is a good way to get your hitter tossed, as I found out in my very first game. Thereafter, I would start mashing buttons on my gamepad when I saw a hitter question a call and I was able to get him out of the box before getting tossed.

Other than the bugs, which I'll discuss later, gameplay in HH2K2 is a dream. This is the finest emulation of baseball on the PC I have ever played. Players move, react, anticipate as realistically as I have ever seen. Players bobble balls, make throwing errors, sprint to make stunning back-to-the-infield catches in centerfield (props to MVP candidate Jim Edmonds for his defensive prowess!). The AI isn't infallible, either, as a pitcher will occasionally groove a fat one to the wrong hitter, or the manager will leave a tiring pitcher in for one batter too many. Even the AI runners make mistakes, trying to stretch a double into an ill-advised triple, or attempting to advance on a fly ball hit not quite deep enough. Baseball games in the past have frequently suffered from a surfeit of omniscience: there was no sense throwing against an AI runner because he never would have run if he weren't assured of reaching safely. There's none of that in HH2K2, and every play is a legitimate opportunity to enjoy realistic baseball action. I will say that I found the throwing errors (dropped throws being new this year) to occur with too great of frequency to be believable. I saw way too many bad pick-off throws (I would estimate 10-15% of my pick-offs resulted in the runner advancing), as well as way too many passed balls. Plus, the pitcher was quite stupid on the passed balls, as on two occasions, my catcher recovered the ball quickly enough to throw it to the pitcher covering home in ample time for him to receive the ball…and watch the runner blow by him anyway with his making no effort whatsoever to apply a tag.

Replay Value : 93
A game this engrossing and this customizable? How couldn't you want to replay it again and again? Fantastic game, which you'll want to play over and over. The differing levels of play will increase your challenge and your enjoyment. Personally, I never got above the Pro level (level 3 of 5). The first two levels are far too easy, but I never got to the point with Pro where I was regularly blowing out the opposition (send a sidearm thrower up against me and watch me strike out six times in a row!). If I can get this much enjoyment and replay value from the game while only using 3 of the 5 difficulty levels, then this is a very deep game, indeed.

Overall : 80
OK, this score is killing me, because the best baseball game on the planet should earn a score higher than 80, right? It would, if it weren't also one of the buggiest games it has been my misfortune to play. I encountered so many bugs playing this game, I wonder if 3DO has been experiencing layoffs in its Quality Assurance group. In spite of having the latest graphics and sound card drivers, I experienced an incredible number of crashes and lockups while playing this game. I would experience screen freezes where nothing would move except the ball or one player bouncing between two spots on screen. I would experience only the active hitter and batter being visible, while the rest of the graphics would flash between being displayed and being only a black screen. I encountered the aforementioned double-switch bug numerous times. The most annoying bug I encountered, however, was also the most comical—a complete inability for the fielders to pick up the ball following an infield grounder. The active fielder would receive the rotating blue X denoting his being under my control, but he could never pick up the ball no matter how many times I ran him right over it. I finally discovered that I could force him to dive at the stationary ball and he would finally recover it. This, of course, led to anomalies such as an infield triple. Not commonly seen outside of the first year of little league… The weirdest part is, this same bug also bedeviled the AI team on occasion.

In summation, then, I'd say that what this game needs is a good bit of late-inning relief. The starting programmers have thrown us a gem of a game, but it's all starting to unravel the deeper we get. Someone from the development bullpen needs to step up and fix these problems before the game spirals out of control. Would it be too much to say, HH2K2 is in desperate need of a quality relief patcher?

Keep your eyes on our site, or on 3DO's official site, for the inevitable appearance of a patch to fix all (or at least most) of what's been detailed above. 3DO has, year-in and year-out, shown a unique dedication to making the game right for its buyers and I have full expectations that they'll do the same again this year. If they fix most of what's wrong above, I'd estimate the actual Overall score would increase to somewhere in the 94-97 range. The game is that good and, unfortunately, that buggy.

By: Rick Worrell 4/11/01

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