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High Heat 2003 (PS2) Review

Background Info

High Heat 2003 for the PS2 is the anxiously awaited sequel to High Heat 2002. Last year's High Heat earned high marks for its gameplay, but the graphics were a lowlight. This time around 3DO, better known for their Army Men games, updates the graphics to a level well above 2002. The game also makes it to the batter's box well before the start of the season. So while we have to sacrifice roster accuracy, we can take solace in owning a well rounded baseball title early in the year.

Presentation/Graphics : 80
High Heat 2002 looked barely better than an original PSX title. The blocky graphics were an embarrassment to the next generation PS2. Fortunately the year between versions has been spent in many respects fine-tuning the graphical engine. While it's still not the best looking baseball title I've seen on the PS2, it's a huge improvement over its predecessor. If I were to compare the graphics to another game, I'd say they share a look with All-Star Baseball from Acclaim only not as clear. Player models aren't as detailed as either ASB or Triple Play, but they get the job done.

One area that hasn't significantly improved is animations. The High Heat series continues to utilize animation sequences comprised of too few frames. While the animations aren't as jerky as last year, they still aren't as fluid as other titles on the market. The fast pace of the game probably has something to do with it as animations just don't have a natural pace to them. If you are late in swinging the bat the batter quickly snaps and returns to his usual stance. In the field catches are made with the same general animation sequence and if a throw is made to a base, the player instantly changes direction. The movement of the ball as it's delivered by the pitcher is great, however. The difference in speed between a heater and off speed pitch is measurable, and I've swung early more than once on a changeup after a few fastballs.

The stadiums roughly pass for the real thing, though you can forget about proper advertising signs. Advertisements are all fictitious, though 3DO did make an attempt at keeping the intent of the real signage there. Still, it's not the same to play at Fenway and not see the Citgo sign above the Green Monster or the Dunkin Donuts billboard in right field. Stadiums generally have the correct features, but the detail just isn't present in the game. The swimming pool is in the outfield of Bankone Ballpark, but it looks cartoonish.

Presentation/Audio : 82
The audio in High Heat 2003 is typical fare. The crack of the bat sounds like the real thing, but from there there just isn't much in terms of baseball sounds. The crowd never really gets your juices flowing. I liken them to the boring crowds of the Astros when they still played in the Dome. You can hear a pin drop during the games in High Heat. Supposedly there are stadium vendors and hecklers, but I honestly haven't noticed. To keep you company, the two man booth delivers play-by-play and color commentary. Color commentary is almost non-existent, but fortunately the play-by-play keeps up with the action on the field.

Interface/Options : 90
If there's an area where High Heat surpasses the competition, it's in the available options. From a gameplay standpoint, the game features several modes of play. The usual season mode is available, though there is no multi-season franchise mode. But with 162-game schedules, I can't imagine sim fans playing multiple seasons in a year. There are also single game and playoff modes, and homer fans can take part in the Home Run Derby.

Sim fans will be disappointed in two respects. First, since the game was released before training camps were even opened, the rosters have no chance of being up to date. Furthermore, the schedules are based on last year's major league schedule. For most of us this isn't an issue, but diehards will certainly quibble.

To make up for this, the developer packed the game with a variety of tuning options. High Heat takes the Madden approach to baseball by allowing you to adjust player speed, throwing speed (pitching and fielding), hitting ability, error and injury frequency, difficulty setting, and even the level of simulation. All these options (except the simulation setting) are explained in the detailed and lengthy manual.

Gameplay : 98
In the gameplay department, High Heat wins on all fronts. First, the game is a quick play. You can push through a 9 inning game in as little as 30 minutes. The game doesn't force you to watch time consuming cut scenes or waste time between pitches. Next, the pitching and batting interface, while simple, is a nice departure from other titles. While my personal preference has always been to have an icon based pitching and batting interface (due to the fact that big league pitchers have pretty good control and hitters can accurately target the head of the bat) the interface in High Heat is more timing based on the batting side and area based on the pitching end. When delivering a pitch, you can select to throw either a ball or strike, though even strikes may find their way out of the zone. You can pitch to a general area of the strike zone, but control is not perfect like other games. The batting interface is even simpler. You can guess the pitch if you wish, and as the ball crosses the plate you simply hit the X button to swing the bat. There's no cursor to target the ball with. You can even try to aim the ball with the directional pad or analog stick for more accuracy.

Where the game truly excels over the competition is with the portrayal of the game of baseball. Baseball is a mixture of walks, strikeouts, doubles, the sac fly, bunts, wild pitches, steals, and more. High Heat 2003 utilizes every aspect of baseball. The moment I played my first game I realized I was in for something special. My very first game included things like a double steal and my player successfully reaching first base on a dropped third strike. When's the last time you saw that in Triple Play or All-Star Baseball?

Just like real ball, the scores change game by game. I've had pitching duels with low scores and total blowouts where the combined home run count from both teams was in the double digits. The game emphasizes pitching and recognizing when your pitcher is losing his stuff. Fans of small ball will appreciate the moves of the AI. Playing in the NL, pitchers will bunt a man over to second base rather than hit away. In either league, sacrifices are common. In fact, if there is a problem with the AI, it's that the CPU is a bit too good in getting a sac fly in a crucial situation. If there is one complaint I have with the game, it has to be baserunning. Baserunning in High Heat 2003 is a bit of a challenge, and on several occasions I've sent the wrong players in motion.

Replay Value : 95
Whether you want a baseball simulation or a baseball title with some arcade action, I feel High Heat 2003 succeeds on both fronts. Clearly the game is the most accurate simulation on the market. Its diversity in play and its clever AI make for a deep playing game. But the quick pace of the game means you can almost approach the game as an arcade title. Simply turn on the pitch locator for easier batting and you've got arcade baseball right there. Either way, I'm loving the game.

Overall : 90
High Heat 2003 very well could have been a landmark baseball title. The gameplay makes it so, but its early release means things like schedules and rosters aren't representative of the 2002 baseball season. I'm sure 3DO wanted to get out of the gate early to attract sales, but if word of mouth gets around about how good the gameplay is, hopefully next year's edition will be more timely. As it is, High Heat 2003 is one fine baseball game.

By: James Smith 3/12/02

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