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High Heat 2004 (PS2) Review

Publisher: 3DO

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The acclaimed High Heat Major League Baseball series is back for another year, and although the series first received notice on the PC the game has made a successful leap to the Playstation 2.

High Heat is the first game of the 2004 batch of baseball games that promises gamers to be the deepest and finest ever seen. First is first, and the immediate question arises: can the newest High Heat maintain and further the great reputation its predecessors has created, or will it pass the "Best PS2 Baseball Game Around" crown on to another game?

Presentation/Graphics : 87
The graphics, with special regards to the animation set, have improved drastically from last year. Last year players would stop suddenly after their pitching and throwing motion-this year the animation is completed with a follow through. A smoother, all-around experience results and the upgrades are seen in all facets and nuances of the game.

There are new animations for base sliding (a new hook slide), batting (the follow through is also seen here and players bodies move in coordination with the swing, not just the arms), and catching. For example, when a low pitch is thrown, the catcher has a scoop animation. Last year there were only a few generic animations.

The player models look less robust and more life-like-and I can't stress the importance of life-like. The shape and look of the player models last year were a little jagged and the black outlines could clearly be seen. This year, the player models remind me of last year's All Star Baseball game, but bigger. They are also modeled more accurately. Last year, I believe there were only a few body types, but this year you can clearly tell the difference in size. In one game, Ray Durham stood next to Jason Giambi and it looked like the Apple laptop commercial with Yao Ming and Mini Me! Okay, maybe it wasn't that extreme, and although the improvement may seem elementary, it was a much-needed improvement.

The faces are not mapped to the real-life counterparts, but I don't think that is a big deal because you almost never see their faces during the game. Players also sport high socks, but there isn't much selection for apparel. You don't see Barry Bonds' padded arm cast, nor do you see Craig Biggio's. I know this is probably a lot of busy work for 3DO, but it would have been a welcome addition; especially when EA Sports accurately models players' tattoos (at least in their basketball games, not quite sure about MVP Baseball).

The stadiums were also given a minor upgrade. The stadiums are still mainly 2-D sprites, but they look better than 2003. I have seen ASB 2004 and movies from MVP Baseball and both games have better looking stadiums than High Heat.

Presentation/Audio : 70
The audio department has almost always been a sore spot in the overall package. I still cringe when I think of Ted Robinson screaming, "That's a major league pop-up!" The play-by-play in HH2k4 is many times delayed and enthusiastic at wrong times. After one run was scored and the next batter was on the screen, the announcer finally said with Dick Vitale-esque enthusiasm "And one run will score!" In another instance, a wild throw in a pick-off occurred shortly after I got a base hit with one out. I only scored one run, which wasn't scored by the baserunner who advanced from the error, but after my third out, the announcer finally said, "That was a bad time for a wild throw."

I found the announcers do little more than state who is up at bat, or redundantly relay the play-by-play (one anecdote: He swings and he misses for strike three). Good video game announcers provide interesting information on players or situations. For many years, this has been the case with most of the Sega Sports games and for some reason the rest of the sporting world has yet to pick up on the trend. After one player hit his third homerun, the announcers only provided a bland, "He kisses that one goodbye!" After a player hits his third homerun, I want to hear at least a mention of a hat trick. And another time, when I allowed a walk-off two run homerun, the announcers only said in a funeral home tone of voice, "And this game is over, and the Yankees win, 7-5."

The in-game sounds are decent, but I was disappointed to not hear the hecklers and venders from previous versions. They were toned down from previous games. I always loved hearing the drunken guy laugh at the losing team in a blowout game, or the call of Peanuts! Get your peanuts!

Interface/Options : 84
The interface is very, very much improved from last year's confusing and inefficient system. The interface is set up with one main circle as the main selection, with sub-menu selection strips all around it. The color scheme has more pastels and provides less of a gloomy feel. Navigating is very easy in 2004.

There are 11 game modes, but none are completely new to this year's game. For the first time, the game has multiple season capabilities. There is a franchise mode and a career mode, with one having finances in it and the other just being straight up. There is also a three-class minor league system worked in. This is a great feature that has been in the PC version for a long time that I am glad to see make it to the PS2.

Unfortunately, there is no online capability, and as a former PC High Heat player, the game is best played against other human opponents. I would have also appreciated the opportunity to download other gamers' tune files or at least have the ability to download updated rosters. I remember one of the great advantages of the PC version was the ability to download a plethora of old school uniforms, stadiums and rosters. It's too bad online capability wasn't added in some capacity. High Heat traditionally has the best tuning options, there is a total of 20 gameplay variables, and will remain the same unless some game surprises me.

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Gameplay : 95
This area has always been High Heat's bread and butter. The batter/pitching interface is the best the baseball genre has ever seen. One of the biggest improvements made this year are in the new variety of pitches. Although a new pitch hasn't been added-like the spit ball-different variations of normal pitches like fastballs and curveballs were. There are probably like 10 different types of curveballs, with some bearing names like El Droppo and Slow Hook. I am glad High Heat added the different varieties because in previous versions there was one standard curveball and the only change came if the pitchers threw at different angles, like over-the-top or submariner--and this adds to the pitcher's repertoire. The improvements will aid in breaking up the monotonous of a 162-game season.

The whole gamepace has slowed down from last year's game. The games do take longer; they take about 45 minutes as opposed to around 30 last year, but I like the pace because it is more realistic. The pitch count is more accurate for human pitchers, but I have found the CPU tends to throw too many strikes and as a result, their pitches rarely exceed 15 in an inning. The number of foul balls is still too low, but this is only a small complaint.

The computer is easier to strike out and the increase of Ks is something that was not apparent last year. On the flipside, you also strike out at a more frequent rate. This helps in competing with other pitchers for the strikeout title. Last year, I was always last in strikeouts, but had the fewest walks. I also noticed I have been throwing more BBs. Maybe this has to do with the wider variety of pitches.

The batting has always been based on timing, rather than a batting cursor or icon and I love it. The timing is different from last year, however. The fastballs and changeups are a little harder to get around, especially with so many different variations of each. Pitches still tend to have a little bit of a floaty, wiffle ball look, but there is a more realistic spin to the ball this year. The breaks aren't as dynamic, but you can still put aftertouch on the pitches.

The game also made a more realistic tweak to base running. This year, it is possible to pick off the CPU and vice versa in a pickoff. In last year's game, I could take two full strides off of a certain base with no fear of getting picked off unless I took off pre-maturely for second and was tagged out in a run down. This year, I have been caught numerous times leaning the wrong way a step too much. The CPU would always automatically get back to the base, but this year I have to watch the movements of the pitcher to anticipate telling the base runner to go back.

The collision detection is a mixed bag. In some respects, it is really good. Ground balls now actually go into the mitts (maybe this has more to do with the better animations), but fly balls still fall prey to the "magnet effect." I used the instant replay many a times to see the ball literally change direction on almost a 90-degrees angle only feet away from a player and land right in their mitt. There is also no collision detection between player to player and player to wall. I would have liked to see collisions between players and subsequent injuries, but maybe that is too meticulous of a thing to ask for.

The injuries occur a little more often than last year, but they happen weirdly. Players who aren't even involved in a play will leave with a strained neck. In one game I played, two players were beaned in the foot with a stray low pitch, and both were injured with concussions to the head.

The game has so much versatility and potential for customization because of the AI sliders. As always, High Heat depicts real baseball as good as any other game on the market. The AI makes some questionable relay throws, but other than that, I don't really notice any big problems. There is supposedly a third out bug, but I have yet to come across it yet.

Replay Value : 80
The score would just jump in this area if online capability was available; but this is not to say the single player mode is lacking. I have always had lots of fun playing other High Heat gamers online, but maybe I should just invite some friends over instead. There are a number of stats, a hall of fame, and the minor league system. The offseason is packed with cool toys, like a rookie draft, contract negotiations, and free agent signings. The interface and the AP wire-esque style of transmitting information, reminded me of the all-text powerhouse Out of the Park Baseball games.

The multiple season feature doesn't do me a whole lot of good because I don't like to simulate a bunch of games--playing 162 games takes a long time. Players move from team to team, but there aren't as many CPU trades, both among the CPU and to me as I would have liked. I was also disappointed to see there was no in-game save feature.

Overall : 87
The game play is top notch and the graphics got a great upgrade. The stadiums arenít up to par, but the game almost looks as good as last yearís ASB game. The game did nothing to break out of its traditional nicheóthe graphics are good, but not top tier. I havenít played the other baseball games yet, but High Heat definitely improved from last yearís edition and I would strongly suggest at the very least, a rental by any baseball fan.

By: Tim Martin 3/11/03


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