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Inside Pitch 2003 (Xbox) Review
By James Smith -- Staff Writer
Published 7/8/2003

Background Info
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Microsoft brings America's pastime to the Xbox with Inside Pitch 2003. The main draw of Inside Pitch is the online play, but the game promises good play on many fronts. Whether it's a traditional game, a home run derby, or replaying some of 2002's classic moments, Microsoft tries to hit a grand slam with the inaugural baseball title on the Xbox.

Presentation/Graphics : 60
The graphics in IP were a mixed bag for me. The player models were smooth but lacked the detail of other titles on the market. While some players were rendered accurately, many were not. This includes some of the big names as well. Playing as my hometown Astros, I was hard pressed to recognize players like Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman by face alone. The only reason Bagwell was somewhat identifiable was due to the facial hair. Stadiums, on the other hand, are done very well and pack plenty of detail.

The player animations are underwhelming from the crack of the bat to the limited ball dynamics. With no wind to affect the ball, ball trajectories are predictable and locations are repeatable. Once a field gets to the landing spot for a ball, the game locks on and a standard fielding animation is shown. As the ball nears the glove the jerky animation sucks up the ball in an unimaginative fashion.

Unfortunately there is no replay camera. At times I wanted to go back and take a second look at a play just to analyze the game better, check for bugs, or to simply watch a great play. The only camera options available are for changes in the camera angle.

Presentation/Audio : 70
Joe Buck and Tim McCarver provide the color commentary and play-by-play in IP. At first hear, the commentary is some of the best around. The conversation is diverse and rarely repeats itself. Between plays there's plenty of communication in the booth to give you the feel of an MLB broadcast. Unfortunately, the booth does get a bit confused. Several times a game you'll hear the wrong name called out. Often the teams on the field are confused. For example, the first basemen may ground out but Buck will call out the opposing team's pitcher as being the one called out. Aside from the spoken audio, the game's audio won't leave an impressionable mark. Home runs have a goofy whoosh sound, standard hits have a wimpy crack, and fans add nothing to the atmosphere.

Interface/Options : 50
To compete as a serious baseball game, certain options are expected. Sadly IP has limited options. There's no franchise play and the front office moves are limited to things like trades. The game does have a single season mode that has several options of season and playoff length, injuries, and errors. However, overall IP has options more like an arcade version of baseball than a simulation. The depth of the game suffers because of this. Even on the field there are some inexplicable options. You can adjust the position of your infielders or outfields, but only by pausing the game and going into a few submenus. There's no one-button clicking to adjust your defense. To keep the flow of the game going, you end up never adjusting defense and removing a vital aspect of baseball.

The lack of depth comes through with the woeful stats engine. After games you get a quick line score. There's no detailed box score showing the stats of each pitcher and batter. Just total runs, hits, and errors. The game also posts some stats of the major players, but those are merely highlights instead of detailed stats like baseball fans love. Tracking seasonal stats is limited. The game displays a limited number of league leaders.

You do get a home run derby like every other baseball title on the planet, and like all the other derbies, it gets boring pretty quick. One mode that IP has that is interesting is the Championship Challenge. In this mode, certain scenarios from the 2002 season are playable. Whether it's hitting for the cycle with Bagwell, completing Lowe's perfect game, or Bond's hitting a historic home run, this mode is fun and challenging. To add to the fun, you're scored on your effort.


Gameplay : 40
During my first game of IP I had a feeling of déjà vu. The game felt just like another Microsoft sports title - NFL Fever. Balls thrown by the outfields had plenty of air in them. It's no wonder I was having trouble throwing players out when the outfielders always lobbed it back to the infield. From there it was a downward slide into mediocrity. The batting attempts to require a batting cursor. There's no cursor per se. The bat moves in a small graphic to show where the bat will be when swung. In reality, this is superfluous as the game relies almost exclusively on timed hitting. For pitching, you have limited control of placement. A pitcher has up to 4 pitches. Once a pitch is selected, you select location on a 3 by 3 grid. Then you pitch either a ball or strike. The rudimentary interface has a positive effect in that games play incredibly fast.

The AI is suspect. I'd spot AI problem in many areas of the game. A common problem is baserunning. With an AI player on first base and 2 outs, the AI batter hits a fly ball to the outfield. The runner stands at first base to see if the ball will drop or not. Huh? There are 2 outs. You run on any ball hit. Another huge bug is when there's a double play opportunity. Once the lead runner is thrown out at second the ball gets thrown to first. I've experienced plays where the first baseman was off the base and the ball thrown to the base. You can see the errant throw roll off in the distance, but if you try to go to second on the obvious error, the first baseman magically has the ball in hand for an easy tag.

When playing a game it feels scripted. As a pitcher you don't have the required control to location pitch. You may pitch to try to get grounders or fly balls, but the game seems to have a predetermined result in mind. On offense, balls always seem to be hit to the same gaps. And often you come away with more doubles in a game than singles. The only time the game gets better is when another human is in the loop. The online aspect is nice and generally lag free, but still the uninspired play keeps you from playing more.

Replay Value : 40
If I want a quick, brainless game of baseball, this would be the game to play. I personally prefer more from a game. I don't like the hit fests that are commonplace in Inside Pitch. The lack of a franchise mode and below average AI keeps this game in the jewel case more than the other baseball titles for the Xbox.

Overall : 47
This is basic no-frills baseball. The presentation is filled with mediocrity and the lack of a franchise mode and decent AI just kills the game's entertainment value. It's the NFL Fever of baseball titles - a shallow baseball game.

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