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Baseball Edition 2000 (PC) Review

Publisher: Interplay
Release Date: April 1999

Background Info

Well, TP2000 and MLB2000 are out now, so that's it for baseball, right? Luckily things aren't so simple. Interplay has come out with an exceptional game this year in Baseball 2000 (BB2K). If the name doesn't sound familiar it's because they dropped the "VR" tag from the title. Let's see how it compares to the big boys.

Graphics : 70
If graphics are your top criteria for a good game, then you probably won't be too impressed by BB2K. The player models are solid, the stadiums look decent, and nothing about it is horrible but, to be blunt, visually, this game is a generation or two behind the competition. Another graphical misstep that doesn't affect the game but is kind of creepy is that all of the players have the exact same plain, cartoony, blank-stare face which you see as they are walking to the plate. Also, details such as facial hair are only included when the players are in the field.

But graphics aren't everything, and Interplay has made up for the overall roughness of the presentation by including some fantastic context-specific player animations that add detail and a feeling of "reality" to the game. Outfielders will slide to catch sinking line drives and can make over-the-shoulder catches, infielders will hold up fingers to indicate the number of outs (ok, you can't see the fingers because of the distance, but it's still cool), and BB2K has the best outfield fence-climb I've ever seen.

In general, the animation is very smooth, but the framerate can lag a bit at times. At first you may miss the occasional ground ball because of this, but as you become accustomed to the feel of the game, it's much less of a problem. The actual baseball in BB2K is a plain, white spot - no fancy rotating seams or the like - but Interplay has incorporated the best ball physics model that I've seen this year. Hits such as high-bouncers, which the infielders must wait for, occur regularly.

Audio : 80
Not an exceptionally strong point in BB2K, but not awful either: the sound is pretty much what you'd expect. The crowd is at an eerily quiet murmur most of the time, with occasional roars at the appropriate times. It actually sounds really good until you turn it up to full volume in the options menu - this makes the murmur more audible (and it still sounds good), but the roars sound like everyone in the stadium has a power saw that they're revving. The one-man play-by-play is decent, if a bit overly-enthusiastic, but he provides a lot of useful information. The sound effects, including the P.A. announcer, are very good. One odd quirk is that the umpires are strangely quiet, even on full volume. The play-by-play announcer calls the balls and strikes without a peep from behind the plate.

Interface/Options : 90
The menus in BB2K are simple, fairly attractive, and easy enough to use. It's pretty standard stuff, really. My main complaint is that sound options are not saved when you save a season. This is slightly irritating, but can be fixed quickly enough. The load times between screens are minimal, and getting to an actual game is fairly quick.

Game controls are pretty standard - if you've played a PSX baseball game, there won't be any surprises. In the field the d-pad represents the bases, and you have the usual dive and jump commands at your disposal. Slide animations, as mentioned earlier, happen (if necessary) automatically as you approach the ball. I've found in Triple Play 2000 that throw commands can sometimes go unrecognized - this problem also occurs in BB2K, but only occasionally, and the overall feel is much tighter and more responsive.

Batting allows you to select either a power or a contact swing, and hitting the ball primarily consists of timing your swing and pointing the d-pad to the location of the pitch. Not my favorite batting style, but it works very well and isn't as easy as a straight timing method.

Pitching consists of selecting a pitch, then either a slow, medium, or fast speed, and then choosing a location with the d-pad. One option (that TP2K also has, and MLB should add for next year) that I encourage you to turn off is the viewable strike zone. This greatly enhances the guesswork of both pitching and batting and, just as in real life, gives you something to grumble about when a close call doesn't go your way.

Overall the control is very tight, with only the occasional quirk: sometimes it is strangely difficult to move a fielder in the intended direction (you may need to move a player, say, an inch or two to the left to the ball marker, but instead of a straight line, he must be moved in an arc which can cause you to arrive too late), and my biggest control gripe is that for advancing runners, especially to tag up, hit & run, or steal, control is a bit mushy and inexact.

One point that will probably turn some people off to BB2K is that there are no selectable camera angles during the game - the batting view is a typical "in front of the catcher" angle, and the fielding view is moderately pulled back and above the action. These are pretty much the views I play with anyway, but if you're looking for a variety of camera angles, you'll be disappointed. This is also fairly odd considering that there are many different replay angles available (including a "ball-cam" - my favorite).

Gameplay : 95
This is what really counts, and BB2K is one of the best baseball games I've ever played. It just feels right. You have the standard Season, Exhibition, Tournament, Playoffs and HR Derby options with three difficulty levels, plus you can create and trade players.

I've already covered the mechanics of the various parts of the game, so the big question is whether the game is fun - absolutely! The hitting and pitching mechanics are very satisfying, and produce results which are generally not too far out of line with what they should be. Strikeouts don't come easy, but they are possible - even called third strikes. Homeruns can come in bunches, but a well-timed power swing never guarantees the results you're looking for. You have to work for every run you score, and you may blow out the CPU one game but lose 1-0 the next.

Basically, Interplay has focused on many of the details of baseball and created a title that captures the overall essence of the game. An example of this is the sheer variety of hits that are possible. Everything from fouls straight back into the net, to bloop singles, to shots down the line, to grounders up the middle that just barely scoot between the diving 2nd baseman and shortstop - it feels like baseball. There are some inconsistencies, like hits that should be doubles don't always turn out that way, but minor discrepancies don't hurt the overall game.

Difficulty : 90
There are three difficulty settings in BB2K which provide a good challenge, but what makes the game challenging is that it has some of the best AI I've ever seen. I've never been intentionally walked by the CPU in a baseball game until BB2K - and it was an appropriate situation.

The CPU in BB2K doesn't really play like a normal CPU opponent. If you're not a selective hitter and swing at a lot of garbage, CPU pitchers will throw you a lot of garbage and you'll strike out quite a bit. If you botch a hit & run, the baserunner is more than likely a sitting duck. The CPU generally makes the smart decisions in the field and on the basepaths, and will even take some risks. It's really a pleasure to play a game against a smart opponent when a friend isn't available.

No, it's not perfect. I've encountered situations where the pitcher should have covered 1st but didn't, and outfielders sometimes allow balls that are rolling right at them to go to the fence, but these are rare instances and overall Interplay has done a fantastic job of giving the CPU a good amount of "baseball smarts."

Overall : 86
I love this game. Most diehard baseball gamers should love this game. The masses will flock to the other, better-looking (but also good) titles available that have more bells and whistles (BB2K has maybe half of a bell, tops). If Interplay could add their AI and attention to detail to the basic MLB or TP engines, they would have an unbeatable title. As it stands, BB2K is a great game whose quirks and graphical roughness keep it a step behind the competition. If you're undecided, or have room in your budget for a 2nd (or 3rd) baseball game, give BB2K a shot - it's definitely worth your time.

By: Andy L. 4/28/99

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