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MLB 2001 (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: April 2000

Background Info

With another baseball season in full swing, it's time to put this year's baseball games to the test and see who comes out on top. This year there are three baseball titles on PlayStation competing for your hard-earned dollars: EA Sports' Triple Play 2001, 3DO's Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001, and 989 Sports' MLB 2001. Having started off on the wrong foot with their first game in the series -- the sprite-based MLB Pennant Race -- 989 Sports has been fine-tuning their baseball games since. This is great news for baseball fans because MLB 2001 delivers a fine simulation of the sport, with plenty of control and options at the player's fingertips.

Graphics : 80
As with most sports game these days, MLB 2001 opens with an FMV movie backed by dramatic music that shows all the big-name players/teams in action, including highlights from last season. While EA's Triple Play 2001 may have a flashier opening movie, in which an electronically remixed version of "Magic Carpet Ride" plays in the background, MLB's opening movie is more subtle and mixes better with the simulation feel of the game when compared to Triple Play 2001's more arcade-like effort. But enough about the opening movie, let's get down to the important graphical aspects: the in-game graphics.

Having improved their game engine from last year, 989 Sports included more than 250 new motion-captured animations (personalized batting stances, pitching motions, celebrations, etc.) to accompany the higher polygon-modeled players of this year's game. Player models are scaled to the actual height, weight, and body composition of the pros., and even facial hair is accurately textured on the players' faces. The new animations coupled with the higher poly bodies does indeed make the game a visual treat.

While not a complete overhaul from last year's game, the stadiums appear more solid as well, although the detail level isn't quite up to par with Triple Play 2001. Of course, certain stadiums are better detailed than others, with some animated objects present, such as the moving blades of a windmill while playing on Florida's spring training field and moving pennants/flags caused by gusty winds. Also, the new stadiums like PacBell Park in San Francisco and Comerica Park in Detroit are included in the game. The smooth frame-rate is great and remains consistent, which is one area, graphically speaking, where MLB 2001 truly outshines its major competitor, Triple Play 2001.

Overall, I was fairly impressed with the MLB 2001's graphics engine, but must confess I'm anxiously awaiting the 128-bit baseball goodness of the next-generation console systems, namely World Series Baseball for the Sega Dreamcast. Still, 989 Sports made some slight and necessary improvements to MLB 2001's graphics, which adds to the already terrific TV-style presentation.

Audio : 78
MLB 2001 contains some very realistic and in-depth commentary, but it isn't without flaws. While Vin Scully's and Dave Campbell's two-man commentary has a great deal of variety, there are instances where the play-by-play announcing does not fit the on-screen action. This is forgivable, however, as no baseball game I know of delivers flawless play-by-play announcing/color commentary. Still, Vin Scully's voice tends to carry an annoying robotic-like tone at times, which is especially noticeable when compared to Dave Campbell's natural sounding voice. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the small facts and tidbits of information that they supplied, making for a more realistic experience.

Sound effects are good and, for the most part, realistic and accurate -- although nothing you haven't heard before in a baseball game. While the majority of the sound effects get the job done, some atmospheric sounds are rather annoying (I particularly grew to hate the song "Wooly Bully" after listening to the sample play continuously in the game). I also did not like the sound effect of the ball hitting a wall (the same sound effect as previous MLB games), which also sounds while maneuvering through the in-game menus, interestingly enough.

Music is nothing special; but then again, this is a baseball game. Yet, I never did like the menu music supplied for any of 989 Sports' games, and I feel the same way about MLB 2001, especially when compared to Triple Play 2001's more exciting and high-quality music. As mentioned before, though, MLB's opening movie is backed by dramatic music, which, unfortunately, only makes the stale midi menu music seem even worse. Of course, all the sound levels in the game can be adjusted, so you have the ability to raise or lower the music, announcing, and sound effects as you see fit.

Interface/Options : 92
MLB 2001 contains a clean, organized menu system, which is very easy to navigate. As with most PlayStation games, though, there is some small, hard-to-read text present, but this is kept down to a minimum. Making trades and roster changes, as well as creating players from scratch (several different categories and abilities to choose from), is a painless procedure, with all of the required button presses listed at the bottom of the menus, or on special Help menus that you can call up with a press of a button.

MLB 2001 contains a ton of features and plenty of stat-tracking to please the hardcore baseball fan. Just about every stat category (around 90 statistical categories for each player) you could possibly want is accounted for in MLB 2001, which should please stat freaks.

Whether you want to play a basic exhibition game, jump into a full season, participate in the always-fun Home Run Derby, or perform the duties of a general manager, it's all here with loads of options to fine tune your experience. There are options to adjust multiple areas of the game (time of day played, wind, errors, injuries, etc.) and also the computer's involvement (auto fielding, auto sliding, auto lead off, etc.). For those who want to jump right in the game, there is a quick start feature included that allows you to jump right into an exhibition game without worrying about the game setup.

Several views are included for batting and fielding, although 989 Sports did not include my personal favorite fielding view, the chase view. In fact, don't expect anything new in terms of batting or fielding views, unlike Triple Play 2001's unique (albeit flawed) fielder's perspective. During the game, the view can be changed by pressing the Select button (when pitching) or within the in-game menu system itself.

Gameplay : 88
If you're looking for some quick-fix, arcade-like baseball action, you will be thoroughly disappointed with the slow pace of MLB 2001 and its sim-based gameplay. You won't find any modes that offer an NBA Jam-like experience a la Triple Play 2001, but you will find a Franchise Mode (build your own powerhouse team capable of winning the World Series), Spring Training Mode (complete with five spring-training stadiums), and improved total control fielding and batting, among other things.

MLB 2001 offers some solid control in all areas of the game. Pitching is very simple, with a choice of four pitches at the player's disposal and the ability to adjust pitch location. Unfortunately, pitch speed cannot be controlled. The player can also pick off base runners and adjust infielders and outfielders before the pitch.

Batting consists of the now-familiar batting cursor (which can be turned off) and some pitch-guessing options. MLB's Total Control Batting gives players the chance to guess the pitch location from a total of four zones, as well as the pitch type. By guessing a pitch accurately, resulting in a bigger batting cursor or a lock-on indicator, the player can potentially make "perfect" contact with the ball. However, there are a few variations to pitch-guessing: You can guess the pitch type, pitch location, or pitch type & location, with the hitter receiving some additional power if both are guessed accurately. Of course, if you guess wrong, you will receive a smaller batter cursor, making it harder to get a decent hit.

Base running is done pretty well in the game, with options to steal, lead-off, advance & return all runners (or a specific runner), stop runners, and execute slides. Among the problems I have with the base running is that there can sometimes be a delay in returning a player to a base after a fly ball is caught or an attempted steal, which may result in an unnecessary out if you're not careful. Also, I'm not very fond of the way runners charge home plate and knock down the catcher every time, which usually results in loss of the ball -- consequently giving the computer an extra run. If this occurred occasionally, it wouldn't be a big deal, but it happens more often than it should.

For those of you who wouldn't dare think about letting the computer control the fielding, MLB 2001 offers some decent control over fielding, or as 989 Sports' likes to call it, Total Control Fielding. You can control fielders' speed by executing a speed burst; make players jump or dive for the ball, including robbing batters of their home runs; and even use the L2 button to cause a fielder to make specialized plays in certain situations, such as a barehanded grab.

The computer AI offers realistic behavior that is smart and responsive, resulting in realistic scores and fairly decent win/loss ratios. Depending on the difficulty level you choose, it's entirely possible to have hit ratios that are comparable to the real thing. Some may not like the slow pace of the game or find the competitive AI to be a little too challenging at points, but most will enjoy MLB 2001's gameplay and feel rewarded when meeting the challenge.

Replay Value : 95
With several different modes of play, in-depth statistics, and options aplenty, MLB 2001 definitely doesn't lack in replay value. The Franchise Mode and Spring Training Mode are just two modes that will keep you entertained, as will the option to assume the role as the GM. Even the standard Exhibition, Home Run Derby, and All-Star modes are fun little diversions now and again. Nevertheless, sim fans will likely keep busy with the stats, or by creating their own team in the Franchise Mode.

Overall : 87
MLB 2001 is a great buy for any PlayStation owner looking for a detailed baseball sim with loads of stats and a variety of gameplay modes. While it may not pack the same visual punch as Triple Play 2001 in terms of detail, MLB 2001 does feature a smooth frame rate and great animation. Those looking for some arcade-like action, though, may want to pass this one up for Triple Play 2001. However, to skip this game for any other reason would be foolish, especially if you're a hardcore baseball fan.

By: Cliff O'Neill 4/19/00

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