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Microsoft Baseball 3D (PC) Review

Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: July 1998

Background Info

Back in college, our Resident Assistant (R.A.) my sophomore year was dating this woman, whom everyone referred to as "The Pretty House." Why? Because she was very attractive, but none too intelligent. Her nickname was derived from the saying "Such a pretty house...too bad no one's home."

As you might imagine, beginning a game review with this little anecdote cannot bode well for the game in question--and you would be right. Microsoft has recently released Microsoft Baseball 3D (MSBB3D), a noble, if ultimately flawed, effort.

Graphics : 93
Remember "The Pretty House"? This game looks absolutely awesome. The players look so life-like that it borders on creepy. Often, you don't even have to look at the captions--you can actually recognize the players from their on-screen avatars. Pretty incredible. I played the game at 800x600 with High detail and was constantly wowed by what I saw. Simply put, these are the best graphics I have seen in a sports game to date (surpassing FIFA: Road to the World Cup by EA Sports). The stadiums, as you might imagine, are equally well done. Great attention to detail.

There are some problems even here, however. The crowds are terrible. Not only are they a shapeless mass of randomly colored dots (which I could almost live with): they behave as though they were a trampoline in the actual game. Hit a foul ball, and watch it spring off of the "crowd." It's actually very funny. They are also inconsistently rendered--when the camera is panning around between pitches (which it does a lot, sometimes there will be a lot of jittering in the image of the crowd. Finally, I was getting a lot of random white dots, typically along the "seams" of the graphics.

Audio : 75
The audio is good, but leaves you wanting more. The announcer, Terry McDonald, does a halfway decent job, with some notable quirks. One that I encountered over and over again is between innings, Terry would all of a sudden announce "None down." Of course not--the inning hasn't started yet! The calls were also frequently behind the action; sometimes, extremely behind the action. The music isn't bad, although I wish there were some way to pick which song plays at the startup of the game every time. There's an "alternative-rock" type version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" which I quite enjoyed. Don't know who it is, however. The game randomly chooses the startup music each time.

One nice touch is if you take too long between pitches (I received a phone call while playing), the game starts making fun of you, speaking as your pitcher: "Let's see...stand on mound, receive the sign, begin windup...oh, yeah! Pitch the ball." That was pretty funny.

Interface/Options : 86
The interface is good, if you think like Microsoft. It is disappointing, if you are not in Redmond's thrall. Microsoft has a tendency to try to make everything conform to the Windows 95/98 look and feel, even if it isn't necessarily appropriate. Here, you end up with a mish-mash of screens and options and you never know when you are going to have your game minimized to pop up a new application. Typically, it's because you foolishly tried to access in-game help. Sorry, Sparky--that's a separate application. Want to trade players, pick up free agents, or create new players? Prepare to be task-swapped. The General Manager functions are enclosed in a separate application. Once you get to it, however, it's wonderful. I found it very intuitive to work with, and very easy to edit. Well done.

What's not so well done is changing in-game options. In my opinion, there should be some way to set defensive alignments without having to call timeout (hit Escape) and choose it from a menu. Further, the fielders should be smart enough to realize when to shift in obvious cases (i.e. "Hey, guys, there are no outs and a runner on first--why don't we play at double-play depth?"). Also, when I tried changing the camera views, I had a major problem: the names of the views did not correspond to the views I received.

Oh, one other problem with my copy of the game, at least--the installation routine didn't suggest a directory for the installation. I've spoken to other people who didn't have this problem, so maybe I'm just unlucky. My copy wanted to dump everything into C:\. Maybe it was confused because I have two hard drives.

Gameplay : 73
Gameplay, arguably the most important part of a baseball title, is also the least impressive part of this game. Where to begin? The AI managers are terrible, and don't pull pitchers until they have been absolutely killed. Also, as noted elsewhere on this site, I threw a perfect game pitching as Todd Stottlemyre for the Cardinals. Bottom of the ninth, two men out, pitcher comes to the plate (after all, he would be the 27th hitter)--and the AI manager let him hit. Seriously, though--what kind of a manager wouldn't pitch hit for the pitcher in that situation? You have to at least try to break up the perfect game.

Also, I pinch hit for my pitcher in another game (sending Ron Gant up to bat for Todd Stottlemyre (note: Gant bats right handed, Stottlemyre left)) and when the switch had been made, Gant was standing on the first-base side of the plate, facing toward first! I tried to see if he could hit that way and took one swing facing toward first, then decided I might want a screen shot of the moment. Unfortunately, as soon as I hit Escape to pause the game, he corrected his position. Quite funny. One other quirk was: when I hit a home run which finally caused the AI manager to change pitchers, the switch was made. The game, which auto replays home runs, then showed a replay...of the brand new pitcher serving up the gopher ball! Uh, he just got in the game--give him some time to screw up. Finally, there is no wind (at least none which seems to have any effect on gameplay).

One other thing to note: this game is incredibly slow to play. Not in terms of frame rates (which are excellent), but in terms of being too true to real life. The camera pans around between pitches, showing the runners stretching, the fielders moving back to positions, the pitcher scratching his head or loosening his arm takes forever, and there's no way to by-pass it by hitting Escape or anything. Oh, and the waits for loading the menus and starting up the game are interminable. Prepare to spend a lot of time waiting, both while the game loads as well as when it is running.

Difficulty : 75
Let me put it this way: there is no middle ground in MSBB3D. The assisted gameplay options make the game way too easy. The do-it-yourself options make it almost impossible to play. One of the worst decisions that they made was linking auto fielding with auto throwing. I often enjoy playing baseball games with auto fielding turned on. It's pretty much a requirement in MSBB3D, as the batted balls move way too fast to react to to field them properly. Additionally, the camera views change as the ball is coming at your fielder, and the game decides when to change to another fielder. It's quite disconcerting to think you're moving one player toward the ball (say, your shortstop moving to his right), only to find that MSBB3D thinks your third baseman should field the ball. Following your gamepad input, however, he's running like an idiot toward the third base dugout. In this game, however, if you turn on auto fielding, you also get auto throwing. This is a major pain, as the fielders aren't all that bright. I had a runner on first, nobody out and I put my infield at double-play depth. Ground ball to the second baseman, who watched the runner come at him and threw to first base anyway! Should have been a DP. So, auto fielding is too restrictive, and no auto is too difficult. One other problem is that with auto fielding, the players become almost immune to errors. Many times I saw fielder chasing after a ball in the air and jumping to catch it--and not once did they miss. Jumping for a ball is usually a sign of desparation--you got a late break, or the ball is rising more rapidly than expected. There should be at least a few times when the fielder doesn't make the catch.

It's basically the same with batting, although I feel that with more practice I could have gotten better at the batting. With Basic batting, you just have to time the pitch and swing. This is way too easy, no matter what setting you're at. With Advanced batting, you get a cross hair which you have to position correctly in order to make contact with the ball. In a very nice touch, the size of the cross hair changes depending on whether you choose a normal, power or contact swing (contact gives you a huge cross hair, power just a tiny one). This was very difficult to do, but I still found it enjoyable, at least (unlike the unassisted fielding).

Overall : 78
Man, what a mess--and what a disappointment. This could have been a great title. Unfortunately, there are so many bizarre bugs and inconsistencies.

In conclusion, then, I would have to say: it would take the mother of all patches to fix this game. Barring that, I cannot recommend that you buy it. It is too flawed, and too far from the actual game of baseball.

By: Rick Worrell 7/15/98

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