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Microsoft Baseball 2000 (PC) Review

Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Spring 1999

Background Info

One of the first offerings from Microsoft's new value line of sports games, Microsoft Baseball 2000 (BB2K) is a $19.99 game which, unlike last year's model, no longer requires hardware acceleration as part of the price of admission. Last year's game was an entertaining, but very flawed, offering with strange ideas of gameplay, fancy but ultimately unsatisfying graphics, and unacceptably slow gameplay. What does your twenty bucks get you this year?

Graphics : 96
The graphics are beautiful and realistic. The players' faces, although as lifelike as last year's, no longer have that creepy, stitched-on look that made last year's players all look like successful graduates of the Dr. Frankenstein school of face surgery. I especially enjoyed throwing a called strike past a hitter and have him turn back to watch the ball/glare at the ump. Cracked me up.

The ballparks are well done and seemed realistic. I haven't seen many of the ballparks in person, but they all seemed accurate to me (the ones I played in, at least!). I got the occasional bit of graphical "noise" while playing, typically manifesting itself as random white dots along some of the seams between different graphical elements in the game. Overall, no major problems-especially after upgrading to a TNT 2 Ultra card. Man, I've never seen Direct3D look so good!

Audio : 68
By far, the most disappointing part of the game. The audio is boring and unimaginative. As if that weren't damning enough, it's also incomplete, repetitive, and almost always out of synch. The announcer frequently wouldn't say players' names-and we're not talking about the third string shortstop the Twins called up on the last day rosters were finalized. That, I could forgive-maybe they just didn't have time to record the name. No, I'm talking about big-name starters. The announcer would sometimes say their name, sometimes not. It's weird to hear, "...and the batter hits it to..." and then it trails off into nothingness. The synch problems were even worse. It was as if a person suffering from Tourette's syndrome with its accompanying inappropriate vocal outbursts were calling the game. The announcer would quite excitedly shout out someone's name-for no apparent reason. Sometimes, he would state the name of the on-deck hitter...but nothing else. Sometimes, he would claim player A was at bat, when it was really player B. Occasionally, he would comment on how a pitcher had been pinch-hit for...even though that pitcher hadn't even entered the game yet.

The sounds of the gameplay, however, I really enjoyed. The crack of the bat, the thunk of ball hitting mitt, the cheering of the crowd, were all well done and really added to the atmosphere of the game.

Interface/Options : 75
Sometimes, Microsoft needs to think a little more outside of the box. They try to make everything look like a standard Windows application, even when there's no good reason to do so. So, to do a lot of things that would seem to be part of the game, you actually have to load a separate application. It's as if BB2K were an office suite, or something: there's the application itself, and the help application, and the general manager application. I just want to play the game and have all of my needed parts to enjoy that game available as an integrated program. I hate having to switch applications just to read help, for example. Not to mention the load time was extremely slow, in my opinion. I have a PII-400 with 128 Megs of SDRAM, an Ultra-DMA 33 hard drive, a 40X CD-ROM-not a lot of obvious bottlenecks in that listing, yet I just dreaded starting the game each time I was going to play. It takes way too long to go from clicking on "Play Baseball 2000" to actually throwing the first pitch.

In the game, however, things seemed well laid-out for setting game options. The options screen has a nice tabbed interface, with tab headers for things such as graphics, controllers, and so on. Try as I might, however, I could not get BB2K to recognize my two 12-Meg Voodoo 2 cards, even though I did exactly what the help file recommended.

Pitching is well done, with a nice cursor inside of a box arrangement for determining pitch placement, with a single button representing each of the pitches in a hurler's repertoire. Batting uses a variant of the cursor setup, and it also worked well. It provides a little help on pitch destination, but still requires the hitter to use his skills to actually make contact with the ball.

Running, once again, is a failure. I don't understand why this is so difficult. Press button 4 to advance all runners. Press button 4 + D-pad to advance one runner. Sounds easy enough. If there's a runner on first, and I press button 4 + D-pad up, he will advance to second. However, it's only good for one base into the future. What I want to be able to do is to have my lead runner on second, batter hits a single up the middle, and I press button 4 + D-pad down to send the runner home (i.e. try to score from second). With the current brain-dead scheme, I have to send him to third, then try to send him home once he has reached third. That, unfortunately, isn't as easy as it sounds as the little indicator ball on the miniature baseball diamond showing your runner's current location bounces around a lot near the bags and it's difficult, if not impossible, to tell when the bag has actually been "reached" in the computer's mind. So, once that happens, I can try to send the runner home. Of course, I've already lost several valuable steps dinking around with the whole "is he at third base yet or not" thing so I usually end up getting gunned down at home by even the weakest arms. Stupid interface decision.

Gameplay : 88
MS has provided us a fairly enjoyable game of baseball. One of my favorite things, which I hope to see in all baseball games from this day forward, is cribbed from High Heat Baseball-one-button throwing based on using your gamepad buttons as they represent the baseball diamond (i.e. bottom-center = home plate, middle-right = first base, and so on). This makes controlling your own fielders and throwing much easier, more enjoyable, and more lifelike. One tip for you: if you have the fielder who is holding the ball throw it to himself, he will actually throw it to the pitcher. A quick way to get back to the game (and you'll be looking for ways to speed up the game, even with the quick game option set). "Quick game option?" you're probably wondering, "what's that?" Well, in response to numerous complaints about how slow last year's game was to play, MS has responded by allowing you to toggle quick game, which eliminates (mostly) the things that really slow down the game. Gone are the lengthy shots of the catcher throwing back to the pitcher, the batter walking (slowly!) into the box, the pitcher readying himself, kicking dirt, punching his, pulling your hair out.

What is not gone, however, is the ridiculous dedication to showing every possible, lingering second of every foul ball! Man, does that get old. When the ball is obviously out of play, just get me back to the game. I quickly tired of watching the ball arc high into the air, then slowly fall down thirty rows from the field.

If quick game isn't your speed because you prefer a more leisurely game, but you occasionally want to pick things up, you can still skip scenes (like the between-half-inning box scores) by pressing your space bar or the left shoulder button on a Sidewinder gamepad. That's a good middle ground option to provide.

The actual game of baseball is pretty well represented here. They even got one thing that I have seen other games miss-a bunt foul with two strikes is a strikeout, not just another strike. I was glad to see they handled that properly (even if I had to muff a bunt to see it-of course, I muffed it on purpose, just to see how the game would handle it...yeah, that's the ticket!). Players move in a very lifelike fashion-nothing looked too phony in terms of swinging the bat, running, sliding or fielding.

Simulated games seemed very accurate. Hitting totals (McGwire hit 65 home runs, Sosa hit 63), pitching totals (Schilling was the only 20-game winner in the NL), ERA (Kevin Brown of the Dodgers led with a 2.30 ERA) were all pretty much right on. The simulation engine is accurate, relatively fast, and a nice thing overall to have available.

Difficulty : 90
I found the difficulty settings in the game to be appropriate, overall, and accurate in their labeling. I only played a few games at Rookie level, as it quickly became far to easy to pound the snot out of the opposition. I settled in quite nicely with Veteran level and found it to be a very good mix of difficulty without any attendant frustration. After all, a game is supposed to be fun, right? Veteran allowed me to play many games decided by only one or two runs. It gave me the right feeling of enjoyment and excitement and made the game an excellent diversion.

Overall : 86
Overall, a mixed bag. I think this game is much improved over last year, and is definitely a better choice than Triple Play 2000 or Hard Ball 6, 2000 Edition. And, the price is definitely right. For $19.99, I don't think you can expect much more enjoyment from a game than what you'll get from BB2K. However, if you truly love baseball, you are far better off skipping your morning latte for a few days and saving up the extra bucks to allow yourself to purchase High Heat Baseball 2000-still the king of PC baseball simulations.

Reviewer's Equipment
Pentium II 400, 128 Megs of RAM, 2 12 Meg Voodoo 2 cards, SLI, Sound Blaster Live!, Microsoft Sidewinder Gamepad

By: Rick Worrell 7/26/99

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