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Microsoft Baseball 2001 (PC) Review

Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: April 2000

Background Info

Microsoft is now entering its third year in the PC baseball market with their Microsoft Baseball 2001. Will it be able to lure buyers away from High Heat 2001 or Triple Play 2001 with its blend of simulation and arcade traits?

Graphics : 90
The graphics are the stronghold in Microsoft Baseball 2001. The sharp and clear players definitely create a sense of realism. The stadium graphics are also stunningly realistic. The billboards and the crowd are the only low point in the graphics area.

A side note here worth mentioning. The Padres' stadium, Qualcomm Stadium, which was not accurately portrayed in the MS Baseball 2000, is still not accurate. I have been to a few of their games and I know there is a mini-scoreboard in right field. Maybe the guys who worked on the game are not Padres fans. As far as the accuracy of other stadiums in the game, I cannot say since I have only been to Qualcomm.

Audio : 50
The play-by-play at times will get you excited but for the most part, it is too dry and monotonous. The only time when the announcer shows any sort of emotion is after a homerun. I smacked a double into the alley and came all the way around to score on an error, yet the play-by-play guy did not seem to think the play was of any importance or at least did not convey it through his tone of voice. He did not even mention the big throwing error that led to the run.

The audio portion of the game has many problems that should have been worked out before the game hit the store shelves. First, the announcer constantly stutters. Second, the play-by-play guy kept on referring to my team by the opponent's team name. For example, I am the Padres in my season. I was playing the Diamondbacks and the play-by-play kept on saying, The Diamondbacks' Tony Gwynn or whatever Padre player he was referring to.

The sound effects do not do a good job of portraying baseball. The crowd noise needs to be tweaked as they were cheering on random occasions sometimes.

Interface/Options : 80
Of course, the big thing here is the Baseball Mogul technology as Microsoft refers to it. Too bad Microsoft did not fully implement the technology as the General Manager portion of the game leaves players scratching their heads sometime. The trading engine is pretty whacked. Opposing teams will sometime trade star players for young unproven rookies. The financial system is something that is new and will not really take in effect till the 3rd or 4th season. I was unable to sign free agents as my operation I was running was in big time debt! This came out of nowhere for me. The game does not use dollars, as it uses a point system instead. The statistic improvement over last year's game is a welcome addition.

The simulation engine seems accurate for the most part. I simmed a couple of seasons and nothing out of the ordinary happened. The leading homerun guys usually had around 48-53 homers with the RBI leader knocking in approximately 130-150 runs. The pitching stats also were right on track with a few pitchers getting 20 wins and the leading saves leader racking in saves in the mid-40s. One thing I noticed since my hometown team is the Padres, Tony Gwynn had 40 strikeouts in the seasons I simulated. Gwynn usually gets only around 20 strikeouts a season.

The interface is pretty much the same as Microsoft Baseball 2000. It remains easy to navigate around the game and is not the least bit confusing. While Microsoft probably did not want to fix something that wasn't broken, they could have at least allowed users to double click players displayed on the league leader screen to bring up their stat card. The new feature allowing users to view 'scout's grades' is a welcome addition. Instead of having to double click on all the players to check their rating in the roster screen, a user can just choose to view grades.

For some reason, the minor leaguers' stats are not shown. How are we to determine if someone deserve a call to the big leagues or not?

Gameplay : 60
For those not familiar with the Microsoft Baseball series, the game uses a crosshair pitching system with pitchers having the option of throwing 1-4 pitches. Batting requires a user to move a rectangle around that has a little plus sign as the sweet spot. Users have the luxury of turning the pitching crosshair on or off. With it off, batting is a lot tougher and is that much more rewarding when a homer is hit.

Defensive players did not charge grounders no matter how slow the ball was rolling. With that in mind, it is nearly impossible to beat out any infield grounders, no matter how fast the runner is, and/or no matter how slowly the ball is hit. Also, I noticed how many liners were hit directly at the infielders. While on defense, I tried throwing the ball directly to home plate on a sacrifice fly attempt, but my shortstop cut the throw off. This kept on happening to me.

With questionable AI base running, fielding, and substitution, the game is far from being realistic. The computer-controlled outfielders constantly overplayed what would be singles turning them into doubles and triples by letting the ball roll right past them. Errors occur way too often for the computer. On one play, a total of four errors were charged. Started with a grounder to the second baseman that went through his legs. The centerfielder let the ball go through his legs. The right fielder picked it up and chucked it over the second baseman's head, with the balling rolling all the way to the dugout near third base. At this point, another fielder picked up the game and threw it into left field. Although this only happened once, I did not go through any games where I did not go through at least 2 multi-error plays by the computer. Luckily all this did not happen to my fielders. I had the occasional error but nothing strange.

The game still does not factor in wind. The same goes for wild pitches. Both are absent. Those two features are key to providing a realistic baseball experience.

All in all though, the actual physics of Microsoft Baseball 2001 is perhaps the most realistic out of the baseball games released this year on the PC. Microsoft needs to revamp their AI for next year's game in order to compete with the other baseball games.

Replay Value : 50
While the career mode is not as good as High Heat 2001, it does provide something new in the financial engine. Personally, the game is too similar to last year's game. I was hoping the Baseball Mogul technology would boost the replay value, but the technology, as it is referred to, is lacking in many areas.

Overall : 60
With no online play, High Heat Baseball 2001 as the king of baseball simulation and Triple Play 2001 as the leader in arcade baseball, Microsoft Baseball 2001 does not fit in anywhere. The game is rather a disappointment. Microsoft Baseball 2001 could have been so much more had Microsoft caught some of the problems with the game.

By: James Chheng 6/26/00

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