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World Series Baseball 2K2 (DC) Review

Background Info

World Series Baseball has been a mainstay on Sega consoles for a long time and rose to prominence on the old Sega Saturn. When news spread that Sega Sports was bringing the World Series Baseball to the Dreamcast, fans were ecstatic. There was much anticipation for last year's 2K1 version of World Series Baseball, but the game failed to deliver. Many would call it a major disappointment. After Sega putting out great sports games like NBA2K, NFL2K, Virtua Striker, and Virtua Tennis, the failure was surprising. The game's high points did not outnumber its low points and the game did not live up to its lofty expectations. With a year's experience and respected Visual Concepts taking over full reign of the creation of the game, does WSB 2K2 join its Sega Sports brethren in the highest echelon of gaming?

Presentation/Graphics : 91
The graphics of WSB will simply blow you away. Sega Sports almost never falls short in the eye candy area. You will quickly recognize the faces of all your favorite major leaguers. The player modeling is dead-on. Heights, weights, color, and appearance are all unique to each player. There was no confusing "el guapo" Rich Garces with Rafael Furcal. Batting stances and pitching motions are also portrayed magnificently. Ichiro's unique open stance, Carl Everett's plate hogging stance, and Jeff Bagwell's squat stance are all in the game. Almost every batting stance is incorporated in the game. The same goes for pitching styles. Having that unique stance or motion gives you more of a feeling that you're actually that batter or pitcher. Your gaming experience is heavily enhanced when it looks like you are watching a game on television.

There are subtle differences in some of the stadiums, but for the most part they are near authentic. The same goes for the uniforms. I wasn't able to get through a full 162-game season, but I did not see any of the "throwback" uniforms that are worn throughout the year. I would have really liked to see that in the game. The animation is very fluid. Fielding, pitching, hitting, or baserunning are all done seamlessly. There is no gameplay delay when you gun the guy out at first or barrel into the catcher at home plate. The game looks and performs like a well-oiled machine.

I was frustrated by the lack of camera angles. You are only given three choices: Low, Medium, and High. There is no overhead view or a camera angle that puts you behind the pitcher. The camera angle and the ability to zoom in and out is a major problem that presents itself when fielding comes in to play.

Audio : 45
It is usually a given that the audio department in a Sega Sports game is top-notch. The audio is incredibly mediocre in WSB. For starters, the play-by-play is terrible. Gamers familiar with the High Heat series will cringe to hear that the announcer sounds like a rehashed Ted Robinson. It is that bad. The announcer has a minute list of phrases to say. What results is a highly annoying and repetitive sounding game. If the list of phrases is short, you would at least hope the play-by-play would be accurate. The announcing falls short here also. For example, you will strikeout a batter with a fastball that is high and outside and the following declaration will be, "he threw that one right in the wheelhouse" which means you threw it right down the middle. Or you'll groove one down the middle and the announcer will say, "he swings and misses at that outside pitch." Baseball is a tough game to announce, but I thought the announcing could be so much more than what it was.

The crowd and stadium sound is not much better. The crowd is lifeless and sounds like an afternoon game between the Kansas City Royals and the Montreal Expos. The crowd never really gets into the game, positively or negatively. Stadium sounds in real life can be amazing. The crack of the bat. The thwack of a pitch hitting the catcher's glove. The sound of the pipe organ and corny pop music. WSB captures nothing of this. What you get is a relatively boring sounding game and the occasional sound byte of the "funky chicken."

Maybe things would not be as frustrating if Sega Sports did not know the blueprint of audio success so well. Many of their other games have been revolutionary and even innovative in the audio department. NFL 2K2 will get play-by-play announcing from a flawless two man-booth and WSB gets the "funky chicken." Why was WSB shafted?

Interface/Options : 79
There are seven modes of gameplay. All the essentials are there; the exhibition mode, the quick start mode, homerun derby, season, playoffs, franchise, and online play. If there has been a major knock on Sega Sports games, it has been their multiple-season mode. EA Sports has the franchise/dynasty game mode down to a "T". Sega Sports is still trying to find their niche. World Series Baseball doesn't improve on Sega Sport's poor reputation in that category.

I found that after completing your season all your free agents are thrust into a fantasy draft pool. I was the Oakland A's and my jaw dropped to the floor when I saw that I couldn't resign Jason Giambi or Johnny Damon because they were already drafted in this "fantasy draft" style free agent signing period by two other teams. Maybe I missed the boat here, but I was shocked when I was left powerless to re-sign my guys. My only rationale for this feature would be to simulate the ever-changing team rosters and to avoid having to implement some sort of financial/salary cap mode. I found this to be disheartening.

I did not have a chance to test out the multiplayer feature available for the game, but from what I have heard it is reliable and fast. The other Sega Sports that support online capability are pretty fast and reliable, so it would be safe to assume that WSB would be also.

There is a create-a-player feature in the game and is not very elaborate. Unlike last year, there is a minor league team available to use for trade bait or to fill a spot due to injury. The game tracks a plethora of stats and has a point system that determines who makes the All-Star team.

Gameplay : 73
Envision this. A brand new, hot off the presses, 2002 Mercedes-Benz. The color is candy-apple red, the gold-plated rims cast a blinding glare, and the leather interior still has that "new car" smell. It is a piece of art. Now let's say the car has one big rust spot on it on the driver-side door. Wouldn't that make you sick to your stomach? I got the same feeling after playing WSB for an extended amount of time. What could have been?

The gameplay flaws are evident. The main flaw is the fielding. The lack of a decent camera angle makes fielding a highly frustrating experience. Running under fly balls is not a problem at all. The dilemma is fielding the ground balls. Unless a ball is hit right at you, more times than not it will roll right on by. The reason is not due to your poor fielding ability, but rather the lack of a camera angle that is close enough to let you see the ball. The camera view is also a bit slanted so you may think that you are taking the correct angle to field a ball only to have it roll right past you. The blemish makes it near impossible to move and field a hardly hit ground ball. For that reason, it makes you alter your pitching style. You can't throw the ball low consistently in fear that you'll have to field a ground ball to the left or right of you.

Depending on how you look at it, the fielding experience may equal itself out. For all the balls you miss because of the horrible camera angle, you will probably get to a number of balls that appear impossible to get to. There are no bloop singles or screamers through the infield. There is some Ronald Reagan-devised safety net that prevents any ball from passing safely through infield. Many times you'll hit what you think is a bloop single only to see the ball descending at a normal angle and take a 90-degree turn and land in the player's mitt. There is no miraculous dive to give the appearance that the player actually caught the ball. The ball literally is descending at a normal angle only to change flight path. The ball appears to bounce off a wall and change direction sharply. The first time that strange occurrence happened I thought it was a ball that had a nasty slice on it. However, when I went to instant replay the ball was hit straight as an arrow then took its tremendous turn.

Another fielding bug or gaffe is the player dive. Imagine Kenny Lofton running through the outfield and making his full body dive to catch a ball. Now imagine Kenny in mid-dive as the ball passes him by. Sound quirky? So is the dive in the game. The dive is a long and slow one. There is not the ability to just dive and get the ball; it has to be the long slow motion dive. This causes you to often complete the dive moments after the ball has passed. It was like you belly flopped for the ball. It was very frustrating to say the least.

Despite the fielding bugs, WSB has a lot of things going right. There are a realistic amount of foul balls hit and the pitch count usually results in a realistic number. The best part of the game is the pitching. Each pitcher has their X number of pitches they can throw. A power pitcher will have their repertoire of hard thrown pitches like sinkers and sliders and a finesse pitcher will have more breaking ball pitches. To be successful in this game you have to mix up your pitches and pitch to that pitcher's ability. There is nothing better than to set a batter up with fastball away then come high and in with a changeup for the strikeout.

As soon as you find out how much your pitcher's pitches break you will be able to pinpoint your pitches and that is when pitching becomes fun. What aids you in your pitching journey are the batters hot and cold zones. For each batter there is a three by three grid representing the strike zone. If the part of the grid is red it is a hot zone and if it is blue it is their cold zone. There are different tones of the red and blue representing whether or not the area is a hitter's really hot or cold zone. The grid also shows how you pitched the batter in their previous at-bats before your first pitch of the current at-bat and after that first pitch where you have pitched him for the current at-bat. I found this to be very helpful. For example, let's say you pitched a guy high and for the entire at-bat. If you went low and away you would usually catch the batter off-guard.

Hitting is a mixed bag. I liked the ability to fight off a pitch and foul it off (something that is rarely found in other baseball games), but I absolutely despise the hitting icon interface. In the gaming world, if something is done right other companies usually copy off it. First person shooters do it all the time. How many games have used the Quake II engine? So why don't sports games do it? High Heat Baseball has the best pitcher-batter interface ever to hit a baseball game. There is no annoying batting icon or pitching icon. You just see the ball and hit it. It's a true authentic baseball experience. Due to the fact that you have to hit with a batting icon, you never really seem to be hitting, but rather matching. The major flaw to a batting icon is that it is very difficult to get the timing aspect down. Because you have to match icons up you only see left to right and up and down, not how fast or how slow. It sounds a little confusing, but the changeup is almost impossible to hit because you can't see the ball crossing the plate because your hitting icon is in the way. If World Series Baseball could just incorporate High Heat's batting interface we could really have something special.

On a side note, there is no instant replay feature in WSB. You have to manually get the replay of your great play. It isn't a major nuisance, but it is something that was in last year's game and for some reason was omitted this year.

Replay Value : 66
The gameplay and multiple season game mode are highly frustrating. Unless you can get hooked on one of the two, I can't see why you would play this for an extended amount of time. If you can look past the fielding problems and work around them, the rest of the game could be enjoyable enough to satisfy the die-hard baseball gamer. There is the online-play capability that I'm sure will enhance the replay value if you take advantage of it.

Overall : 74
This game could have been awesome. If only a few things were altered or corrected, we could be looking at the best baseball game on the market. I thought World Series Baseball would take the crown away from High Heat Baseball this year as best baseball game on the market. High Heat had a down year and I thought WSB would learn from last year's mistakes. I guess they did learn from last year's mistakes, but they opened up another list of new ones.

Maybe next year's incarnation on the PS2 (if it gets ported) will rise to the challenge with High Heat, Triple Play, and All-Star Baseball and compete for top-dog. I would hope that Visual Concepts learns from its mistakes. The foundation is there for a great sports game. One can only hope that next year the roof doesn't cave in.

By: Tim Martin 9/19/01

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