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Triple Play 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Spring 1999

Background Info





Unlike the highly-anticipated annual release of football titles, a new crop baseball games sprouts up each spring without much hype and fanfare, but arrive with every bit as much competition. This spring, the Playstation will see the release of no fewer than four baseball titles, possibly more. Triple Play, the best-selling baseball game for the PSX, has a long history on the console. The game has been responsible for some great innovations in sports gaming, such as stadium fly-overs, the first real two-man announcing team, and dynamic commentary based on a player's current season. But does Triple Play 2000, the fifth version of the title for the PSX, offer anything new? Have they improved the title enough to justify a new purchase?

Graphics : 95
TP2000's graphics and animation show the most obvious and impressive improvement over last year's release. The choppy framerate and sluggish animation is gone. TP2000 features some of the smoothest, most fluid player animations on any console. Whether a player is running, swinging, pitching, or sliding, the sharp, smooth, detailed athletes look natural and realistic. The improved polygonal models show no blockiness or stiff movement.

The stadiums and fields are also very impressive. From the "green monster" in Fenway to the brick building behind right field at Camden Yards to the waterfalls in Kansas City, all of the stadiums look detailed and realistic. This year, EA even worked on shadows - depending on the time of day and weather, parts of the stadium will be in the shade. A great visual effect is that the "Jumbotron" screens in stadiums work during the game. As you run the bases, you can see yourself from a slightly different angle on the big screen in the stands. In some stadiums, you can watch yourself in a screen within the screen in the outfield as you stand at the plate.

A lot of the most impressive visual improvements are little things they added this year - clouds of dust when you slide or when a player brushes himself off after stealing a base; little bits of dirt that fly off a player's cleats when he taps them with the bat before stepping to the plate; the clouds that move slowly across the sky during the game; the orange-red glow of a sunset behind the stadium; and so on. Players have facial animations and expressions this year, which you see from time to time, mostly when you haven't touched the controller for a while. If you don't do anything, the camera may cut away to show your pitcher chewing gum or your shortstop hunched over, ready for the next play with a look of deep concentration on his face. Some players have their idiosyncratic gestures in the game as well. Hit a homer as Sammy Sosa, and as he crosses home plate, he does that heart-heart-kiss-kiss-peace-sign thing. The ball itself is a little easier to follow on screen, with a slight comet-tail effect that appears when the ball is moving very fast. This effect is done subtly enough that it works well, helping you follow the ball without creating a distracting effect.

Another nice improvement is in the way the camera follows the action in the game. This is one of the aspects of TP2000 that sets it apart from MLB2000 - the timing and direction of the presentation looks like a TV broadcast. The way the camera perspective shifts during a batting sequence just looks and feels authentic. During various actions on the field, the camera zooms out or pans left or right, as if a real cameraman were following the action live. The whole thing is so seamless that you may not appreciate the elegance of it until you play another baseball game with more crude shifts in perspective and camera angles. EA did a great job emulating the look of a baseball broadcast, with the timing and selection of camera shifts.

The new homerun animations are both good and bad. While some home runs are in doubt during the action, making you wait to see if the ball will clear the fence, most dingers are set off by special animations that tell you, to your delight or dismay, that the hit is going yard. One animation shows the swing from four different angles, back-to-back, sort of a live instant-replay montage; another suddenly shows the hit from the batter's side, letting you watch the ball soar out of the stadium; and a third animation (my favorite) shifts to the ball's perspective, looking back at the batter - the player, the field, and the stadium shrink away as you soar into the sky. These animations are all well done, but they tend to kill some of the suspense about whether or not the deep shots will be playable. In the past, you wouldn't know a ball was gone until it left the yard. Once you see the player to whom you pitched that inside fastball swinging four times with special sound effects and the announcer is having a fit, forget about it. The special animations are all well done, but I'd rather have them used after a homerun as an enhanced instant replay, rather than as part of the real-time action.

While the graphics are not shockingly new compared to last year as a whole, the sum is greater than the parts, and EA has put together a smooth, detailed, and rich graphical visual presentation that is the strongest element of this game. The biggest knock on TP '99 was choppy animations and poor framerate, and they have certainly resolved that problem.

Audio : 87
Triple Play has usually been ahead of its time in the audio department. TP97 features some of the best stadium and crowd effects ever produced at the time of its release, and the game's announcer was one of the first to produce smooth, seamless speech using real team and player names without sounding uneven and patched together on the fly. TP98 introduced the two-man booth, with announcers who not only did a great job covering the action on the field, but also chatted during idle moments, told stories, and made comments about specific players and places. TP99 built on this with announcers who mentioned stats from a current season. Because of this history of innovation, it is a bit disappointing that EA offers little new in this edition of Triple Play, certainly nothing worthwhile.

Make no mistake - the audio is still superb: crowds are dynamic and react to the action on the field; you can hear vendors selling lemonade or food in the stand; the crack of the bat is great; the announcers still cover the game and shoot the breeze; a stadium announcer pages people; and little bits of music play over the stadium loudspeakers from time to time as players from the home to come to the plate.

But in some respects, the audio has actually taken a step back this season. First and most immediately noticeable, they added arcade-style sound effects for action on the field. Deep hits or long throws are accompanied by a whooshing sound, like a rocket launcher. Foul balls generate a goofy stadium sound effect. Home run shots sound like cannon blasts. Some people may be amused by these novelty sounds, but I found them annoying. The worst part about it is that EA didn't offer an option to turn off the arcade sound effects without turning off all the sound effects. If you don't want to hear a rocker-launcher sound when you hit a line drive, you can turn it off, but then you don't hear the bat swing or connect with the ball either. Second, it seems like the announcers are actually a little less attentive to the game and more repetitive in TP2000. This is hard to say for sure, but it seems like the announcers did a better job commenting on the game between innings and mixing up their conversation in previous versions of Triple Play.

Overall, I still give TP2000 a high score for audio, but not as high as I would have in years past.

Interface/Options : 85
TP2000 sports a clean, intuitive interface. EA actually reduced some of the options and features this year (how often does that happen?) reportedly to make the game simpler.

The main menus are clear and simple to follow. Unlike some previous versions, there aren't countless submenus everywhere. EA has streamlined the menus to let you get into the action faster and easier. Some gamers, however, may miss some of the more detailed options from previous versions of the title such as scouting reports. (To be honest, I can't remember what else they cut to simplify things, so I guess they cut the right things...)

The actual game controls are a mixed bag. The batting interface offers two options now: a traditional timing-based hitting system, or a pseudo-batting cursor system featuring a "zone cursor" that requires you to target part of the strike zone. Personally, I've never liked batting cursors, but for those who do, this may offer some satisfaction for the first time in a Triple Play title. You have the ability to take a normal swing (X), swing with power (square), checkswing (tap X), or bunt (circle). You can adjust the position of the batter or alter his stance. Holding down the D-pad as you swing allows you to try to control the direction of the ball. This requires some finesse, however. Pushing the D-pad up when you swing can either result in a perfect deep home-run shot or a pathetic infield pop-up, depending on your timing and the pitch you swing at. In general, with the traditional batting system, hitting feels natural, though getting a double or triple on the higher difficulty levels is still a challenge.

While the batting system is very intuitive and natural, the pitching interface is the opposite - awkward, difficult to control, and somewhat unrealistic. This continues to be an area where Triple Play struggles. You select the type of pitch (choices vary with the particular pitcher), then pressing X to throw a strike or (circle) to throw outside the strike zone, while using the D-pad to indicate the location of the pitch. After the ball leaves the pitcher's hand, you can, by some strange power of the Force, continue to control the ball with something called "aftertouch," which allows you to nudge the ball's location a little more. While aftertouch allows for some finesse in pitching the ball, it seems at best unrealistic and at worst, an outright cheat. I'm sure most major league pitchers would love to psychically nudge a pitch up or down at the last second to perplex a batter, but the laws of physics are less forgiving than EA Sports. (If Mitch Williams could have used telekinetic aftertouch on his fateful final pitch to Joe Carter in the 1993 World Series, he'd probably still be pitching today instead of traumatized forever with giving up a series-ending homerun.) In any event, the TP2000 pitching interface allows for a lot of control, but it simply doesn't seem as responsive or precise as other pitching interfaces, such as the outstanding one offered in MLB2000.

Other controls are simple and well-implemented - fielding is pretty straightforward, aided with an arrow that helps indicate the location of the ball; baserunning and stealing work well enough, but not great; and basic throws utilize the D-pad. The shoulder buttons allow for lots of on-the-fly adjustments, such as shifting the outfielders, prepping for a bunt, changing baserunning aggressiveness, and so on.

Gameplay : 90
TP2000 plays very well, with tight controls and good pacing. The improved animation and graphics provide a better sense of control over the on-screen action. EA also wisely eliminated some animations from TP99 that needlessly slowed down the game.

The AI seems improved this year as well. A criticism of previous versions of Triple Play was the relative difficulty in hitting doubles and triples. This seems improved in TP2000 mainly because the spacing and size of the field in proportion to the players seems to have been fine-tuned to provide realistic hits and fielding.

Pitching still seems a bit tough. It can be difficult throwing strikeouts, especially on some of the higher levels. It seems like almost anything you throw in the strike zone gets hit. As mentioned above, part of this difficult may stem from the awkward pitching interface, but even with a good pitcher, it can be hard to get a lot of K's.

Difficulty : 85
TP2000 is easy to pick up and play, but tough to master. The rookie level is extremely easy (it's hard NOT to get a base hit every time) but the higher levels are extremely challenging. As mentioned above, pitching can be a challenge, and at the higher levels, fielding is also tough, especially without relying on assistance from the CPU.

The nice thing about the game is that in addition to the "rookie," "pro," and "all-star" modes, you can create a custom difficulty level. You can have all the settings at "pro" for example, but make the fielding a little easier, or change the setting to allow the computer to manage your baserunning for you. This flexibility is welcome feature.

The bottom line is that TP2000 offers simple, enjoyable gameplay for the beginner as well as nail-biting challenges to experienced players.

Overall : 88
TP2000 is a fine game. It combines great graphics and audio with smart gameplay and a fine assortment of features and options. If you hadn't seen a baseball video game in year and you turned on TP2000, it would take your breath away. The downside is that for those who have played last year's baseball titles, TP2000 offers some solid improvements but nothing truly innovative. And for some players, the novelty sound and special effects may detract from an otherwise outstanding game. Overall, however, TP2000 is still an entertaining, challenging game, and, so far, looks to be as good or better than any other baseball titles on the PSX.

By: Matt P. 4/14/99

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