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Triple Play Baseball (PSX) Review

Background Info
Every year it seems as though Spring Training arrives earlier. On my way to work a few weeks ago I was taken aback by the fact that pitchers and catchers were already reporting to the Astros' training camp. There's still plenty of snow on the ground but the grapefruit leagues are starting strong.

And what would Spring be without a fresh new crop of baseball titles? EA steps up to the plate with their latest in the Triple Play series. This year they drop the year from the title, choosing to call it simply Triple Play Baseball. By dropping the year plus one routine, consumers can hope for something new. Keep hoping.

Triple Play Baseball for the PlayStation offers more of the same play from years past. Sure the rosters are updated (as of the beginning of the new year) and every team and stadium is there, but little else has changed. Expect a season mode and home run derbies with arcade style gameplay to be the emphasis yet again.

Graphics : 75
Once I hit the field for the first game, I was impressed by the composition of the players. Players come in various shapes and sizes, and the PlayStation hardware renders them wonderfully. Player uniforms have readable logos, names, and numbers, and some uniforms have distinct pinstripes. The beauty of the players is a function of the camera being used. With three views available for both fielding and batting, you can choose between a distant camera with miniature players or nice close-ups which really give a television feel.

In the closer views you appreciate the nice swing and pitching animations. On the basepaths, runners slide convincingly and players scoop the ball off the dirt. For the most part, animations have a decent number of frames to smoothly make transitions. Where the animations tend to break down is with dives. Diving for a ball proved a choppy affair.

Every MLB stadium is included in the game as well as a few fantasy stadiums. If a ball is hit out of the park or into the stands on a foul ball you get a chance to view more of the park. The parks represent the true counterparts in various degrees. Enron Field in Houston has the shape of the retractable roof modeled, but it's missing one key component - the flag pole on the short hill in center field. Likewise, the Citgo sign that peeks over the Green Monster is conspicuously absent.

Pretty pictures aside, my only significant complaint about the graphics is the slow transition from the batting to fielding view. When your team is in the field, grounders and line drives are difficult to snag due to the lack of speed. Many times the ball will be at the edge of the dirt before you can even get a view of your infield players. However, in the outfield there's plenty of time to judge and make a break on the ball. Still, the infield problems are enough to significantly affect gameplay and have to be taken into account for the graphical score.

Audio : 85
The sound in the game is above average with decent commentary, matter-of-fact play-by-play, and a bevy of sound effects. The color commentary is not terribly exciting and is really quite limited. It seemed like there was more color provided in the home run derbies than the actual games. During games the sound focused on a fairly strict call of the action. The calls often come before any visual clue to the ensuing action. For example, you'll know if an error has been committed before the scoreboard comes up again, or the booth of Buck Martinez and Jim Hughson will hint whether a ball will leave the park or not. There are even times where the booth thinks a bunt by the opposition is coming.

The sounds on the field seem like they've been developed by the same gang that did the audio for the Tiger Woods series. A well hit ball to the outfield has the same style of sound as a big drive off the tee in Tiger's game, a big whooosh. This belittles the audio somewhat, as the sound of the bat making contact is actually quite good. After a few games I noticed the audio less and less.

Interface/Options : 90
Triple Play Baseball ships with just a few modes of play. You can play America's game in single game, season, or playoff mode. Further, the Big League Challenge lets you swing the wood and go yard. It's hard to think of too many more options in a baseball game. The season mode can be played with front office options, though no franchise mode exists. Frankly, if you have enough time to play more than one 162 game season a year (let alone a single season) then you have a right to complain. But mortals out there shouldn't be upset about the lack of a multiyear franchise mode.

One glaring omission from the season mode is the lack of injuries. To make up for it, a generous general manager mode is included where you can create players, sign free agents, make trades, initiate a pre-season draft, and shuffle your lineup. The fantasy draft can be played with or without a salary cap. Here Triple Play takes a departure from realism. Every team in the league has the same number of points with which to select players. Fans of the small-market Brewers can rejoice that they have the same buying power as teams with substantial television money like the Yankees, Braves, and Cubs (not that the Cubs know how to spend wisely). Through the draft I was able to put together a powerful lineup with the likes of Craig Biggio, Derek Jeter, Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones, Curt Schilling, Kerry Wood, John Smoltz, and Tony Gwynn. If that weren't all, I traded a few scrubs for Alex Rodriquez. If you have any points left over after the draft, they can be used to make uneven trades to no end.

The statistical system appears up to snuff for the various teams in the league. During my games strikeouts and walks were nearly non-existent, but for the rest of the league those categories and all other stats were realistic. I simmed an entire 162-game season with interesting results. Jason Giambi of the A's was the AL MVP, leading the league in homers (66 for Jason, 10 others with 50 or more) and RBI's (145, 23 with more than 100). Jeff Bagwell took home honors in the NL with a healthy .344 average, 47 homers, and 113 RBI's. One suspect stat is his steal total, a staggering 43 for the year (4 behind league leader Shannon Stewart of the Blue Jays). Dave Burba took home the AL Cy Young award with a 20-4 record, 2.34 ERA, and 238 K's. I was shocked when another Astro, Shane Reynolds, took the NL Cy Young award with a 22-5 record. For the league, Kevin Brown came up first with strikeouts (312), bad boy John Rocker got his stuff back with 49 saves, and Pedro continues his mastery with 17 complete games. And if Triple Play is a harbinger of the future, put your money down on the Jays to win it all.

Gameplay : 60
There are two types of baseball games out there - arcade and simulation. Triple Play continues to stay focused on making baseball an arcadish affair. My personal preference is for a baseball simulation. Arcade titles lose my interest quickly since they lack depth. Triple Play Baseball is no exception. When I'm on the mound, I want to know how the opposing batter hits. I want to know his hot and cold zones. I want to be able to set up the batter. Mix speeds and locations and go for the strikeout. I want to outsmart the batter. On offense I want the ability to swing high, low, or wherever I darn well please, just like those multi-millionaires do. In Triple Play Baseball, I feel like I'm just going through the motions. Sure you can play the game with unrealistic aftertouch on the ball, but have you ever seen big leaguers use mind control to make the ball move once it leaves their hands? Likewise, there is the ability to isolate the bat to a certain region (the hard batting mode), but the interface is clumsy. You're better served using the simple batting controls where you use either the X button (normal swing) or square button (power swing) along with the D-pad (push down for grounder, nothing for line drive, and up for fly).

In the field, the control is hampered by both the slow transition from the batting view and what I feel are inferior controls for a baseball game. Before scooping up the ball, you can dive or jump at it. In the outfield you can also climb the wall. The problem is that all moves use the same button, the square button. To dive you press the square and push the D-pad towards the ball. To jump you simply press the square button. In practice this means that if you want to run and jump at the ball you have to run, completely stop, and press the button. When fielding the ball you only have two other button options available (X to speed the player and the triangle to switch to the closest player). That leaves 5 other buttons that could be used to diversify the control scheme. Once you gain possession of the ball it's no better. I prefer using the O, X, square, and triangle buttons to throw to each base. The buttons are in the shape of a diamond, you know. In Triple Play Baseball, you throw the ball using the X button and pointing the D-pad in the direction of the base. If you want a harder throw to a base, press the square button and the digital pad. If you want to run the ball yourself you use the O button. Still, this leaves five free buttons. Surely baseball fans can handle a little more complexity. It beats the frustration of throwing to home plate in the middle of a heated play due to the clumsy button mechanics. You can forget about using the analog control. I committed more wrong throws with it than I could count.

Even if the game had a better control scheme, it still would have trouble in other areas. You can play the game with manual control of your players, assistance from the CPU, and fully automatic players. Playing with manual players was annoying. The slow transition made fielding the ball a bear. Even with the CPU assist I found too many occasions where the closest player was not breaking on the ball. This happens mostly on grounders and seems to occur most frequently with shortstops and second basemen. I gave up on the game once I realized that nothing I do would improve some of the infield play. When a ball is only a few feet from my second baseman yet the CPU decides that the shortstop who's 15 feet away should get the ball it's time to quit.

The game is not without its merits. There are some things I really liked about the game. The AI made great baseball decisions, albeit not a part of today's game. Baseball players these days are too concerned about personal stats and not about team play, so things like bunts and sacrifice flies are about as commonplace in the majors as perfect games. Yet Triple Play Baseball hearkens back to the golden age of baseball. It's not uncommon for the CPU to bunt three or more times in a game just to advance players into scoring position. Likewise, the AI knew proper times to hit deep into the outfield to put a man across the plate. The AI was attentive to throws to cutoff men and the like. With the solid opponent AI it's too bad that the rest of the game limits the overall enjoyment.

The other mode in Triple Play Baseball is the Big League Challenge. Basically this is just a home run contest. You can play in tournament, one-on-one, or extreme mode. The extreme mode places targets above the outfield fence. The goal is to both hit home runs and strike targets. This mode quickly loses steam once you realize it's nothing more than a game of chance.

Replay Value : 60
As stated, I'm a simulation baseball fan and gravitate towards those titles which offer more realistic play. To make up for many of the fielding faults in Triple Play, you really have to play this game with extra assists, thereby taking the human element out of the game. This turns the game into point-and-click baseball with little depth. Sim fans will most certainly look elsewhere for their baseball fix.

Fans of arcade style baseball and the Triple Play series may be able to look past the lack of realism and fielding problems and enjoy the title. If so, there is built in replay value. Completing a 162-game season will keep you busy for months.

Overall : 65
It's more of the same for the Triple Play franchise. The latest version of the game suffers from a poor control scheme and sketchy fielding. This arcade title lacks the depth of simulation-based baseball games and ultimately strikes out.

By: James Smith 3/2/01

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