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World Series Baseball 2K3 (PS2) Review

Publisher: SEGA Sports

Background Info
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Screens (11)

As I look outside of my dorm room, the gentle breeze of the wind passes through my windows. The robin-egg blue sky spans the environment, and the sun - well past its highest peak - offers a subdued feeling. I take a deep breath of spring's sweet aroma and it is at that time I realize it's that time of year: baseball season.

But is there more excitement for the real-life sport or for the slew of video games? Although the first choice is probably the answer, the gap between the two is closing with every year.

World Series Baseball 2k3, after previous stints with the Sega Dreamcast and last year on the X-Box, finally comes to the Playstation 2. The series dates back to the Sega Genesis and Sega Saturn where it was extremely popular; however, when WSB came to the Dreamcast it failed to meet expectations. Last year, the critics said gave the game a much higher score, but it was still not up to par with the top echelon of sports games (editor's note: SGN's James Chheng gave WSB 2k3 Xbox an overall score of 83).

The Sega Sports name brings a lot of clout and respect; so even after a string of average games the hype is still there. With a large collection of PS2 baseball games already on the market, WSB joins the battle.

A quick reference point for the readers: I have played three of the PS2 baseball games available so far - WSB, High Heat and MLB 2004 - and have watched a few games of All Star Baseball 2004. I played Triple Play, High Heat and ASB last year.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
Sega Sports has its own look and feel to all their sports games, which is completely different from how the EA Sports games look. Their faces are smaller, their bodies more rectangular, and the package as a whole less vibrant. The color scheme is a more toned-down look. What results is a graphics package that is not as initially breathtaking, but after a few games the details and animation set really shine. I have always thought EA Sports' player models were more impressive, but they tended to have exaggerated superhero body shapes, as opposed to a more realistic body shape.

The details are seen in the stadiums. I haven't played MVP Baseball, but I would think that WSB is right up there in the level of detail. The stadiums simply have more detail in them than the other games I have played. The angles of the stadiums are more defined, there are more shadows that give the stadium depth, and there are more add-ons such as advertisements, banners, and flags.

The player faces are mapped quite accurately, but most of the white players have a "unlodge the hotdog from my esophagus" tone of skin. Each team has a variety of alternate and throwback uniforms that are accurate from what I can gauge. I appreciated WSB's attention to detail.

Presentation/Audio : 88
The play-by-play duo of Ted Robinson and Mike Krukow do a fantastic job. Sega Sports has a reputation of having great play-by-play, and WSB carries the torch. Robinson does the play-by-play and although I really hated him when he was with High Heat, he does an admirable job in WSB. He is accurate and I loved how he incorporates previous game happenings into what he says. For example, if say Bobby Abreu grounded out weakly to third in his first at-bat, Robinson would say something about it. If a player is one triple away from the cycle, Robinson will bring it up. Krukow comments after every hit or out, but I wish he would say more stuff in-between pitches. In longer at-bats, there is a lot of dead air. I am not saying I would like to hear constant talk, but the great commentary duos in real life talk about everything during a game. I would like to hear something about a quirky batting stance or the weather during pitches. It's a fine line between what is necessary and unnecessary, but WSB covers the basics very well.

The crowd yells out things from time to time. I heard, "Hey Bonds! Go back to triple A!" The oh-so-popular organ pumps out music and some batters have some introduction music. The soundtrack for the menu screen is ESPN's Baseball Tonight song. It's OK, but I would recommend muting the TV if you plan on listening to it for more than a few minutes.

Where WSB struggles is the in-game sounds and creating the baseball environment. I don't think the crowd gets as lively as it should, especially in the playoffs. I was in Game 7 of the NLCS with the Philadelphia Phillies at Veteran's Stadium, but the atmosphere was just not there. I think back to last year's playoffs and the crowds got so active! I wouldn't call the crowds monotonous or bland, but they definitely should have been more lively or raucous when the time called. The most emotion you ever hear from the crowd is the occasional, "Ooooh!" when there is a brushback pitch. The in-game sounds aren't much better. The sound of the ball off the bat, arguably one of the best sounds in all of sports, is almost comical in its representation. With some hits the ball emanates a twig snapping; and in others it sounds like a hollow pipe.

From the baseball games I have played, WSB definitely has the best play-by-play, but it doesn't come close to creating the right environment.

Interface/Options : 75
WSB definitely appeals to the gamer that craves depth, as it has numerous stats, individual player cards, and numerous end of the year awards. I simulated a bunch of seasons and I loved the layout of simming a season. At the top of the screen was the monthly schedule, but at the bottom right was like a running scroll of the score of the games and whom you were playing. On the bottom left was a similar scrolling news bar, but it was filled with the news, such as who won the NL hitter or batter of the month, the demotion of promotion of players of your team to the majors, and player milestones.

In WSB you can actually see your team's budget, with projected income, your current payroll and bank. And if you lose too many games in a row, you run the risk of having the fans not buy tickets and having your revenue go down. It seems like every year, the baseball video games are incorporating more of the layout and interface seen in Out of the Park Baseball or Baseball Mogul, two all-text pure baseball sims.

But the abundance of statistics and features is two-fold. Although the interface is easy to move around, there aren't any slow load times or maneuverability problems, it does take quite a while to get used to. Almost every statistic and bit of information is two menu screens away at least. There is no clear distinction from the main franchise menu to the more specific menus, which causes confusion at times what one you are actually in. Once you get past that initial confusion the game's depth really is awesome.

The number of game options isn't that outstanding and it drags the score down. There is no batting practice mode like in High Heat, or a bunch of unlockable cheats like in All Star Baseball. The game's depth lies within its franchise mode, but that is not a bad thing. Compared to the other baseball games, the number of game modes is average to above average.

The ESPN package definitely helps the game out, as it gives it a definitive and identifiable image. More than a few times, I had friends stop on by and at quick glance confuse the interface for the actual ESPN.


Gameplay : 92
I have always been a High Heat man, but after playing a few weeks of WSB I am as equally impressed. The best thing about WSB is that it looks, plays, and acts like a real-life baseball game. The animation set is outstanding and "oh-so" realistic. Where that strong effort is seen the most is in the fielding and throwing process. The ball actually is fielded into the glove in WSB; whereas in some games the ball sort of morphs into the glove. A tag is actually applied to base runners, and not the crappy "if you touch any part of my body then you are considered tagged" collision detection seen in other games.

I can't put a number on it, but I would venture to say that WSB has twice as many different types of throwing/fielding/catching animations than any of the other games I have played this year. But the realism doesn't stop with the simple mechanics. The thrown ball has a realistic loft, which is usually represented as a laser beam in other baseball games. What I really liked was the inaccuracy of some of the throws, especially when the catcher is trying to throw a base stealer out. In High Heat especially, the catcher regardless of the pitch threw the ball perfectly almost every time. In WSB, sometimes the ball trails to the left or right and sometimes high.

I have a couple of complaints about the throwing system. One, the throws are almost never short hopped or hit the ground. If a throw is accurate it is as I said above. Although it may not be a big problem to most gamers, the skipped throw is a big part of the game, especially on throws from third to first and on Astroturf where that type of throw is used to gain an advantage. The other gripe I had was with the cutoff system. The CPU pretty much decides if the cutoff man will take an outfielder's throw or not. In High Heat you can throw to the cutoff man without throwing to a base by pressing the L1 button. In WSB you can only throw to a base and stop the throw with the cutoff man. I found this occurrence to be a problem when dealing with throws from left field to third base. Many times I would have thrown out a base runner, but the cutoff man would stop the ball. Also, it seems whoever the cutoff man is immediately turns into Capser the Ghost. If you don't decide to use the cutoff man, the throw more times than not, passes directly through the bodies of them en route to its destination. Ouch!

As I said above, I am used to High Heat so I was glad WSB provided an option to switch to time-based hitting as opposed to the batting icon. There is a power (circle button) and a contact swing (X button) that differ greatly as evident by the animation. When you use the power swing, the hips are turned much faster and the shoulders turned more violently. If you miss a pitch with the power swing, your player almost looks like he's going to fall over. The results also differ, which at times is a problem. I found that it is almost impossible to hit a homerun with the contact swing and that is wrong. Many homeruns come off normal swings, and not with a pre-meditated uppercut. I like the idea of having the two types of swings, but they almost break down with the contact swing being a predominantly groundball swing with the power being the fly ball swing. There should be more randomness in the results with both of them.

WSB uses a pitching icon to locate pitches, and the biggest gripe about this system has always been that there are not enough walks. I am 30-plus games into my season and I only have a handful of walks. High Heat betters WSB in the variety of pitches. WSB has the main type of pitches, such as curveball, fastball, etc., but what they don't have is even more specific types of fastballs or cuveballs. High Heat has a slow curve or a rising fastball, in addition to normal curveballs or fastballs.

The player-to-player collision detection is shady for WSB. I have seen players run through each other, but most times confrontations are avoided. I haven't seen a baserunner collide with a catcher yet, nor have I seen two outfielders run into each other. The one time there was a fly ball in the right-center gap, the centerfielder and rightfielder were vehemently chasing after the ball, but about two strides away from each other they completely stopped and the centerfielder caught the ball.

The AI seems to be intelligent in almost every facet of the game, but I think it is too conservative. I rarely saw a hit-and-run or a double switch, and most of the managers do not pull their pitchers soon enough. I was playing against the Reds and I had rocked one of their pitchers for four runs in less than four innings, which in most cases wasn't enough to pull a guy. But after I loaded the bases and hit a grand slam and the pitcher still wasn't pulled, I knew there was too much stubbornness. The pitcher lasted one more inning, and another grand slam before the Reds manager finally pulled him. Other than that, the AI is usually really good as far as what base to throw to and when and when not to intentionally walk a batter.

Games take quite a while to play - usually in the 45-60 minute range - and that can be a plus and a minus. Overall, I think the gameplay is outstanding with no clear AI flaws, but the lack of walks and linear-ness of the two types of swings, places it behind High Heat in this area. My complaints are very minor, however.

Replay Value : 80
The franchise mode is so deep that it will tailor to all the stat freaks. With an amateur draft, and the ability to scout and sign foreign players, along with a full-bore off-season program, the micromanagement potential is high. You could spend an entire day investigating the off-season events.

The gameplay is really addicting, but there aren't any bonus cards or cheats to unlock. While I don't think that is a big deal, it does take away one possible reason why people would continue to play. The game's score here takes a big hit in its inability to offer an online mode. A game like this would have been absolute gold with online capability. With the network adapter out for almost 9 months before WSB's release, there is no excuse that this feature was not added. Unfortunately, none of the baseball games have online capability, and as a result their replay values will all be less than what they could have been.

Overall : 87
I also gave High Heat an 87 overall score. Although the two have different feels to the gameplay style and presentation, they both provide a great baseball experience. As a result, I think the decision on whether to buy High Heat or WSB is dependant on what type of baseball gamer you are. If you prefer a quicker-paced game buy High Heat, but if you like a more methodical and in-depth game, buy WSB. I think High Heat's batter-pitcher interface makes the game more realistic, but WSB is right up there. I don't think you can go wrong with either one - hell, buy both if you got the cash.

By: Tim Martin 4/14/03

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