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World Series Baseball 2K3 (Xbox) Review

Publisher: SEGA Sports

Background Info
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Screens (11)

America's pastime returns with the second installment of World Series Baseball on the Microsoft Xbox. Sega once again rounds the bases with a solid baseball title that takes much from last year's very nice version of the game. Of course, this year you get rosters updated for the 2003 season along with all the latest stadiums.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
The first thing to note about the graphics in WSB 2k3 are the smooth player models. The players are some of the best looking in terms of the uniforms in any console baseball title. Whether the current or throwback jerseys are worn, they are modeled in exact detail. This is both a blessing and a curse. I mean, do we really need to relive the awful White Sox uniforms of the early 80s? The players have unique shapes and sizes in an attempt to mimic the actual ballplayers they represent. In addition, many of the players' faces look realistic. The big names have enough graphical detail walking up to the plate that you'll instantly recognize players.

Equally impressive are player animations. This game has every kind of baseball move imaginable. Starting from the pitcher, he's attentive enough when players are on base to execute fantastic looking pickoff moves. If the pitch selected is not in the pitcher's repertoire, he shakes his head calling off the pitch. At the plate, contact and power swings are done well. On the basepaths, baserunners will try to take the legs out from under the second baseman on double play situations or stretch to beat the throw to first. Infielders and outfielders are attentive and make a wide variety of catch attempts.

Stadiums are modeled well as well. If you look closely you'll see birds flying around in the outfield or traffic going over the bridge beyond the outfield wall in Pittsburgh. The stadium animations are simply a bonus to add to the sense of realism.

Presentation/Audio : 65
I wasn't as impressed with the audio in WSB as I was with the graphics. Ted Robinson calls the play-by-play and does a fine job at it. Everything on the field is replicated in the booth. But aside from that the color of Rex Hudler is few and far between. There's plenty of downtime in a baseball game between pitches that can be used to fill the audio track. Unfortunately so little color is thrown in that the game is boring audio-wise. Even fan responses are bland. A missed power swing gets the same response from the home crowd whether it's a home or visiting player. And there's no real excitement in the crowd. Sega's other sports titles have incredible sound but WSB simply comes up short.

Interface/Options : 95
When it comes to options, WSB has them in spades. The options are too numerous to fully review. Suffice it to say, if you want customized gameplay, it's here. Sliders allow you to adjust things like pitching, batting, and running characteristics of the CPU players. This is important as the CPU batters tend to strikeout too much on the default settings and throw too many strikes. Aside from that, there are plenty of presentation options, the ability to change batting interfaces (timed batting, power meter swinging, and cursor batting) and outfield strategy.

Where the game gets completely out of hand is with the franchise mode. In a word, it's intimidating. Upon starting a new franchise, the first step is to hire key coaching and player management personnel. This game makes you put scouting directors, pitching and batting coaches, and a minor league director on the payroll besides the usual manager. You also have to work within a budget for both the player and non-player payrolls. The minor leagues come into play when it's time to bring players up or use them as trade bait. You can even sit players down for rest. All told, this game brings the franchise model to a whole new level. It's better than the franchise modes found in games like Madden or the NBA 2K series, and it really makes the game worth the price of admission.

Of course, there are a few things missing from the game. There is a batting cursor may or may not appeal to gamers, but I think the batting interface isn't what it could be. You can't move the batter in the batter's box and you can't tilt to the cursor to aim for a particular part of the field. Many times I feel my hits are simply random in nature. Another glaring omission is the lack of support for Xbox Live.


Gameplay : 90
Another winning category for WSB is the gameplay. The game plays the game of baseball very well. In my very first game I knew I was in for something special when the CPU executed a double steal which took me completely off-guard. The CPU makes intelligent baserunning decisions that require you to stay attentive to the positions of runners on base. When I'm at the plate, I am impressed by the intelligence of the pitcher in terms of runners taking leads. Lead offs are executed with the trigger buttons. By default the baserunners will take a short lead. By flicking the trigger you can get a larger lead, and two presses really strands the runner in no man's land. In an instant, however, a pitcher can turn and rifle the ball in a pickoff attempt. If you are quick on the triggers it's an easy out.

In the field, the ball is easy to pick up. Whether it's a hard hit ball in the infield or a fly to the outfield, the camera quickly provides a view to make a good jump on the ball. On balls hit to the gap you'll beg for a turbo button (which doesn't exist) to get to the ball quickly. Instead you're at the mercy of the CPUs settings for player speed. While frustrating, this does make the game more realistically. My only problem with fielding is the lackluster throws to the bases. I still appreciate the inaugural PS2 version of Triple Play for it's spirited throwing. In that game you could press hard on the analog buttons to make a bullet throw (with a loss of accuracy) or just lob it to a base with a gentle press.

The pitching is handled nicely in WSB. Pitchers fatigue realistically, and if you put the hurt on the opposing pitching staff you can expect rapid trips to the mound by the manager. In one game I faced no fewer than 7 pitchers on my way to a big win. I did feel, however, that the CPU pulled some pitchers too fast. Pitch selection is decent. There are 9 types of pitches of which a pitcher has the ability to throw a subset of those. You can really throw batters for a loop by changing velocity on the ball. Off-speed changeups after a fastball often leave the CPU batter swinging at air. Likewise, when you're at the plate it's not uncommon to swing too early or late due to the effective use of pitch speed by the CPU. Further, balls break late in the trajectory which makes for a more challenging pitching/batting interface.

Replay Value : 95
This game is overwhelming, but that's a positive. If you want to play single games every now and then, the baseball model is good enough to keep you coming back. But the meat of the game is in the franchise mode which completely blows any other sports title out of the water in terms of depth.

Overall : 90
A great playing baseball game, World Series Baseball 2k3 from Sega is an impressive work. The franchise mode sets a new standard in sports titles, and the gameplay is both fun and realistic. While there is no support for Xbox Live, you still get a title that's a great play offline. If you're looking for a deep baseball game, look no further.

By: James Smith 4/24/03

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