All-Star Baseball 2000 Review

Of all the baseball titles released in 1998, none impressed me more than All-Star Baseball 99. The developers at Iguana took the best elements from past baseball games (most coming from Sega’s World Series Baseball series) and wrapped them up with some of the prettiest graphics yet seen on a home console. The game was ambitious, to be sure: pull-hitters had different shaped cursors than push-hitters; balks were called; the infield fly rule was enforced; left-handed batters were at a disadvantage against left-handed pitchers; and many other details were included to really up the ante for hardball fans.

Yet with that ambition came a number of quirks that were the equivalent of rain delays — each putting a damper on the positive features. The biggest problem with the game centered on computer base runners. After hitting a sure double against the wall, the computer would often stay glued to first. This conservative approach was not followed once the next hitter stepped to the plate, however.

If the computer had a runner on first or second, it would attempt to steal with alarming regularity. Runners would also advance half way on infield flies — making them easy pickings for the twin killing. As if these flaws weren’t enough, statistics were inaccurately kept, the computer rarely substituted players and there were even a few instances of the game crashing!

All-Star Baseball 2000 addresses nearly all of these issues while somehow improving the overall presentation. The graphics are in high res, as with all of Acclaim’s sports games for the system, which means razor-sharp detail on both the players and stadiums. Detail so fine that you can count the pinstripes on a Yankees uniform or watch the action from a stadium’s Jumbotron! The motion-captured animation is so realistic, so lifelike, that you’ll swear you’re watching a game on TV at times. The only drawback is the sudden pauses after each animation sequence; a few transitional frames are missing that would have made everything as smooth as Tony Gwynn’s swing.

The first thing fans of 1998’s game will notice is the improvement in artificial intelligence. The computer now knows when to advance on an extra base hit and runners will stay put on infield flies (unless there are two outs). Steal attempts have also been curbed to much more realistic levels, and the statistics all seem to balance out (1998’s game had problems calculating pitchers’ WHIP and saves). Now that the major problem areas have been fixed, players can concentrate on what makes this game so great: the wonderful batter-pitcher interface.

Taking a cue from Sega’s World Series Baseball franchise, All-Star Baseball 2000 features a cursor system to pitch and hit. Batters have realistic ratings in areas such as power, ability to hit versus certain pitchers (left or right-handed) and even varying tendencies during day or night! These ratings are reflected in the size or location of the “sweet spot” within the cursor (which is now rectangular instead of 1998’s oval shape). As a result, the game will make fans of Major League Baseball giddy with delight at the attention to realism.

Pitching is also extremely fun, as players will throw based on their actual abilities during the 1998 season. This means curve balls break differently depending on who is throwing them and fastballs will reach different velocities. The challenge lies in how you use these unique abilities. Do you brush back a hitter by throwing a heater high and tight at his hands, then follow it up with a changeup low and away? Or do you nibble at the corners trying to get the hitter to chase a bad pitch? This is the strategy that is so essential to baseball, and it is perfectly represented in this game.

The one area that could use a little improvement is the fielding system. The cursor used to track the ball is like an infrared target that’s “beamed” onto the field. The weird thing is there’s no way to tell how high a ball is hit with this system; you simply move your fielder within range and he will catch the ball. An interesting feature is that you don’t have to be right on top of it to shag a fly — your outfielder will stretch out his arm to make the grab! You can also attempt a very cool slide to trap the ball against your body.

If nothing else, both Acclaim and Iguana deserve kudos for delivering an absolutely beautiful baseball title that doesn’t skimp on the detailed features fans expect to see in a “serious” game. Players should be warned that this is more of a simulation than an Arcade experience, so if you can’t appreciate the subtle strategy or slower-paced feel of the sport, then leave this game at the clubhouse. Everyone else should take a swing at the best console baseball game of 1999.

Graphics

While the graphics are fantastic with realistic batting stances and impressive motion-capture animation, some frames are needed to reduce the choppy transitions after motion-capture sequences, the names on the back of the jerseys look distorted, and there are some issues with collision detection (runners can pass through fielders), minor quibbles considering the first-rate presentation.

Sound

John Sterling is fine as the play-by-play announcer, but Michael Kay is not needed with his constant, “As far as he was from making contact, you know he was guessing the wrong pitch.” Imagine hearing that after EVERY swing. You begin to hate the color commentator. And there’s no option to turn him off. Sound effects are mostly average (the crack of the bat and slides into bases are bright spots), although the organ music is horrible. Someone needs to record music found at an actual ballpark!

Enjoyment

The depth of features, beautiful graphics and great interface put this game ahead of all other baseball titles released in 1999. Things I would like to see in the next game include a menu option for hit-and-runs, suicide squeezes or steal attempts (running is performed manually in this game), a few tweaks to the fielding system, and completely new sound.

Replay Value

Again, the amount of features puts this game in a league of its own. With the computer now pinch-hitting, using relievers, and inserting pinch runners, there are a lot more interesting games!

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