America’s pastime is back and better then ever. Coming after a stellar postseason, fans just couldn’t wait for spring training to end and the games to begin. The same holds true for gamers. This year, Acclaim look to improve their series after several disappointing seasons. So, does their latest offering compete with the likes of MVP Baseball 2004, or, do they deserve another year in the minors?
All-Star Baseball 2005 kicks off very nicely. Remember those commercials during last year’s postseason? The “I live for this” commercials featuring various playoff stars such as Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Pedro Martinez? Well, they’ve been adapted and Acclaim has input them as intros to the game. Overall, a very nice presentation, capped off with easy to navigate menus.
Let’s start off with the audio. The commentary is usually hit or miss. Sometimes it can be confused with an actual baseball games; other times you’re wondering if the announcers are even watching the game. At random points they break off into stories that have nothing to do with anything. For instance, once they branched off and talked about the greatest rivalries in baseball history. This would have been great had I been playing in one of those rivalries and not in a Cincinnati Reds-Texas Rangers game. I guess sometimes they get confused. In the top of the 1st in one game, I had retired the first hitter, and as the second guy walked up, the announcer proclaimed “This is the 10th hitter of the inning as they have batted around!” which made absolutely no sense, and prompted me to turn off the speakers and turn on some music.
Also, when they say a teams name it sounds almost robotic. However, I like the fact that it doesn’t get repetitive very fast, you have to play more than a few games to here some of the same things said. What I didn’t like was the crowd. They rarely showed the correct emotion to what was going on, and often booed the umpire for calling a strike on their home team…which makes sense…if the player DIDN’T swing the bat! So there are a few minor things Acclaim can work on. The only big plus is the ability to turn it off and listen to music. While the commentary and fan atmosphere were a disappointment, the sound effects were actually pretty good. There’s no sound like the crack of the bat, and they captured it perfectly.
Now, onto the graphics. The visuals were absolutely stunning. I loved the detail that went into all the stadiums, from the train riding across after an Astro hits a homerun at home, to scoreboards which actually give the correct scores from other games around the league. The players batting stances, from what I knew, looked pretty accurate and they never really looked clunky. Overall, it flowed very well.
As we know, there are always glitches in the graphics and ]All-Star Baseball is no different. Sometimes the ball would be heading in the complete different direction but because the player is say, within, oh, 20 feet he’ll still catch it. Other times a player will throw the ball facing one direction to a base the complete opposite direction and never face that way. The instant replays really hurt the look of this game. When they showed a replay of a guy hitting a home run, it looked like the ball was nowhere near the bat, but he still crushed it. Don’t get me wrong now, the game did look stunning, there’s just a few things Acclaim can work on in the future to make it look right. I’m not even talking about making it look perfect, I’m saying just to make it look consistent.
As for gameplay…why did Acclaim ever deviate from the way it played back in the N64 days? Who knows? But those games were almost perfect. Here, I have several complaints. There are simply too many diving catches. I mean c’mon, yes, diving catches are great, but do I really need to see at least two every inning. Most of the time, the player didn’t even have to dive, which makes them look idiotic. The announcers would always follow with a “Now that’s a play of the year candidate!” if this is true, in my one season, in which I didn’t even play every game, there was about 300 play of the year candidates…have fun voting on that! Acclaim tried to take a page out of Visual Concepts’, ESPN NFL Football book by taking a camera angle that puts you right in the action, the all-new fielder cam. I really did not like this at all, and found myself switching back to classic view every game. The camera angle is usually right behind the fielder, which makes it very hard to judge where the ball is when you’re on defense; and if you should try and advance a base on offense.
This brings up another problem I had. Every game I had to go in and fix the options from difficulty settings, to camera views, which is very annoying, and sometimes I’d forget, which would cost me a batter or two. Sure, you could call me lazy, but after a while you get sick of it. I will give Acclaim credit, though. They worked very hard to fix the problem with batting which was insanely difficult in the past. Now you can choose how batting is set up. 3D Cursor lets you choose which side of the field to hit it to, 2D Cursor lets you play the way you did back on the N64. Timing is for the beginners, where you just swing at the right time and hope the ball finds a vacant spot on the field. I always played with 3D Cursor just because I liked having the option of choosing which field to hit the ball to.
What I really play sports games for is the Franchise/Dynasty modes. Here, the dynasty mode delves deeper then I’ve ever seen before; from spring training, to contract arbitrations at the end of the season. I really enjoyed actually running the team on a day to day basis. This is, however, not for everyone, which is why they implemented a basic franchise mode – which is the same as your ordinary: set the lineup, to sign free agents mode. This is where the game really thrives and is what kept me coming back. I honestly hope this is unchanged. My only complaint is that I would get rid of players because of my lack of money, and if I’d release a player making 29 points on a one-year contract, I’d only get about 2 points back, which I couldn’t use for anything. Other then that, you can get hooked. See if you can build a dynasty. I took a 60 win franchise in the Reds, and led them to 6 consecutive World Series titles. The real challenge is having enough money to maintain your players, which I had a hard time with after the 6th title. Just give it a try, you’ll have fun.