Last year we proclaimed Acclaim’s All-Star Baseball
the best baseball game of 2002. Facing some stiff competition from World Series Baseball
, High Heat Baseball
and not so stiff competition from Triple Play
, Acclaim’s franchise won out for its high production values, intense realism and overall gameplay. Now another year has passed and while the franchise is still fundamentally sound and enjoyable, a few roadblocks hinder it from reigning atop this year’s standings.All-Star Baseball
is one of those games that you’ll either love or hate. There’s no in between here. You’ll either love the long and drawn out games or you’ll hate it. Likewise you’ll either love the far too realistic batter/pitcher interface or you’ll hate it. Much like that nagging, but rich girlfriend, this is the true love and hate relationship.
Personally we love the franchise and even through all of its troubles in the early goings, we stuck by it. Will you want to stick by it? Read the rest of our review to find out.
There are far more chances for your player to get injured this time around. Even baseball players aren’t immune from the dreaded DIARRHEA. Guess someone hasn’t been watching those Rolaids commercials.
From the beginning of the game you’ll notice some major changes from the 2003 version. The entire off-field interface has been revamped to give a sort of nostalgic feel to the game. While it can be a chore to wait for the various parts of the scene to load (locker room, coach’s office) it really engulfs you in the entire baseball atmosphere. What’s really sweet is the filter used in the menu visuals which add a bit of static and noise to the graphics, making it look even older and faded. A last and final impressive touch comes on the team selection screen where teams are represented by bobble head figures instead of just plain logos. When it comes to baseball memorabilia nothing beats the good old fashioned bobble head doll.
Checking out the features you’ll find a nice and fully fleshed game. You’ll have the usual exhibition, franchise and homerun derby modes. It’s the added attractions that really differentiate this one from the crowd. For one you can participate in a pick-up game that harkens back to our old playground days. Two players take turns picking players until they have a roster of 10 players. Then they hit the field and battle it out in a friendly game of pickup baseball.
Another nice inclusion is the Negro League license. It was often said that some of the great hurlers of the Negro Leagues would have given the Major Leaguers a run for their money. Now you can find out for yourself by pitting the players, complete with authentic uniforms, against your favorite sluggers. On top of this the rest of the features from last year’s game return including that silly trivia game and the usual practice modes.
In a feature very similar to the Madden Cards
found in the Madden
football games you can earn points each time you play. After earning these points they can be used to purchase cool extras such as classic teams, players and stadiums. Likewise these points can also be earned by correctly answering trivia questions that appear between certain innings.
Ever wanted to see what happens when you hit that SAP button on your television during a baseball broadcast? Now you can find out. In what has to be a videogame first (in baseball anyway) you can get the play-by-play in Spanish. Now I’ve never actually tried the SAP function during a real broadcast myself (even though Vin Scully always has a tendency to hammer its existence into my head every two innings) so I’m not certain what the standards are when it comes to Spanish commentary but what’s present in this game is pretty decent, if not good.
Next to High Heat
, this is probably the most realistic baseball experience available on the market. So you’ll probably understand why I was a little disappointed to find that Mike Piazza just simply took his base after I beaned him with a Guillermo Mota fast ball. Not exactly a bench clearing fi- well there aren’t exactly fights in baseball, bench clearing shouting match? Oh well, there’s always next year’s edition.
The game plays very realistically, perhaps a bit too
realistically. This is most prevalent in the batter/pitcher interface which will most likely be the focus of most players’ complaints. For one you have very little time between the actual delivery of the pitch and the time it takes to cross the plate to react to it. This makes batting a very difficult exercise for some, especially those who are trying to pick up and play the game for some casual fun. Personally I had little problems with the interface and found it to actually be quite intuitive. You can orient the direction that you want to hit the ball before the pitch arrives so that you have a decent idea of where you’re hitting it. You can guess the pitch type as well as the location of the pitch in order to increase the chances of a solid hit. New to this year’s hitting interface is the bunting mechanism which lets you perform drag bunts and such.
Anyman who can throw a no-hitter with a hangover is a hero to us err-, we mean don't do drink and stay in school!
All of the same features in last year’s game are present as well. Like I said in my review of ASB2003
, it’s very akin to a Fox Sports telecast. You can check the hot-cold charts for each batter and even check out the pitch locations and the result of each pitch in the last at bat. For the pitcher this adds a significant strategic advantage as they can know where to throw in order to avoid hurling a ball into a slugger’s wheelhouse.
Like last year’s game each pitcher can have up to five different pitches. Most of the pitches seem to reflect the real life player; Randy Johnson has a dominating fastball while Kevin Brown has a nasty split finger. I’m still a little peeved that Kaz Ishii doesn’t have the dominating curveball that’s in all of the Major League scouting reports. There are a few very troubling problems with the pitching in the game, however, but I’ll leave those gripes for later.
Fielding is pretty simple and is definitely one of the best that the genre has to offer. The ball comes off of the bat with enough speed to give a sense of reality, but slow enough to allow the gamer to react. Other genres (read: Triple Play) had a hard time finding the right amount of ball speed to field size ratio to allow for a fun and engaging experience. While at times the field does seem a bit too large for the players, the ball speed and movement helps compensate for this.
A nice addition to this year’s edition comes on the fly ball indicator. When a fly ball is hit a marker appears on the field to give you an idea of where to stand to catch the ball. While most games have this, ASB2004
is the first that I’ve seen which has an arrow that points to the direction of where your field is currently standing. This helps clear up some confusion as to which fielder you are currently controlling so that you don’t accidentally run the center fielder into left field when you think that you’re controlling the right fielder
I was impressed by some of the new on-field animations, especially the ones that help give a deeper sense of realism to the game. Scorching grounders hit to the 3rd basemen aren’t handled in the routine fielding position but instead, you’ll see the fielder reach behind him and pull the glove up, as to give the impression that he’s fielding a hard hit grounder. Likewise, there are a good variety of catch animations to correspond to the current situation. Although the game still has a tendency of turning routine catches into potential Web Gems, such instances have been toned down immensely.
If you’re not familiar with the franchise you’ll be in for one hell of a shock. A nine-inning game can take anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to complete, depending on how strategic and tactical the game gets. The game trudges along at a snail-like pace that rivals that of a real Major League game. If you plan on picking this game up just keep in mind that it’s not your average pick up and play game.
Strangely enough the game seems to have taken a hit in the graphics department. Last year’s game wasn’t a graphical showcase but was good enough to hold its own against the likes of World Series
and Triple Play
. This year’s game actually seems to have been downgraded from last year’s game. The parks as well as the player models look absolutely dated. Textures look rather muddled and the game just isn’t as attractive as it once was. Even the crowd, which features similar FMV standouts, doesn’t look as good anymore. To contrast this the animations are still as smooth and fluid as ever. I just wish that there was more refinement in the player’s faces and uniforms.
Last like year’s game, Thom Brennamen and Steve Lyons man the announcing booth. These guys do the majority of the Southern California baseball games that are televised on FOX so I’m pretty used to their brand of commentary. In fact I’d say that they’re the best team that FOX has to offer as they are both more well-versed, more verbose, more knowledgeable and more entertaining than the supposed number one team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. Something did happen this year thought as there seems to be far more “dead air” between the two. Suddenly Steve Lyons doesn’t have so many insightful things to say about Paul LoDuca as he steps up to the plate. I’d still say that it’s better than most of the baseball games on the market but not as good as the standard set by last year’s game.
What’s nice about the audio department is that it features licensed music. No more generic ditties to accompany the batter as he steps up to the plate. Now you’ll get clips from various licensed and recognizable music such as LL Cool J’s “Momma Said Knock You Out” and of course, Smash Mouth’s “All-Star.” Strangely enough, these tunes are often drowned out by the stadium’s organ as it plays generic baseball tunes like “Charge!” In a Major League stadium the PA system and the Organ would never compete for the fan’s adulation.
Please don't trade me to the Orioles. That place is like a blackhole for star players. Just look at Albert Belle!
Realism is also a bit skewed as some players seem to have been given superhuman powers. It’s late in the game, top of the 8th, I’ve got a runner on 3rd with two outs. The count goes full so I’m expecting one right down the pipe. He’s been giving me fastballs in the mid 80s range beforehand so I know what to expect. What happens? He blows me away with a 100mph fastball out of nowhere. It’s rather frustrating and it seems to happen far too often in the midst of a tight game.
The allure of last year’s game just wasn’t present. I didn’t feel as impressed by the game and I had a hard time trudging through an entire season in the franchise mode. Perhaps the lethargic pace has finally taken its toll on me, or maybe I’m just getting tired of getting a lead-off double in the late innings of a tight game only to have some random pitcher strike out my heavy hitters. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make the game as appealing to me anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, this game still comes heavily recommended. If I had to choose I’d pick this one over MVP Baseball
or MLB 2004
without hesitation, but I’m not quite sure it’s better than Sega Sports’ latest offering. In the end it all comes down to a matter of preference. If you’re interested in a feature rich baseball title that will keep you drawn in for an extended amount of time, ASB2004
is your bag.