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All-Star Baseball 2003

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:   Acclaim Austin
Publisher:   Acclaim
# of Players:   1-4
Genre:   Sports
ESRB:   Everyone
Online:   No
Accessories:   N/A
Date Posted:  

5-14-02

While Acclaim has never been a major player in the sports genre like EA or Sega, they have been able to carve out several successful niches in the genre. NBA Jam is arguably the best arcade b-ball title of all-time, Acclaimís extreme sports franchises have often been near the top of their respective niches, and the All-Star Baseball franchise has been better than EA or Segaís offerings virtually every year since the launch of the N64. Fortunately for Acclaim All-Star Baseball 2003 is once again the best baseball title on a specific platform, this time on the Xbox. Unfortunately for consumers, this yearís best isnít necessarily that great.

The biggest problem with this yearís ASB is the batting interface. The cursor system returns for yet another year here, with a normal cursor used for regular hitting and a power cursor for when you want to put some muscle into it. While it would be nice for Acclaim to innovate here and give us a new batting system, it still works and thatís all that really counts. What doesnít work is the fact that all but the slowest of pitches is simply way too fast. Roger Clemensí fastball might really reach the plate in approximately 1 second, but itís not always best to imitate real life that accurately. The difference between real life and this game is the interface (your eyes & reflexes versus a Xbox controller), and with a controller there simply isnít enough time to move the cursor into position and then swing at the pitch (unless itís a knuckler) before it crosses the strike zone. The batting system doesnít force you to necessarily have part of the cursor lined up with the pitch in order to make contact, but the margin for error is so small and inconsistent that it might as well.

As you can imagine, if the player doesnít have time to line up the cursor they also donít have time to accurately judge whether a pitch is going to be a ball or a strike. The only way to hit a pitch is to start the swing early and guess the pitchís location, and as a result the only practical way to take a ball is checking the swing. As a result success or failure is almost totally dependent on how well the player guesses where the next pitch will be, not on how much skill or timing the player possesses. The game does allow the player to pre-guess what the next pitch will be, but all this does is make the cursor a bit bigger. Throw in the fact that the A.I. often doesnít pitch realistically (therefore making it hard to guess what pitch is next unless itís a two-pitch guy like Mariano Rivera), and this feature doesnít really help any.

The pitching interface is what youíd expect; pick the pitch, location, and then fire away. Each pitcher has the proper pitches that they possess in real life, and they all react accordingly. Fielding is also pretty standard, as the game automatically switches to the closest player once a ball is put into play. The one flaw in fielding is that it can sometimes be difficult to judge where a fly ball is going to land, often resulting in some cheap singles and doubles that shouldíve been easy outs. The fielder will "lock in" to a spot once positioned properly, but the player often has to dance around that spot before the fielder will properly lock onto the ball.

As in past installments of ASB, the graphics are excellent. Virtually all pitchers and batters have their proper stances, including the quirky stances of players like Tony Batista and David Cone. Player models are excellent, with realistic proportions and excellent textures for the face and uniforms. The stadiums are as great as any ever found in a baseball game, and include a number of stunningly realistic and minor details that really add to the overall atmosphere. The crowd looks great, but needs more variety. Itís a little disconcerting to see a fan and his identical twin only a few seats apart from each other. While itís obvious that this is just a PS2 port, it still ranks as one of the better looking games on the system.

The sound is done really well also. The broadcast team of Steve Lyons and Thom Brennanman is one of the most integrated and lively ones in any sports game. Steveís general comments about specific players get old very quickly, but his situation-specific comments (ex: a playerís batting average with two strikes) are always timely and accurate. I know the Orioles sucked last year; I donít need to hear about how Jeff Conine was one of the few bright spots every single game. The sound effects are good, with accurate representations of the crack of the bat and a lively crowd. Missing is the umpís ball and strike calls, but theyíre an understandable omission as Acclaim is going for more of a TV presentation.

Several features add replay value, including an excellent franchise mode and a solid Create-A-Player mode. The franchise mode allows the player to play up to 20 seasons with the same team, and keeps track of career stats, transactions, demotions and promotions from the minors, trades, and a myriad of other things. Itís not quite on par with the one found in other genres (especially football games like Madden), but itís a very nice addition to the series.

Highs:

  • Excellent graphics that are among the systemís best, even though it doesnít do much to take advantage of the hardware.
  • Franchise mode allows for near-unlimited replay value.
  • Best. Menu. Music. Ever.

Lows:

  • Batting needs some serious tuning, particularly in pitch speed. An updated cursor system would be a welcome plus as well.
  • Fielding can be clunky at times.
  • Now that people in the crowd are actually recognizable, how about giving us more than 10 different types of people?

Final Verdict: 

Wait for World Series Baseball. Due out any day now, WSB looks to be shaping up as the Xboxís deepest and best baseball title this year. If you simply canít wait then All-Star Baseball 2003 makes for a good alternative, but itís a far cry from the ASB games on the N64.

Overall Score: 6.4

Additional Images:

 


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