Live (content download), Dolby Digital
in 1998, I was incredibly impressed by the N64 version of All-Star
Baseball '99. Last
wasn't quite as great, but still turned out to be a respectable
effort. This year the ASB franchise has seen a number of
improvements and is back among the best in the genre, but it's
obvious that the core gameplay (which hasn't changed much since the
aforementioned ASB '99) needs to be revamped soon for the
series to continue to remain competitive.
really went all out this year, and threw in virtually any gameplay
mode a player could want. The core gameplay modes include Quick
Play, Franchise, Series, and Expansion. Quick Play is simply the
exhibition mode, Franchise allows the player to take a team through
multiple years of play, Series allows the player to play the World
Series, and Expansion is identical to Franchise mode with the
exception that the player creates his/her own team from scratch.
mode allows the player to play through up to 30 full seasons. At the
beginning of a new Franchise the player will choose their team and
select a variety of options, including market conditions (even,
realistic, etc.), GM control, Trade Deadline, Injuries, etc. The
player also has the option of choosing to hold a draft or not.
Expansion mode allows the player to pick a city from many different
real cities (which affects budget and fanbase so pick carefully!),
mascot, one of several different stadiums, and which league the new
team will be in. This is followed by an Expansion Draft, and then it
plays out just like the regular Franchise mode.
each season, the player has complete control over virtually all
aspects of the team. In particular, roster management is extremely
comprehensive. Players can be promoted and demoted to the minor
leagues, placed on the DL, edited, resigned, picked up in free
agency, or even created from scratch. The game also includes a
complete breakdown of budget allotment (how much emphasis the player
places on farm system, scouting, etc.), a nice Trading Block (see if
there is any interest in that player), a very comprehensive ASB
Rulebook, and more.
the season's over, the player can view how each player has developed
or declined, adjust budget allocation, view franchise value and Hall
of Fame Inductions, and see which players have retired. The player
can also attend the Winter Meetings to make personnel moves, sign
players to long-term contracts, offer arbitration to players up for
new contracts, participate in the Rule 5 Draft, and sign free
agents. On the whole ASB 2004's Franchise mode fares very well to
the other baseball franchises this year, although it would've been
nice to have an unlimited number of years to play.
gameplay modes include Pick-up, Scenario, Trivia, Batting Practice,
and Home Run Derby. In Pick-up the computer randomly picks 2 players
at each position, from which both teams take turns picking from
before playing. Scenario Mode presents some of the toughest real
situations from the 2002 MLB season, with many locked until the
easier scenarios are completed. Trivia asks a series of baseball
trivia questions, from which each team scores runs depending on how
many they answer correctly. Batting Practice allows the player to
pick what kind of pitches to face, as well as where those will be
located and how they'll be delivered. Finally, Home Run Derby allows
the player to compete in a Derby based on how the style (based on
swings or innings) and stadium chosen.
also sports several different special features, including (among
other things) Player Cards, Stadium Tours, and Multimedia. Player
cards are bought with points earned during each game (just like EA's
games) and Stadium Tours are virtual tours of each stadium with
commentary from Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Steve Lyons.
Finally, Multimedia features a number of interviews on a variety of
subjects from legends like Cal Ripken, Buck O'Neil, etc.
of this is wrapped up in perhaps the best front-end for any sports
game ever. It's obvious that they're going for the whole
"nostalgia in baseball is magical" thing and it works
perfectly. Baseball dweebs such as myself know that there is
something special about pitchers and catchers reporting, and Acclaim
seems to understand this. The first time I started the game and saw
the Lou Gehrig "luckiest man" speech followed by the theme
song from The Natural (awesome movie) on the main menu, I
knew that the boys at Acclaim really "get it". The entire
front-end is presented (like several other baseball games this year)
in a locker-room/coach's office setting, with the camera moving from
one area to the next as various menu options are selected. For
example, choose the Multimedia feature and the camera will pan to an
old-fashioned 8mm-film screen before playing the movie. As if this
wasn't enough, Acclaim also included a grainy "old film"
type overlay to it all, making everything look strikingly similar to
an old 30's highlight reel.
ASB 2004 really has the presentation and features down pat, but
unfortunately the gameplay still lags behind several other baseball
franchises. First, hitting is a bit too difficult without using the
"Easy" batting interface. Using the Normal mode gives the
player the most control over each hit, as it allows the player to
aim the hit with the right analog stick. The size of the batting
cursor and the power zone inside of the cursor is based upon each
player's attributes; thus it's easier to make contact with players
that are good contact hitters. It takes a while to get used to, but
once it's mastered it works well enough. Pitching is pretty
straightforward - just pick the pitch type, location, and then let
it fly. Whether it actually hits the intended area or not depends on
the pitcher's skill and fatigue.
real gameplay problem lies in the field. First, player animation is
often simply too slow. A hit down the third base line will routinely
result not in an easy out at first, but in the batter beating out
the throw. The third baseman scoop up the ball, and then wait
several excruciating seconds before making a somewhat lazy throw
over to first base. This is a problem throughout the field, and will
many times leave the player banging the controller in frustration.
Secondly, button presses from pitching will sometimes carry over
into the field. Since the game allows the player to
"pre-load" which base to throw to, often it'll pick up the
pitch type selection as pre-loading a throw to a particular base.
Thus a shortstop can field a grounder, and then throw it home rather
than the base the player is trying to select. As long as the pitch
button isn't held down too long it doesn't happen that often, but
when it does happen it's often in "crunch time" since the
player is putting more effort into each pitch.
fielding as a whole just seems "off", as player animation
doesn't match what's actually happening on the field. Hits are often
caught that look like they shouldn't be, and are often missed when
it appears that the player should've caught the ball. A sliding
player will often never even touch the base, nor will the fielder
applying the tag. Occasionally the computer will choose the wrong
fielder for the player to control when the ball's hit, resulting in
hits that should've been outs. One time the computer hit a pop-up to
the right side of the infield, and the pitcher was selected as the
fielder for me to use. Unfortunately he automatically went over and
covered third base, meaning that I had absolutely no shot at
catching it. While my guy did this, the first baseman did not budge
from covering first and watched the ball drop right in front of him.
There are many other occasions where computer-controlled players act
downright stupid. Eventually the player will get used to all of
this, but in this day and age it's unacceptable and there will
always be instances when the player feels cheated. It's a problem
that's been with the series for quite some time now, and it's about
time that Acclaim took steps to correct it.
are also several minor bugs that, while not hindering gameplay,
still affect overall enjoyment of the game. There are several bugs
in what the announcers say, often resulting in it being inaccurate.
For example, when commenting on a pitcher's performance through six
(or any number of) innings Thom will always say "through 7
innings", because the game checks to see what inning the game
is in and not how many have already been completed. When continuing
a saved game, player card points will often be re-rewarded (ex: get
5 points for scoring 10 runs, save the game, come back later and get
5 more when you score another run) and several more minor announcing
bugs will occur as well.
ASB 2004 is a mixed bag. As I suggested before, player animation
looks wrong. While it all looks realistic, it often doesn't sync up
with the field and the transition from animation to animation is
usually awkward. For example, base runners going to first will do
the "last foot lunge" often seen when a runner is trying
to beat out a throw to first regardless of how close the play
actually is. Infielders will often make a beautiful scoop move,
followed by a jerk as they transition into the throwing animation.
And while it isn't apparent during normal play, when viewing instant
replays the ball rarely actually hits the fielder's glove. Instead
it will make a mid-air turn as if the glove is a magnet and the ball
is magnetized. Again, this has been a problem for years with the
series and with today's technology it's simply unacceptable.
the plate however, the game's beautiful. Pitcher wind-ups look
wonderful, and accurately match real life. Batters have their own
signature stances as well, and feature very life-like proportions
and self-shadowing. Most star players feature decent representations
of their real faces as well, which really shines up close. Stadiums
look awesome as well, as they're very detailed and in many cases
sound effects are reused from previous versions, but they still get
the job done. The crowd has a general murmur that rises and falls
with the action, as well as vendors and catcalls. Thom Brennamen and
Steve Lyons again handle commentary, and they do a good job of
keeping up with the action and sounding interested in the game.
There's even an option for Spanish play-by-play announcing, which is
a feature that's long overdue and should be in every sports game.
During breaks in the action, Lyons will often give some general
commentary about baseball in general that's interesting and
on-point. The in-game music is a mixture of licensed and generic
music, and includes a wide variety of songs from groups like House
of Pain, DMX, and even a little good old CCR.
front-end that really captures the spirit of baseball and tugs
at every heart string.
selection of in-game music, and using the theme from The
Natural on the main menu is genius.
nice Franchise mode, featuring every option and feature
wealth of additional gameplay modes, including a nice Scenario
Mode and inventive Pick-up Game mode.
roster updates via Xbox Live.
110 baseball legends (including Negro Leaguers) to unlock,
including Cal Ripken (my all-time favorite player), Babe Ruth,
Josh Gibson, etc.
is plagued with animation problems, control issues and stupid
hasn't been improved in quite a while.
the online play?
is another excellent addition to the series, but the franchise is
really showing it's age. Fielding is plagued with problems, and
pitching and batting are more of the status quo while several other
baseball franchises have shown innovation in these this year. If the
gameplay were on par with the slick nostalgic presentation and the
deep Franchise mode, ASB 2004 would easily be the best
baseball game on the market today.