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World Series Baseball 2k3

Review By:  Nick Arvites

Developer:  Visual Concepts
Publisher:  Sega
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Dolby Digital, HDTV 480p
Date Posted: 

7-9-03

Ah, the long days of summer. Traditionally, the summer marks the start of the ďAmerican Pastime.Ē No, not football. Thatís right; baseball season is in full swing and with the season comes a new crop of baseball video games. Baseball video games are different from every other sport simply because developing companies treat baseball like some obscure sport. The gaming community did not see any halfway decent games until last yearís incarnation of World Series Baseball. Segaís follow-up to last yearís top baseball game has made some major improvements and added the ESPN license, but baseball games still have a long way to go before they can be on the same level as the other sport games out there.

World Series Baseball 2k3 looks almost identical to the previous yearsí version. However, Sega and Visual Concepts addressed one of the major complaints. Last year, many complained about the lack of stadium details and actions. Scoreboards seemed lifeless and features like Sheaís apple or the fountains in Kansas City were absent. In World Series Baseball 2k3, every stadium looks almost dead on like its real life counterpart, complete with details like Sheaís apple and KCís fountains. There is more added behind the stadiums. For example, you can see the rooftop bars complete with stands behind Wrigley (as well as the fence the stadium put up to obstruct the view) and boats sailing in the San Francisco Bay. Sadly, the same amount of attention was not given to the player models. One of my biggest complaints from last year was ďWhile players look ok, there is a glaring flaw with player models. There are no varying body shapes. NY Mets 1st baseman Mo Vaughn looks exactly like Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson. There is very little difference in muscular builds on the player models. Sammy Sosaís arms look the same as generic minor league pitcher number 5.Ē Ok, now go back and read that statement again, since it still applies. Iím sorry, but every other sports game on the market allows you to make players in varying physical shape, from really fat to really muscular. Lets face it, players like Sosa and Bonds are huge, and it simply is not reflected in this game.

While the control scheme and gameplay style has remained mostly the same, there were several very important additions. The first thing to note is the addition of a jump/dive button. This is good and bad. How can this be mixed you ask? Simple: jump and dive is mapped to the same button. Come on now, why would you put this on the same button? Why not just make one trigger dive and the other jump? Sure, complain that Iím nit picking, but you try playing and watch your fielders miss a spectacular catch multiple times because the game decided they should dive instead of jump or vice-versa. The dive/jump button does allow you to climb the outfield wall and rob a homerun. Thatís actually done flawlessly. All you have to do is run towards the wall and hold down on the trigger right before you get there. Your fielder scales the wall and hopefully robs a homer.

The base-running controls have been completely reworked. Newly added is a stop button that makes your players stand right where they are. This is very useful for iffy pop-ups that could drop. The leadoff and stealing system has been improved for the better. You now have a lead button and you can also queue to steal automatically when the pitch is thrown. Squeeze the trigger once to take a medium lead and twice to take a suicide lead. If the computer-controlled pitcher tries to pick you off, pull the other trigger to dive towards the base. It should be noted that the computer-controlled pitchers could pick you off very easily while you cannot pick off computer-controlled runners. Yes, Iíve tried. Iíve done it ONCE in the course of three franchise seasons and about 20 exhibition games. Stealing third is actually possible, but you have to manually steal. Queuing 3rd will simply not work. You need to force the jump off the base earlier and hopefully youíll make it. It takes getting used to, but it is possible, though really hard.

Thankfully, player animations have been completely tweaked and adjusted. My two complaints on the fielding system last year was the lack of a fluid throwing motion and a lack of fluid double-play animations. Both have been fixed. You very rarely will see a choppy throwing animation and the only way youíll flub a double play is if the runner just beats you out.

The hitting controls were completely revamped. A power-swing button and a contact-swing button were added and three different styles of batting were created. The traditional style is the same one from last yearís version of the game. You have a target and must predict where the pitch will land so you can hit it. The second one is a timed system. This, by far, is the easiest to play since you donít have to worry about targeting. All you have to do is time the swing to hit. The power-swing mode is complex, but will allow you to hit balls out of the park easier. The power-swing mode does have a higher learning curve and really isnít recommended for beginners. The timed-swing mode is great for multiplayer if you donít feel like teaching someone the targeting system. However, you will see your scores rise with the timed mode. You arenít likely to have pitching duels. If you want pitching duels, stick with the traditional or power-swing mode.

A new camera view was added to this game, but I have a major problem with it. There is an option for a behind-the-pitcher camera, except it only switches to that when one player is playing the CPU and the CPU is batting. This should be a standard view that can be used through the whole game. Come on, I donít WANT to be switched to a catcherís-eye-view when Iím batting.

One word can describe the overall presentation of World Series Baseball 2k3: lousy. Ok Sega, you got the ESPN license. Awesome. Now try USING IT. If you want to know the extent of the ESPN license in this game, its strictly in the menus and the in-game score icon. You donít have anything like Sportscenter or Baseball Tonight and you donít really have the same style of ESPN presentation as you would see on TV. Actually, you donít really see the same style of any sort of baseball broadcast in this game. Baseball is a game of statistics, so why arenít there any stat windows throughout the game? If I have a switch-hitter, shouldnít they show how heís batting left-handed and right-handed? How about how a certain player is against a lefty pitcher? Or how about an in-game score ticker? Or a play-of-the-game? Or a weekly wrap-up show? How about ANYTHING but the very bland and downright pitiful presentation they give you. The local AAA team in my hometown has a better presentation on the local access channel. Thatís just sad. If you arenít going to make use of the ESPN license, whatís the point of having it? NFL 2k3 proved that it was a great thing, and that was supposed to be a light version of what was in store. If that was a light version, the version present in World Series Baseball 2k3 is a shoplifted version.

The franchise mode has been improved, but there are many desperately needed features that hopefully will be implemented in future editions of this game. The franchise mode seems fairly standard, but several things have been added. The manager system has been completely improved. You now have various coaches and you can change how much time they spend dealing with certain aspects of their jobs. If you want your team to belt out homers, change your batting coachís strategy to concentrate on power. If you want to find foreign players, set your scoutís foreign meter high. You can also give players time off by setting the depth charts and backup charts. Player-loyalty has also been added. After a while, some players may become loyal to your team, meaning theyíll be likely to resign with you and play while tired. This does present a problem when trading, because you get a notice if the loyalty rating is high and you try to trade them (something like ďI donít want to be traded, I like it here, blahblahblahĒ). While this feature may seem insignificant, it brings hope to me that next year will feature varying player attitudes. I would love to see a player on the bench demand to be traded because he isnít getting time, or another player holding out because he wants more money and fakes an injury till he gets a raise. Trading brings up another issue. You occasionally see that a team is shopping a certain player around. However, you cannot do the same. Several other sports games have a trading block option, where you can put a player on it and entertain offers from other teams. Why isnít this feature here? It seems almost natural now.

The point system is still in place, but it has been greatly improved. You can now see how much your team is making. This directly effects how much you have to deal around to other players. This, like in the real major leagues, does make it harder for a dead last team to become successful since only the successful teams have huge bank accounts. It is possible to release players, but it really isnít simple enough for my tastes. You can try to send them to the minors, and if they arenít eligible, the player will be released. Is it too much to ask for a little button on the screen that would just release the player? Speaking of the Minors, this system has to change. Major league baseball doesnít stop with the 30 teams in the American and National Leagues. It reaches down into AAA, AA, A, and Rookie leagues. The Minor League option needs much more depth, and I really think I should be seeing some stats from the players I have in the Minors. By not showing me how the minor leaguers are performing, I have no clue on who is a good risk to bring up to the Big Show. Ideally, Iíd love to see a three-tiered minor league system where I could delegate people to each level, but Iíd just settle for some minor league stats I could look at.

The franchise mode did make me notice something. For some reason, my entire pitching staff, save two people, was made up of right-handed pitchers after 3 franchise years. To make it worse, every pitcher I have on my staff uses the same pitches. Fastball, Slider, Curve and Changeup. Maybe some will substitute a Cutter or Sinker. However, I had to struggle to find anyone in free agency or the drafts that had a Splitter, Knuckleball or Screwball. This shows several glaring problems I have with pitching in this game. There are simply not enough pitches in the game and not enough variety among the pitchers. Almost every pitcher uses a fastball, changeup and curveball. Those should be STANDARD for every pitcher. Iím sorry, but there are more pitchers out there that use a knuckleball, screwball, splitter, sinker, or cutter than this game indicates. The lack of playable lefties coming out of the draft or in free agency (playable meaning they wonít get a homer hit off of them every time) is downright pathetic.

Creating a player is possible, but I wouldnít recommend it in the franchise mode if you want to have fun. The main problem I have with the system is that they never really explain how the point sliders work. Making a fielder is almost self-explanatory, but making a pitcher is fairly hard. This is all due to the point sliders and not really knowing if higher is a better rating or worse rating. Please, in future versions of this game make this feature user friendly.

There is one thing that I would like to see in the next version; weather. For some reason, I donít think a 162 game season can be played in complete sunshine on a nice summer day. Players should perform differently in different climates. There should be rainouts and doubleheaders. The other major problem I have with the franchise mode is that the schedule never changes. It just repeats itself every single year. The All-star game is always played in Comisky, and the teams you play in Inter-league play always remain the same. And would it be possible to get spring training put in the next game? Yes, there is a pre-season and yes, some of us would like to test out some of our rookies and minor leaguers in March.

Highs:

  • Many needed improvements were made
  • Solid baseball title
  • Easy to pick up and play
  • Decent Franchise mode
  • Multiple batting systems

Lows:

  • Some of the sliders arenít really user-friendly
  • Minor League system is poor
  • Player builds still generic and undefined
  • ESPN license not utilized and pretty much wasted
  • Average to poor presentation

Final Verdict: 

World Series Baseball 2k3 made some much-needed improvements from the previous yearís version. This game has come a long way and still remains the top baseball game out, although it really deserves it this year as opposed to last yearís ďbest of the worstĒ status. Thankfully, companies are starting to give baseball video games more attention. Unfortunately, World Series Baseball still lacks a few features (separate jump and dive buttons, better Minor Leagues, much better presentation). My biggest problem was the distinct lack of proper usage of the ESPN license. I want to see more than Sportscenter logos on the title and menu screens and I want more than the highlight reel jingles in the menus. Hopefully Sega improves this title even further next year with some of the improvements Iíve listed here.

Overall Score: 8.4

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