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All-Star Baseball 2003
Review By:  Christopher Coey
Developer:  Acclaim
Publisher:  Acclaim
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  5-27-02

My first thought about this game is: why is it ASB 2003? Itís only April of 2002. And no matter how you look at it, the current season is only the 2002 season. Seems to me like the publishers are trying to outwit the consumer somehow. Like when software developers used to skip version numbers in order to Ďseemí like theyíre keeping up with their competitors. I suppose the idea is that uninformed buyers will see High Heat 2003, ASB 2003, and Triple Play 2002 on the shelf. Then automatically think that Triple Play is an out of date, inferior game (which they may be right in assuming, but it came out the same month as High Heat 2003.) Now, I canít blame Acclaim for this unfortunate development. High Heat started it, they are the schemers here. Acclaim was forced to do it, to keep up with the Jonesí.

All right, so what about ASB 2003 specifically? Well, anyone who happens to hold, even slightly, the notion that baseball is a slow, boring sport, should not pick up this title. Playing this game is like watching a little league game, on a hot summer day, with some good friends and a case of beer. In other words, itís laid back, slow paced, and fun if you can get over the fact that the players donít play very well.

The fielding is at times frustrating to watch. The opposing team seems to make spectacular, agile plays. While my fielders (even when put on automatic), canít seem to catch a low fly ball to save their life. Iíll admit that the problems may stem from my inability as a manager and coach. But never the less, that would make it a difficult game to say the least. It took me countless at bats in order to figure out how to actually hit the ball (and many more at bats before I managed to get on base.) The balls come in extremely fast, except for the knuckle balls, which moves so incredibly slow that I found them just as impossible to hit. Itís almost like you have to decide whether or not to swing before the pitch, with next to zero margin for changing your mind after the ball is released.

However, the fastballs are the ONLY fast thing about this game. Everything surrounding the release of the ball is as slow as a crawl. The pitching animations, the batter walk-ups, the fielding etc. are all at the same pace as a real life game. We all know that baseball can be a slow sport, there isnít that great a need to create the simulation perfectly.

There are two things that ASB does exactly right. The first is the commentary. Almost every other sports title released for the PS2 has boasted that they had the best, most improved in-game commentary. But this one isnít lying. Other games, no matter how clever the commentary might have been, or which celebrity voice they had in the studio in the end, got boring and repetitive really quickly. Maybe itís because baseball is repetitive by nature, but the commentary never felt forced, or out of place. The announcers always seem to have a relevant remark or comment about what was happening in the game, or a tidbit about who was currently at bat. And the transitions were seamless, except that often a play would be called before the action on screen actually happened. It was particularly distracting to hear the distance of a home run ball, before it lands. The sound effects were for the most part well done, but the game does suffer from some unfortunate sound glitches (sound-loops, and tweaks at times.)

The second thing that is great about this game is the Franchise mode. I was impressed with the Ďcreate a playerí function, and how well tuned it was when it came to creating balanced characters. You can build an expansion team, with either existing players, or all your own players. Pick a city, and the game provides a wide array of choices for mascots and team names; some are pretty cool, others are pretty funny. Then, play your new team through up to twenty seasons of 162 games. You can choose to either play a game, or simulate games. If youíre a casual player, and only want to manage a team, then simulate ALL the games. Scout your farm team, hire free agents, or trade players. The game has a type of built in salary cap system (called franchise points), where you can decide to hire or fire players depending on how well you are doing in the standings. I simulated 5 expansions over the twenty-year timeframe, and the end results are pretty accurate as far as realistic baseball statistics. Itís a great function.

On the opposite side of the coin is the weak fielding and AI. Iíve mentioned other glitches, but this part of the game is full of them. Sometimes infielders will stay on base waiting for a throw, when the ball is stopped two feet in front of them. As for the fielding in general, the AI makes WAY too many great plays. Itís hard enough to hit the ball, but itís ten times harder to get a ball past the infielders, or away from the gloves of the outfielders. And if you put your own fielders on manual control, there is zero tolerance for missed plays. If you are one step out from under a ball, the batter is almost guaranteed a double, sometimes a triple. Itís something you can eventually learn, and compensate for, but as I mentioned before, the leaning curve is very step.

Graphical, the screens LOOK like an everyday baseball game. The pitching and batting especially. But the fielding, again, is where things fall apart. The graphic transitions are too jerky. You can see the point in the animations where the AI decides to go from one play to another. And the lag-time between those plays effect the gameplay, which takes a lot away from the play experience. This game is anything but smooth.

HIGHS:

  • The best commentary so far in a sports title
  • Great franchise mode
  • Realistic batter/pitcher battle

LOWS:

  • TOO realistic batter/pitcher battle
  • Slow animations, slow gameplay
  • Steep learning curve
  • Glitchy graphics and sound at times

FINAL VERDICT:

The opponents hit FAR too many HRs off your pitchers, the fielders field way too many low fly balls; except for the times when they just donít field at all. The glitches are many, and the gameplay is far from perfect. I really never got the sense that I was watching a real simulation. Although, the statistics come out accurate, this IS a game after all, and should be more lenient. If you think about real life baseball, a .250 batting average for the team is above average. But in a video game, that means you only get one hit every four at bats, and thatís just getting on base. The animations are very choppy at times, and the plays are far from seamless. The in-game commentary is exceptional, as is the Franchise mode. A casual baseball game fan, or someone looking for a good management simulation might really enjoy this game. I had some fun with it, but keep in mind: Iím a very patient gamer.

Overall Score: 7.2

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