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High Heat Major League Baseball 2003
Review By:  Jared Black
Developer:   3DO
Publisher:   3DO
# of Players:   1-2
Genre:   Sports
ESRB:   Everyone
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:   3-19-02

Back when the High Heat series was first announced, 3DO promised that they would focus on making it the best baseball simulation on the market. Now, just a few short years later, they’ve done exactly that…as far as the gameplay is concerned. High Heat Major League Baseball 2003 is without a doubt the most realistic baseball game around, but it still has a few significant flaws that prevent it from being head and shoulders above the rest.

Naturally, in order to properly capture the essence of baseball you need to have an awesome pitching/batting interface, and 3DO's got just that. Pitching is handled via a very simple menu system whereby you first select the type of pitch you want, and then select the area (using the D-Pad) you want to throw the pitch in. The player has no direct control over the ball once it's released (just like in real life).  The wrinkle here is that you can choose to throw either a ball or a strike, thus opening up a whole new level of strategy in the pitching game. If you’ve got a 0-2 count on the hitter, you can intentionally throw a fastball just off of the plate and try to get the batter to chase it. However, if you’re pitcher is tired his pitches won’t always go where you want them to go. That fastball you’re trying to get just off of the plate might end up right down the middle, so the player needs to learn to manage their rotation effectively. Just like real baseball.

The batting interface is excellent too. There are no cursors here…just a simple system where you either swing or not. Swings are directed with the D-Pad (believe me, don’t try to use the analog stick here), creating a simple and effective system that doesn’t make use of gimmicks such as hard/soft swing buttons or a batting cursor. While a pitch can still possibly be hit without pressing the appropriate direction on the D-pad, positioning the swing effectively will result in better contact with the ball. It’s very intuitive, and rewards the player that learns to recognize what kind of pitch is headed their way.

Fielding takes a bit of getting used to, as the base a ball is thrown to is determined by which of the four face buttons you press rather than the X button + direction combination used in other baseball series. Overall using the face buttons is a better way of handling throwing, as charging a grounder in the other method can often result in throwing it to the wrong base (the direction you’re charging), especially during close plays where the player needs to get rid of the ball as soon as possible. With this system the player can charge the ball aggressively, and not worry about throwing it to the wrong base since the D-Pad has nothing to do with where it ends up. During fly balls a fielding circle appears on the ground, so chasing them down is as simple as getting your fielder to the circle in time.

In short, the gameplay is as refined and realistic as you’ll find in any baseball game. The pitching interface is excellent, factors in pitcher fatigue, and really adds a ton of strategy to mixing up and throwing the right pitch at the right time. The batting interface is simple and elegant, rewarding those players willing to devote time to perfecting it. The fielding system is simple and efficient, and the throwing system here is much better than that found in other baseball series. And even if you don’t find everything realistic enough, 3DO kindly included sliders allowing the player to alter a number of different factors such as injury frequency, fielder speed, etc.

It’s obvious that 3DO put a lot of detail into other areas of the game as well. Game modes include Season, Two-On-Two Showdown, Playoffs, Batting Practice, All-Star Game, and Home Run Derby. In the season mode, you can either choose to use existing rosters or draft new rosters from scratch. You can also create your own player from scratch. Sadly there’s no Franchise mode, but it doesn’t hurt this game as much as it would one in another sport since a baseball season is already so long. While football seasons are only 16 games, a baseball season is 162. As you can imagine, all but the most hardcore aren’t going to bother with more than one season (if they even make it to the end of the first). Don’t get me wrong, I definitely want to see a fully fleshed out Franchise mode in next year’s game…I’d love nothing more than to be able to draft a brand new Baltimore Orioles team (stupid Peter Angelos) and lead them to five consecutive championships. Only being able to play one season limits the appeal of drafting new rosters and creating new players.

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