Developer: Acclaim Studios
Date: Feb 27th 2003
Ahh, baseball. Whether you're on the field yourself, betting over the best teams with your buddies, or just like to watch the sport, baseball is a great sport that holds a big place in many people's hearts. The games can be long and challenging, but the outcome is usually worth it, granting you the rights to tease your opponent or grabbing a few bucks. Plus, there's that huge sense of accomplishment. I believe that it's the goal of baseball games to recreate the experience of a baseball game, and they keep getting better and better every year, for the most part. Unfortunately, All-Star Baseball has a few major flaws that, well, keep you from very rarely experiencing that feeling of success.
ASB 2004 is presented fairly nicely, with a focus on baseball from years back. The menus are in front of a locker room area, and when you select an option the camera flies over to a different spot, be it an office, a chalkboard, or an old projector screen. The whole thing is topped off with a washed out, old-film look. There's even some of 'The Natural's' musical score playing. It's all very nice. Unfortunately, any other menus during the game - like during a pause - look totally generic and separated from the feel of the main menus. It's kind of unfortunate, but not a huge deal.
There are a number of modes, options, and extras to dig through that could keep baseball fanatics busy for hours upon hours. You could just start up an Exhibition match with the Quick Play mode - all you gotta do is pick teams, pick your stadium, and you and a friend (or the computer) are ready to go. Then there's the deeper franchise mode, where you can carry a team through up to thirty seasons of playing. You'll see players traded, retire, or enter the Hall of Fame. There are a bunch of nice little details that could make it a fun experience. Or, if you're not into the whole epic thing, you can pick a team to play through a season with. There's also the option to make your own team, complete with mascot. There is definitely a lot to do.
There's a ton of other cool things you can do, too. There's the Scenario mode, where you're placed into some tough situations of past games. The score's zero-zero and overtime is into play...can you save the team from defeat? It's a nice little idea, and there are a bunch of scenarios to try. Another nice touch are collectable baseball cards - you can spend points on booster packs to try and collect the hundreds of cards. Points can be earned by performing slick plays such as a grand slam or getting more than one guy out in one play. I really do like this idea.
Unfortunately, the game falls flat on it's face where it matters most - gameplay. More specifically, pitching and batting. Acclaim has decided to incorporate a terrible cursor interface. When you're up to bat, you move this cursor to the spot where you think the ball will be coming, and when it does come, you press 'A' to swing. It wouldn't be so bad if there weren't two glaring problems. One being noticeable lag between when you actually hit the button and the time your bat connects with the ball. You have to hit the button more than a second before it gets to you, and boy, the balls move fast. The second real problem is that the cursor is far too sensitive. A turn of the analog stick practically sends the cursor out of the strike zone. So, when you see the pitcher start to throw the ball, you have to meticulously yet hastily move the cursor to where you think it will end up, and manage to swing instantaneously. It's extremely hard to hit the ball, and nearly impossible to score runs.
Pitching could be better, too. There's also a cursor to represent where your pitch will go. This also, however, feels a little odd. Although it isn't as sensitive as the batting cursor, it actually disappears after you input the the pitch, and then comes back almost before the ball gets to the plate. If it were there the whole time, it would help the batter find where the ball's going. But that still wouldn't prove too useful - special pitches like curveballs make the cursor itself move just before the ball's in the zone. It's really, really frustrating for the batter.
Fielding is okay, but it's nothing special, and it can be a little bothersome. When the ball is hit into the outfield, a marker appears on the field showing where it's going to land, as most baseball games do. From here you can have your fielders run over to collect the ball before throwing it. Unfortunately, you are often just moving people aimlessly because you can't actually see where they are until they come rather close to the ball. You would think the camera would pan out to give you a better viewing area, right? Another annoying element pops up here and there: your fielder will be standing right on the mark where the ball will land, just waiting for it to come down, and somehow miss completely. How bothersome!
So, the gameplay isn't too hot. At least the graphics in the game are pretty good. Every player seems well modeled and even has a fairly similar face to their real-life counterpart. Animation is, for the most part, quite smooth and fluent. There are a few jolts here and there to be found, but nothing that's really too bad. Stadiums also look good, with lots of detail in their architecture. There are cool little movie screens in the background that show replays and such. The game certainly doesn't look bad.
Sound is fine, too. Although there's the nice background music in the main menu, there's no real background music during the game. There are, of course, lots of sound effects. Many batters come up to bat with a little musical clip, but the same ones are played over and over far too much. Commentators are sometimes introducing players or noting something about a play. Occasionally, they have something interesting to say, but after awhile you start hearing the same things over. The crowd does sound really good, though, with real excitement in the later innings, and an eruption of applause when the home team makes a good play. The sound of a bat cracking against a ball (when you do manage to make a hit) sounds really nice, too. All in all, the sound may not be perfect, but it's by no means terrible.
All-Star Baseball 2004 would be a fantastic game, with all of its features, extras, and slick presentation, if it weren't for the terribly lackluster gameplay. Pitching and batting are ridiculously difficult; it's extremely hard to score a run. Fielding can be a real problem, too, so the computer will no doubt be kicking your ass the majority of the time. Granted, if you manage to enjoy the batting, ASB 2004 is a top-notch title. For the majority of us, however, ASB will remain a frustrating game with a lot of wasted potential. It's a real shame, too.