Release Date: 02/23/2003
The All-Star Baseball series has been around for quite some time now, since the N64 days in fact, and during that time the franchise has received a pretty consistent amount of upgrades and refinements. But despite ASB’s marked growth over the years it has yet to make a real impact with baseball fans. Acclaim’s newest entry, All-Star Baseball 2004, won’t likely revolutionize the way gamers look at the series, but its extensive variety of available teams, modes of play, and new features will certainly raise more than a few eyebrows.
The first thing that people coming back to ASB will notice is that its front-end has been completely restyled and streamlined. Where areas the past games have sported basic text-driven menu systems, this new version boasts a film grain look and seamlessly transports you to different areas in the clubhouse depending on where you go within the menus. It isn’t a huge addition but it does go a long way to keep you immersed in the sport when you’re not actually playing a game.
Headlining ASB 2004’s game modes is the feature laden franchise mode. Here you can build a dynasty as you take your team through up to 30 major league seasons. The level of depth to this mode is almost intimidating, giving you direct control over things like trade deadlines, player injuries, and budget allotment -- even allowing you to create your own custom player from scratch. In addition, you are now able to field your own expansion team and pit your motley assortment of players against the league’s best. Newcomers have no need to fret since at any time they can consult the included ASB Rulebook and quickly dig up the dirt on any sort of baseball information they’re looking for. Or, if you’d rather skip the details and focus more on playing baseball you can opt to play a simplified franchise mode where the smaller things are taken care of for you.
Other modes of play include Home Run Derby and Batting Practice, which are excellent for getting the hang of the game’s batting dynamics without having to suffer a few humiliating defeats first. A new scenario mode allows you to participate in over 20 events that took place in the actual 2002 MLB season. The objectives in scenario mode range from perfectly reenacting real-life MLB events to ‘what if’ style objectives that challenge you to pull out a critical win against all odds. Each scenario is prefaced by a player from one of the teams involved as they describe the events of what really took place and what you will need to do to successfully complete it. As you complete scenarios more will be opened up, and every one of them is entirely unique. Some are better than others, but on the whole, this mode of play will both challenge and entertain players for quite some time.
Anybody who’s had to forfeit a tie game in the bottom of the 15th inning on behalf of real-life obligations will be glad to know that Acclaim has added the ability to save your game between innings, making it a snap to stop playing and pick up where you left off at a later time. All 30 official major league teams and their respective stadiums are included in ASB 2004, but you’ll also get 45 additional ballparks in the form of futuristic and classic stadium variations. Over 110 retired legends can be conjured up in ASB2004, including a vast assortment of oft-overlooked early baseball legends and Negro League players. But while this game features some impressive additions over its predecessors, you may want to opt for the GameCube version only as a last resort, if you have the choice. The reason being that the GC port doesn’t support online roster updates via download like the Xbox and PS2 versions, so if you want your on-screen team to statistically resemble their real-life counterparts then I’d recommend looking into one of the other two versions.
The actual in-game dynamics aren’t much different from last year’s outing, unfortunately. You’ll still have to deal with annoyances like shoddy collision detection, buggy controls, and stilted animation. One of the more notable problems arise when attempting to get an out on first on infield groundballs; more often than not the player who intercepts the ball will throw directly to home base despite the fact that there isn’t a runner on third. There are also some serious A.I. weaknesses. For example, the computer will often automatically place user control during outfield plays to a player who isn’t always in the best situation to deal with it. And even when it seems that you are perfectly positioned to, say, catch a fly ball to leftfield, your player will sometimes inexplicably miss the catch or throw to a different base than what you could have sworn you inputted. Game play is this game’s biggest problem. A baseball game can have all the teams and modes of play in the world, but if the actual baseball isn’t fun to play then it doesn’t do much good.
As in previous ASB games, batting is handled via a demanding cursor method where the player is tasked to line up the on-screen cursor with where they think the ball will go and then swing at just the right moment. Luckily, players can toggle between differently sized cursors, so that connecting with the ball can be, to a certain degree, as easy or difficult as you want to make it. Even so, newcomers should expect to strike out many times before getting a keen grasp on the batting dynamics. The pitching aspect of the game doesn’t share the time-consuming learning curve of hitting, thankfully. You need only to select the type of pitch you want and press A in order to bring the proverbial heat. Fielding and base-running is equally straightforward, though the way the GC’s buttons are laid out seems a little unnatural for standard style fielding.
It’s a shame that the game play is so rough around the edges because the visuals in All-Star Baseball 2004 are quite remarkable. The attention to detail in terms of the various stadiums is impressive, every square inch seems to be a perfect recreation of its real-life counterpart, even surrounding landmarks are represented in each city. Acclaim did a great job of portraying each character, integrating a extensive facial animation system that allow players to dynamically react to various situations. From an audio standpoint ASB 2004 shines. The announcers (Lyons and Brennamen) are usually spot-on in their assessments and even provide entertaining commentary by cleverly playing off each other. All the standard baseball sound effects that you’d expect are fully realized and crowd reaction is very authentic. The licensed music that plays as each batter steps up to the plate is also a welcome addition, though some tunes tend to repeat a little too often.
When it’s all said and done ASB 2004 offers up some hefty new features and additions but that’s about it, the game play engine is left virtually untouched. When it comes to 2004 baseball games on the ‘Cube you’re pretty much limited to this game, 3DO’s upcoming High Heat Major League Baseball, or MLB Slugfest 2004, but even so, you could do much better than this game. Baseball fans looking for a more fluid arcade-style baseball game may want to check out Slugfest 2004 before thinking about ASB 2004. But for what it’s worth, ASB 2004 is the only way to go if you prefer play-mode diversity over game play.