Developer: Acclaim Studios
Release Date: March 23, 2004
Ever since the N64 days, All-Star Baseball has been a quality game of baseball, but over the past few years, this series has begun to stagnate and not show much improvement over the previous year. ASB has always been very solid, especially in gameplay, but with the other baseball titles making leaps every year (massive leaps, in MVP Baseball’s case), ASB really needed to also pack in a bunch of new features and improved gameplay tweaks this year in order to keep up with the crowd. Acclaim added some pretty notable features to this year’s version and tweaked many aspects of the gameplay, but in the end, will it be enough to put it past the high bar that MVP has set?
All-Star Baseball has always offered a healthy number of features and gameplay modes, and 2005 is no exception to the rule. All of the standard modes of play that you have come to expect in a baseball game (i.e., exhibition) are here in ASB. I won’t spend time talking about those modes exclusively, as they play the same as any other baseball game, but I will focus on ASB’s franchise mode. The franchise mode in ASB is one of the deepest out of any of the baseball games shipping this year and certainly the deepest ever found in an ASB game itself. Acclaim has done a great job with this mode, giving you a lot of depth in controlling and managing your team through the seasons (up to 20). When you first get started with this mode, you have the option of selecting a simple version of franchise mode with fewer options that is perfect for the casual fans of the game, or the complete option, which as the name states, gives you the complete franchise experience. You also have the option of being the general manager of your team or all teams too, if you desire those duties. Other options include the ability to set the trade deadlines, adjusting the market rules for things like CPU drafts, trades, and so on, as well as injuries. Once you get all of those options set to your liking, you come to your main franchise menu. One of the really cool features of ASB is the ability to play through your team’s spring training games. While this alone does not sound impressive, you can actually improve your team and player ratings before the start of the season by earning points in completing tasks outlined at the onset of spring training and assigning those points to your team. This is a really great feature for those fans of not-so-hot teams, and this makes them a little bit better before the start of the real season. Of course this is not a given, and if you do not play so hot in spring training, you could make your team worse! In addition, for the casual fan out there, you do have the option to completely skip spring training and jump right into the regular season.
From the main franchise menu, you have the option of checking the daily news, which features an in-depth view of what is happening around baseball, including your own franchise stats. You also can jump into the GM office and manage every aspect of the game from here, adjust your teams’ rosters, and even check out how your player development is doing down on the farm system.
Once you are ready to get into a game, you have quite a few options regarding the settings of the game itself. You can set the time of day of the game and thankfully, unlike MVP Baseball, ASB features realistic times such as 1:05 afternoon games and 10:05 night games, as well as a dusk setting. Therefore, you can play a day or night game in any of the parks, unlike in MVP, where you are limited to only evening and night games in some stadiums.
Once you are actually in the game itself, the gameplay is very solid and quiet realistic. You have three basic batting styles to pick from, old school time-based batting, where all you do is swing when the ball crosses the plate, the classic 2d batting cursor that you move around and plate where the ball goes and swing, or the updated 3d batting cursor that lets you actually try to hit the ball to a desired field location, which gives you much more control and depth over the other two. All of these systems work well and are fully playable, but the 3d one is likely going to be the one used by most gamers. While at one point it was a groundbreaking feature that never before seen in a baseball game, it is now starting to show its age a bit. Besides the way it looks, there is really not much difference between this version of the 3d cursor and the ones in earlier versions of ASB. This batting system is a lot like MVP’s in how it works, but overall, MVP’s total control batting gives you more command over where you can hit the ball and is a much easier system to use than the 3d cursor in ASB, which is a bit clunky to move and position. That’s not to say it's bad because it still works well, but MVP has simply taken the same concept and come up with a much better way to do it.
Pitching is also handled in a pretty standard way. You pick your pitch, move a cursor to pick the location, and press a button to pitch the ball. Nothing fancy here, but it works well and gets the job done. However, after seeing the amazing and very realistic pitching system of MVP Baseball, this component, like the batting, feels very dated in comparison. One cool aspect of pitching in ASB is the pitcher cam option, which is a behind-the-pitcher view where you can see the catcher, batter, umpire and the backstop. Unlike other games, this is a very playable camera mode in ASB and actually looks really great.
While the batting and pitching work well, the fielding has some problems. All of the standard flyballs and grounders hit right to a fielder are no problem, and making diving catches is very realistic. It's the hard line drives and grounders which are not hit directly at a fielder that become problematic at times. In ASB 2005, when any ball is hit at a fielder, you have to point your fielder in the right direction facing the ball to make the play. Sounds pretty simple, but due to the animation system – or lack of it – your player movements are not very smooth at times, especially when changing directions. This causes jerking movements, causing you to turn your player the wrong way, resulting in him completely missing the ball. This is most noticeable on the infield but also can happen on flyballs to the outfield too. Making things worse is the fact that your fielder will not grab at a ball that is a few feet away so you have either to try and dive at the ball or get directly in front of it to make the play. What this comes down to is that there are a lot of line drives and grounders which should be caught that make their way into the outfield for easy singles. It's not a massive problem and doesn't happen all the time, but it does happen often enough to cause frustration.
Now that all of the fielding problems have been addressed, I’ll address one of ASB’s big new features, the fielder cam, which puts you in a third-person view of the player that is going to make the play when the ball is hit. You have full control over this player and can do all of your basic moves. Using the right joystick, you can control the cam and move it around to best see the ball; you also have arrows pointing in which direction the ball is going and where it's going to land. This is really a neat mode and works pretty well, but the same fielding problems that plague the standard cam views are not only present in this mode, but much more noticeable. While pop flies are not too much of a problem in this mode, hard line drives are very hard to catch, as they move way too fast through the infield. Overall, this is a nice addition to ASB and really gives you a new perspective on the game.
Besides the standard list of features, All-Star Baseball 2005 features several bonus modes of play. There is a pick-up game that has the computer randomly pick players from around baseball to face off against a random CPU team. There is also a trivia game that lets you test your baseball knowledge as well as batting practice to improve your hitting skills, and the classic home run derby. The coolest bonus feature of all is This Week In Baseball, a set of the toughest baseball situations and turning points from the 2003 baseball season that puts you in control of the playmaker and lets you see if you can change history. One of the coolest puts you in the shoes of that Chicago outfielder on that famous flyball that was grabbed by a fan, leading to the Cubs losing and being knocked out of the playoffs.
One of the biggest improvements in ASB 2005 has been the graphics. While not hugely different from last year’s version, Acclaim has done a lot of little things with the engine to make it look better. The textures have really been improved quite a bit, and some actually quite stunning, approaching photo-realism. The lighting engine has also been improved and brightened up. The lighting in day and night games is very realistic and not as drab as it was in past versions. The models are also very well done and look very much like real baseball players. Acclaim has also added self-shadowing on the players, which really adds to the realism. Without a doubt, ASB features the most detailed and realistic-looking stadiums of any baseball game this year. They simply look fantastic and are also fully animated: flags blow in the wind, planes take off from well-known airports by the stadiums and home run balls activate their park’s special feature. Overall, ASB 2005 is the most graphically realistic of all the baseball games. However, it's not all clear skis, as the animation – which has always been a weak point in the ASB series – holds this year’s version back a bit as well. There seem to be a lot of missing animation frames, especially in transitions as they are quite jerky. In addition, there are not that many different animations for the various things such as diving and catching the ball. There are also some plain weird things, like after you make an out on the infield, the fielder with the ball will toss it to another fielder like they do in real life. The only problem is that fielder seems to be missing his set of "catch the ball" animations and will just stare at the ball as it flies past him and goes into the outfield. This in no way affects the gameplay, but it really looks bad and is something you expect to see in an early build of the game and not in the final retail version. Not all is lost though, as there are some pretty nice animations like fielders losing the ball in the lights or the sun, shading their eyes on a bright day game for a pop fly. Overall, however, the animation needs a lot of work, especially when compared to MVP Baseball, which has set the new standard for animation in a baseball game.
Soundwise, ASB lags behind the other baseball titles by quite a bit. The play-by-play commentary is done by Thom Brenneman and Steve Lyons but is extremely robotic and does not flow smoothly at all. There are even times when they will go off on rants about a baseball subject that has nothing to do with the game. It is actually kind of cool to hear the first few times, but sadly, there are not enough different types of these rants so they get old really quickly. The crowd noises are also way too low when big things happen and are pretty much dead silent the rest of the time. There are, however, a few hecklers in the crowd that like to bash the umpires when they don't call close pitches for the home team. This also gets real old real fast as these guys are extremely loud and say the same two or three things for every close pitch.
ASB features full online play over Xbox Live, which at first seems like a great addition to an already feature-filled game, but sadly, the online play seems more of a rushed add-on than a fully developed and well-planned feature. When playing online, your options are very limited, as you can only play an exhibition game and are forced to use the fielder cam. Some online support for other modes of play, especially home run derby, would have been really nice. The actual online play itself is smooth and lag-free, so if you are a fan of the fielder cam, then you will enjoy it.
Overall All-Star Baseball 2005 is very solid, has a deep features list, a very well done franchise mode, great graphics, and very realistic gameplay and AI. Acclaim did make some nice improvements to this series this year, but they could not match the great strides that EA has made with MVP. MVP's pitching and batting system is simply better, and its gameplay is a lot more fun. By no means does this make ASB a boring game because it is also very fun to play, but it is more suited for the hardcore baseball fan. It's truly a sim, and a very good one at that. MVP Baseball is still the king this year, but those who did not like different aspects of that game should without a doubt check out All-Star Baseball 2005.
Score : 8.3/10
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