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PC Review - 'High Heat Major League Baseball 2004'

by Tristan on April 10, 2003 @ 12:28 a.m. PDT

Whether you’re a casual fan or a hard-core baseball junkie, you’ll love High Heat Major League Baseball 2004. You will notice the smooth new graphics and character animations. You’ll also notice the abundance of game modes and options. The new Franchise Mode enables you to take your team through an unlimited number of seasons. If you chose to, you can manage team budgets, player contracts, and make other financial decisions. Or dive right into the action with the Two On Two Showdown or Home Run Derby Modes.

Date: March 4th, 2003
Genre: Sports Simulation
Publisher: 3DO
Developer: 3DO

Consoles have become more popular over the years, and it has become quite routine for a PC game to be remade for a console. At the same time, it is and always has been uncommon to find a console game ported to the PC. When it has occurred it has been done with minimal success, aside from the few outliers such as games like Mortal Kombat. In order to achieve success by porting a console title to PC, a company is stuck with an uphill battle.

Not only is a console port an uphill battle but the creation of a detailed, enjoyable baseball sim is even harder. In past experience with baseball titles for both PC and console, one can easily realize that a good baseball sim is a rare commodity. Up until now, baseball games have been mediocre, and barely entertaining. With rave reviews for the console version, 3DO has attempted to successfully port High Heat Baseball 2004 to the PC.

Right off the bat, expectations were not very high for High Heat Baseball 2004, since PC baseball sims have never been that great. After a short installation, it was time for some major league baseball. Once in the main menu, it was glaringly apparent that the game was a console port. In order to save seasons and/or new players, the game was minimized and a Microsoft save window was opened up, as if the game were a word document. The lack of effort in creating a save menu for the PC was quite disappointing. It was as if 3DO just wanted to make an extra buck and put minimal time and effort into the product. But hey, this was early on; the game hadn’t even been played yet.

Starting a season was easy enough, as was the creation of new players and the management of a team’s roster. With “CPU Trade Logic” enabled it was impossible to trade some minor league player for Barry Bonds or Randy Johnson, this was a nice little touch of realism added to the game. New to the High Heat Baseball series is “Franchise Mode” which allows players the opportunity to not only manage their major league team, but their farm team as well. Access to “fantasy drafts” and “rookie drafts” is also given in franchise mode. After attempting to trade some nobody for Barry Bonds, it was time to give the gameplay a shot.

First game of the season was as the Seattle Mariners, playing on the road against the Anaheim Angels. After about five minutes of play, it became pretty obvious that it was going to take a few hours to get the hang of this game. As a batter it is necessary to compensate for the type of pitch thrown, as a pitcher, the type and continuity of the throw is crucial; and as a fielder, having lightning fast reflexes is key. The tasks left up to the AI on the human team are limited. The opposing AI, however, is quite efficient and a tough opponent to play with.

The CPU (the opposition) knows exactly where to throw the ball, and where to swing. This is all done with minimal on-field errors. When playing as the pitcher, the CPU is quite hard to bat against. Even on the easiest skill level. When pitching against the CPU, it is almost as difficult, as the CPU connects perfectly on each hit, turning even the worst pitches into possible homeruns.

After breaking the game in, it was time to pick apart the gameplay. High Heat Baseball 2004 strays away from a sports simulation and is more like an arcade game just in its look and feel. This in no way is a bad thing; to many people, including this reviewer, and arcade feel is much more enjoyable in sports games.

One neat little addition to the game was the replay cameras, which are activated when nice plays are made, such as a diving catch, or a homerun. As a sports nut, it is like having your baseball plays of the week right on your computer. These cameras only add to this game’s level of fun. Like most sports games, the replayability of the game is infinite, as you can continue on after the season is over, sign free agents, draft rookies, and start a brand new season.

Just being able to control the entire team is truly a joy. Switching between fielders, while chasing a line drive up left field; trying to steal second base; even warming up your replacement picture. The feeling of control created is key to a game’s success, if a player feels that he/she has little control, the game becomes less fun. This feature alone makes High Heat Baseball 2004 a winner in the sports game department.

From an audio standpoint, there is nothing spectacular about the game. The environmental sounds, i.e. crowd and stadium music, are done to a respectable level. The game sounds, such as the bat connecting with the ball or a player sliding, are done as well if not better than any other baseball game this reviewer has played. In the long run, seeing as there is no way to increase the quality of the game’s audio, the sounds and stadium music were quite satisfying. A feature that has made it’s way into mainstream sports games is color commentary. As time passes the in-game announcing is getting better and better. This game is no exception, there is play-by-play color commentary throughout the whole game, making it that much more fun to play.

The player animations were exquisite. As batters warmed, their movements were fluid, moving towards the plate, tapping it ever so gently with their aluminum bats and assuming their batting stance. After a successful hit, the batter sprints to first base, each stride perfectly animated. Across the field, the right fielder dives just missing the ball while the center fielder scurries after it. As the center fielder arrives at the ball he slides to a stop and whips the ball as far as possible in the direction of second base. Seeing this as an opportunity, the batter sprints for second base, as both ball and batter near the base, the batter dives through the air, making contact with the dusty base seconds before the ball arrives. “Safe” yells the umpire. Slowly the batter gets to his feet to await his next opportunity to run. It is that fluid animation that makes this game the eye candy that it is. Not the detailed models, although they are quite well done, or the articulately constructed stadiums, just the fluid animations. While the player animations are exceptional, the crowd is pretty disappointing. Like most sports games, they are just animated 2d pictures of people; nothing special there.

3DO put their graphics engine to good use with this game. The models are meticulously done to fully compliment the expert animations, as the two go hand-in-hand. As nice as the models are, the shadows are the exact opposite. Very poorly crafted, each body part has its own shadow, and when the shadows overlap, the resultant shadow is darker than the rest of the shadow. This was a bit of a disappointment seeing as how nice the models were.

The fact that there was no multiplayer mode hurt the game, simply because it would have been fun to play a game of baseball over the internet with a friend. Who knows, maybe multiplayer will come in the form of a patch in the coming months.

Overall, this was a very satisfying game. The best baseball sim this reviewer has ever played. Excellent animations, fun game modes and detailed player models made this game a success. As great as it is, it is still not “Editors Choice” caliber, falling behind in shadow design as well as the strength of the CPU AI. Let’s not forget the fact that it is ported from XBOX and Playstation2. The save and load screens are simply Windows load/save screens. A little more effort and this game could have been magnificent. Considering the fact that it is ported from a console, 3DO really delivered with this game.

Score: 8 / 10

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