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High Heat Baseball 2004 (PS2) Review

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<img src="http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/sports-3576.jpg">


<i>(Note: All images come from <a href="http://www.3do.com/highheat/2004/ps2.html">3DO's offical site</a>)</i>


Ah, March, the NFL free agency period is heating up, the NHL and NBA seasons are coming down to the wire, and March Madness is in full swing in the college ranks. But, the best thing about March is that SPRING, glorious SPRING is near! Warm temperatures! Flowers start to bloom! NO MORE GODDAMN SNOW!!


*Ahem* Sorry about that.


March also marks the beginning of Spring Training and the fact that baseball season is just a few weeks away. It is also the time when the new baseball video games are released. There is no shortage of titles this year as 8 will hit (or have already hit) the shelves this month spanning each console (and PC). Some are franchise titles (<i>All-Star, MLB, World Series, High Heat</i>), there is Midway’s “extreme” take on the game <i>MLB Slugfest</i>, EA’s new title <i>MVP Baseball</i>, Microsoft’s </i>Inside Pitch</i>, and BAM’s unlicensed offering <i>Crushed Baseball</i>. Last year, I picked up <i>All-Star Baseball</i>, but was disappointed at the sluggish batting and rather drab, dark graphics. Meanwhile, as I read through internet forums and talked to friends, many were raving over <i>High Heat Baseball 2003</i> with its realistic play, thorough stat tracking and the ability to customize every facet of gameplay. I had tried it out and found the gameplay to be pretty tight, but I was pretty happy with my purchase since the graphics weren’t up to par. Two weeks ago, I trekked to my local EB and picked up the 2004 edition of High Heat Baseball. What did I think? Read on, that’s why you clicked on this article, wasn’t it?


My review scale will be the same (1/10) and I will rate graphics, sound, gameplay, and replay value (different game modes, and will I still be playing this in March 2004?).


<img src="http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/ps2_scrn6.jpg">




The High Heat franchise has not really been known for its stellar looks, but the graphics this year are not that bad. As you can see in the above picture, the stadiums are rendered very accurately and look pretty nice. Players are modeled nicely, but they all seem to be relatively the same size. Mo Vaughn looks like he swore off McNuggets and triple-decker Whoppers in the off-season. There are plenty of different batting stances and mannerisms, some unique to the player (Nomar Garciaparra’s “I have two rocks in my pants and am trying to shake them out” dance, for one). The fielding animations are good, especially on double plays (the 2nd baseman shifts and leaps out of the way of the sliding runner). Pitching animations are also well done, you have sidearm, submarine, regular delivery, etc. all in there. The crowds, unfortunately, didn’t receive much attention; they look terrible. Another thing I wish 3DO had fixed is the camera, it sometimes zooms too close to the action and the optional “action view”, which zooms in on a player when he dives, waits to field a fly ball, or turn a double play, sometimes cuts too rapidly, disorienting you for a second. Another camera gripe is that home runs aren’t given a tremendous amount of hoopla. That’s what I loved about Triple Play, the multiple camera angles that showed homers flying out of the park.


<b>Score: 8/10</b>




In my opinion, this is the worst part of the game. The two-man commentary team is very bland, and don’t really say much during the game (I mean, Buck Martinez is looking for work, right? He was awesome in Triple Play.) The crowd noise is also very poor; it fades and kicks in at different points for really no reason. Even after hitting a 3 run homer in the bottom of the 9th at home, the crowd just seems to go “eh.” The soundtrack for the menus and such is all right, but I swear one of the songs would fit in perfectly in a soft-core porn film (you’ll know which one when you hear it). A really weird thing about the sound is that, after a game, as you look at the box score (which looks so good it's like it was ripped out of your local newspaper), there is SILENCE. No background music whatsoever. It doesn’t come back until you save your season or go back to the main menu. It’s just odd. Of course, there are some positives in the sound department; the on field sounds are great. From the crack of the bat to the “pop” sound of ball hitting leather, to the ump ringing up a strikeout victim, it’s all good.


<b>Score: 5/10</b>


<img src="http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/ps2_scrn4.jpg">




The meat of the game and what separates High Heat from the other titles out there is the gameplay, which 3DO touts as “the most realistic pitching, batting, baserunning and fielding. I’d have to agree with them. In most baseball games I’ve played, home runs are really the best way to score in a lot of cases, but, in this game, homers are fairly few and far between, relatively. You really have to work the count, taking pitches, and waiting for just the right pitch to swing at. The biggest gripe I had with All-Star was the fact that the batting cursor was too slow to match up with the ball. When I turned it off, the game became too easy and I racked up 10+ hits per game with no problem, making the game feel unrealistic. The best part of the pitcher/batter matchup in this game is NO icons, something that harkens back to the old NES Bases Loaded days. You direct the pitch by using either the directional pad or stick, and swing the bat the same way (pressing up to swing at a high pitch, down at one in the dirt, etc.) The computer isn’t dumb either; it WILL try to get you out with some nice pitch placement and will crush your mistakes for extra bases. The computer will also play smart baseball; it will intentionally walk good hitters if the situation calls for it or substitute in the bench warmers if it (or you) is up 11-2 in the 7th. The absolute best part of the gameplay is that everything is customizable, and I mean EVERYTHING. The “Tuning” menu has sliders where you can tweak over 20 variables of gameplay, including contact ease, error frequency, the speed of baserunners for both the player and CPU, and even the speed of every type of pitch in the game! Each slider is on a scale of 1-10. Want to make your runners faster than the French army retreats? Want the CPU’s to be as sluggish and slow as the UN trying to decide what to have for lunch? You can do it, which really leaves a person little complaint for how the gamplay is, since they can just go into this menu and tweak it to their liking. There is even an option to vary the umpire’s strike zone for goodness sake! Just incredible. The game also tracks a TON of stats, even more than the MLB tracks themselves! I don't even know what half of them mean, but there is a glossary in the manual to tell you.


<b>Score: 100/10 (That’s not a typo)</b>


<b><u>Replay Value</u></b>


You have your basic modes in exhibition, batting practice (where you can work on how to hit different pitches), play an All-Star Game with last year’s teams, but with a few changes (Jim Thome is on the NL team, for example), Home Run Derby and you can play a single season. There are two multi-year modes in this game, Career and Franchise. In Franchise mode, you wear the hats of manager, GM, and Minor League scout (with AAA, AA, and A levels to look at). In Career, you don’t have to worry about all that and just manage. Franchise is incredibly immersive. To make things as realistic as can be you have a budget to work with (predictably, the Yankees have the highest and Montreal has the lowest), and you can level the playing field by giving everyone an equal budget or turn the tables by giving the Twins a $100 million dollar budget while screwing the Yankees (hee hee). You have to contend with injuries, call up players you think are ready for the big time, sign free agents and offer (or accept) trades (be careful, the CPU can veto them if you have that option on), create a player and see if he can become the next Bonds, deal with retirements and draft rookies. This naturally is incredibly time consuming, so you better have a good chunk of free time (or just say goodbye to your social and work lives.) The game also has a fantasy draft, where every player in MLB is put into a pool and teams can pick any one available. You can also forgo the season altogether and start a playoff series with whatever teams you like. Finally, High Heat has a special “Two on Two Showdown” where a batter faces a pitcher alone and each score points depending on hits, strikes, balls and outs for one inning (two halfs, three outs each). The franchise mode alone will have you going for most of the season, but there are plenty of other things to do.


<b>Replay Value: 10/10</b>


<b><u>Conclusion:</b></u> This is one of the best baseball games I have ever played, bar none. Check out the other titles out there if you want, but I can almost guarantee you none of them will come close to the level of gameplay that <i>High Heat Baseball 2004</i> offers. Plus, proceeds from the sale of this game benefits Curt Schilling’s “Pitch for ALS” charity which helps fight Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (better known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”) This game may not look as pretty as some of the other titles, but looks aren’t everything.


<b>Final Score: 10/10</b>


<i>Next Week</i>: I may have something brewing that will supply me with some good tapes to review (can someone say “Smackdown Six comp?”) Tune in next week.


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