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I've always personally had a strong connection with baseball. Some of my first memories from when I was younger were my Dad throwing me whiffleballs and me knocking them into the neighbor's yard. When I got older my friends and I went out into the streets with our bats and gloves, first playing with real baseballs, then playing with tennis balls when our parents started worrying about paying for broken windows. Soon we got bigger and we would lose too many tennis balls while we played, so we played in Little League, where despite the constant presence of parents who took things just a little too seriously, some of my best memories were created.
Now I'm in High School and no longer playing baseball, spending my evenings now huddled at a desk doing my homework, or vesting time in other hobbies that have taken the place of sports over the years (heavy metal, freelance writing, and sucking in my gut when hot girls walk by). I don't bother to watch baseball games on TV with my Father, as while I loved playing the game it bores me to tears in a televised form. So the closest I come to baseball now comes when I play a baseball videogame, the latest being All-Star Baseball 2005.
Having spent a sufficient amount of time with the title I can say 2005 is a big improvement over last year's edition. The game engine is competent and intuitive, the graphics are decent, and the franchise mode is deep and rewarding. Still, ASB 2005 is in a crowded genre, and next to the MVP Baseballs and High Heats of the world ASB is still runner-up.
The first big improvement you'll see in the game is that the batting interface no longer requires the reflexes of Alex Rodriguez to manage. The new interface simply shows a darkened square where the strike zone is, and a cursor showing you where the ball is headed. The cursor that shows you where the ball is aimed at doesn't enable batting to be a walk in the park though, because if a pitcher throws, say, a curveball, the cursor will show the ball being outside of the strike zone until the very last second when the pitch finally breaks. This makes it so you'll have to watch the speed of the ball and pay attention to the count to figure out what's going to be coming your way. When you do figure that out it just becomes a matter of timing. If batting ever becomes too easy or too hard, you can switch between half a dozen difficulty options till you find the sweet spot.
If there's one problem that this new batting system has is that it's not very involving. Simply timing when the ball is going to come doesn't really overwhelm the senses, and while it's a fine improvement over last year's incompetent system it still pales in comparison when put next to other baseball games.
The comprehensive pitching system from last year's ASB returns in a slightly altered form, with different pitches being mapped to different buttons than they were before. Each pitcher still has different pitches they can perform, including niche ones such as the slurve. Players pick the pitch they want to throw, where they want to throw it, then let her fly. As the game goes on the energy meter each pitcher has will drain, and when the meter nears empty curveballs will start to not break and the accuracy of your pitches will become less reliable. Relief pitchers will lose most of their energy meter within a couple innings, while good starters can go almost the entire game.
The fielding system the game has is merely okay. ASB 2005 has ditched the wide-open camera shots of the playing field most games use when a blooper is knocked past the pitcher's mound. Instead, ASB 2005 has opted for close-ups on the defensive players the ball is going at, with an arrow pointing where you should guide your player. This system is quite possibly the weakest aspect of ASB 2005. When the system does work it robs the defensive plays of almost any strategy or challenge. The only time fielding becomes hard is when the camera screws you up, locking on to the wrong player or whipping around the camera so fast that you become disoriented.
When you're not playing an actual game you'll probably be toying around with all the other things the game has to offer. The points system from last year returns, offering devoted gamers extras after they play for a while. The Franchise mode is decent when it comes to depth, allowing you to perform the usual trades, drafting, and player improvement while you guide a team from spring training to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Franchise mode once again is not as deep as other games this year, making ASB 2005 not the prime choice for the simulation freaks out there. Finally, the trivia questions that pop up once every game return, allowing baseball history aficionados to get some kudos from the game in the form of extra points.
The interface this year's ASB uses isn't as attractive as last year's but its still workable. The player models and stadiums are detailed, but they don't look like a huge improvement over last year. Animations are pretty smooth, all though an unnatural looking movement will pop up every once in a while. Audio is sufficient, with the music supporting custom soundtracks (for every one like me who just loves to hear Mushroomhead play while Ichiro walks to the plate). Sound effects are realistic and immerse gamers in the illusion that they actually are spending a day at the ballpark.
All-Star Baseball 2005 has improved quite a bit since last year with significant improvements being made in many areas, most noticeably the batting interface. Unfortunately, All-Star Baseball 2005 still fails to impress when compared to some of the other stellar baseball offerings this year.
Alex is a biased, cynical jerk. So all of your assumptions of him giving your favorite game a bad review simply because he's been bought out by Nintendo/Microsoft/Sony/Joseph Lieberman are true. If you would like to bother him, email him at : email@example.com.