Hey folks, it’s baseball season again. And means it’s time to look at the latest and greatest baseball simulations on both the PC and console platforms.
Once again, I must ask the same question that I asked last year, when I reviewed High Heat 2002, and gave that game 5 Gems (actually 4 + on the PS2). Why is it that there are still a select few morons out there (yeah, I am talking to YOU, Game Informer) that still love to trash this series as opposed to weaker titles such as All Star Baseball? Deep down inside, I have to wonder if these people do not know how a real baseball game is played, and they seem to get off only on how many homeruns they can hit in a single game.
I’m sorry to tell you this, Acclaim/EA/Sega fanboys, but that is NOT how baseball is played for real. It’s true the number of home runs has increased dramatically over the past few years, as displayed by Mr. Greed himself, Barry "I stabbed all you Bucs fans in the back" Bonds and the 73 jacks that he hit last year.
But nonetheless, baseball is NOT only about home runs, and it seems like every year High Heat is the only baseball title available that keeps this fact true. For once, batters actually have to work the pitchers until they throw the right pitch. Runners now have to wait for the right time to steal, or perform the clutch sacrifice fly, and managers need to know when to play the percentages or perform the critical "double switch."
Fortunately, High Heat is able to perform all these functions, but in this case, this is the first year that I am able to test it out exclusively on the PlayStation 2. Previous seasons were tested out on the PC, with just a small helping of the PS2 version last year as a teaser. For my first true venture from the PC realm to the PS2 realm I was pleased to see how the game translated, but there were some features that I wish were carried over, but were understandable to be left behind in an initial release (home run derby, franchise mode, etc.) This year’s release adds some of the features that I wanted to see last year. The Home Run derby has been added, as well as a fun addition called the 2-on-2 Showdown.
Showdown features two players, a pitcher and batter, in a mini-game. When batting and pitching points are awarded for the types of hits or pitches, ranging from one point for a strike, groundout or single, all the way up to five points for a home run. For two people, this game can be a fun diversion from the already amazing and deep season mode.
Season mode is now as vast as it was on the PC version. Games ranging from 1 to 162 can be played for a season, and every minor detail can be altered. Also arriving from the PC game is the opportunity to alter the simulation factor based on stats, or to make the game an arcade-quality experience.
PC players have fallen in love with the High Heat series in the past due to its heavily customizable tune file, and for the first time, it is brought here to the PlayStation 2. Player attributes ranging from runner speed, computer hitting and power, pitch speed, and frequency of errors and injuries, can be altered through a set of sliders similar to those found in NHL 2002. I’m glad to see more games take advantage of subtle adjustments like this, and I wish more companies will follow up as well (are you listening to me, Visual Concepts?)
Previously the HH series received criticisms for its visual and audio presentations, but this year it’s getting closer to the level found in Triple Play. Stadiums now look better than before, but they still don’t feature true working scoreboards (save a PIP camera effect not found in the PC versions). Players are looking more like their real life counterparts, especially in the face area. However, with the possible exception of the Arizona Diamondbacks, every detail has yet to be authentic, particularly in the numbering on the jerseys. Maybe I’m being a little anal on this, but I always want the most authentic experience possible.
The game’s sound is about the same as before. On field and crowd audio are spot on, and the PA announcer does a good job as well. The play by play also sounds exactly the same as previous versions, with the exception of the color commentary. When Ray Fosse did color, he spoke way too fast in my opinion. Replacing him is Chuck Valenches from the Pirates minor league organizations, and although his lines are almost exactly the same as Fosse’s, his are easier to understand. Now if only they can get Lanny Fratarre to do play by play, I will be set for life.
Lastly, the most important thing I noticed about HH2003 is that, unlike the previous releases, this version is relatively bug free. Previous titles had disappearing players, glitchy audio, and the famous Wrigley Field bug (the ball would actually lose collision detection on slow grounders). None of that can be found this year, and that is definitely a step in the right direction.
My only big complaint about the game is once again, there is no dedicated franchise mode like there is on the PC. I really hope that this will be added next season, as it would make a near perfect baseball game all the more perfect.
But as it stands, High Heat is the only true baseball game that you will need on the PlayStation2. Don’t be brainwashed by what Game Informer says, as they are nothing but graphics whores who don’t care about true gameplay. Listen to myself and everyone else who picked this baseball game above all others, and be it known that I stand by the 5 GiN Gem rating so deserving of such a marvelous series.