Now featuring actual baseball!
Last year's WSB 2K1 was a letdown. Okay, maybe that's an understatement - WSB 2K1 sucked. Dreamcast baseball fans got shafted when the only game in town turned out to be the worst thing since paper cuts.
So a season goes by and a new game is out. This time, WSB is being handled by our beloved Visual Concepts, the same team that brought us the NFL 2Ks and NBA 2Ks. Seeing how this year's edition couldn't possibly be any worse than last year's "no fielding" fiasco, baseball fans made World Series Baseball 2K2 quite the highly anticipated sports game.
Well, I have good news! This game doesn't suck! But I also have bad news. It's not that much better.
Rather than build on flawed materials, Visual Concepts decided to rebuild2K2 completely from the ground up. What you see and hear, though, is not a whole lot different than last year's model.
The graphics aren't bad, but plenty of details are still missing. Players' faces generally aren't very accurate and the crowd is pretty bad by today's standards. Field textures are generally decent, but anything over the wall (including the *ahem* "sky") sports just enough quality to get by. The stadiums look good, but the player animations do not. A mixed bag through and through.
Audio is handled adequately with the good ol' crack of the bat intact, but our announcer still has…the…weird pauses…and voCAL infLECTions. I just wish they didn't play the chicken dance so often…
There are six flavors of game mode: Exhibition, Quick Start, Season, Playoffs, Home Run Derby and Franchise. There's really no explanation needed here, since they are all exactly what you'd expect from a baseball game - nothing more, nothing less.
The meat of WSB 2K2's gameplay is similar to last season, except you can actually play defense now. You still use a cursor to track the ball while batting. At least this year, you'll know what pitch you're throwing without consulting a manual thanks to the onscreen prompt.
WSB 2K2's stat tracking is also very good, giving you all the info you'll ever need about your players. You can even monitor and call up guys from the minors in Season mode. A nice touch.
One of the cool features of the home plate battle is the batter's box stats. You can see each batter's hot and cold zones as well as the exact placement of the last few pitches. Pretty handy information to have on both sides of the ball. You'll also notice the best of WSB detail behind the plate. Batters carry unique stances and pitchers generally throw the way they do in real life. It's definitely a step up from last year.
But while the battle before the hit is solid, the battle on the field leaves a lot to be desired. Don't get me wrong; some fielding is better than no fielding, but flawed fielding is still not okay.
The worst is when there's a well hit grounder. Since the game generally has you controlling the man closest to the ball, a powerful ground ball can have you controlling three different guys in a split second. While any number of bad things can come of this, it usually means that the ball will streak into the outfield on what would otherwise be a routine out.
Another frustrating bit about the fielding is the way the computer will cheat. You'll hit a rocket four feet over a fielder's head only to watch it magically change directions right into the CPU fielder's glove. If this is AI, then I quit.
And the wackiness doesn't stop there, folks. While testing out the handy instant replay system, I noticed that batters never actually hit the ball. I have yet to see a bat and ball make contact. Rather, the ball just sort of takes off right when the swing begins. Pure magic, I tell ya, pure magic.
But wait, there's more! In one extra special moment, a fly ball bounced off the ground and into a fielder's mitt for the out. A clearly dropped ball was somehow "caught." Frustrating, very frustrating.
While I agree that there should be some graphical leeway for catching a fly ball, I don't think that the level of detail should be that far off. Just look at Visual Concepts' other 2K games. You've got plenty of guys running around interacting with each other onscreen at once while WSB 2K2 can't handle a single fielder and one fly ball. Twelve guys run into each other in NFL 2K1 and one of catches the football directly in his hands, but a simple pop fly in WSB 2K2 results in horribly skewed detection. The problem is a complete mystery to me.
Still, WSB 2K2 does manage to keep some of its dignity with the online play feature. Lag can be a serious problem if it hits you during the middle of a pitch, but otherwise it plays pretty well.
After spending long, sleepless nights with this year's version of the national pastime, it's clear that World Series Baseball 2K2 has taken a step in the right direction. It's still not quite All-Star material, but it probably won't be sent back to the minors.