A swing and a miss.
Well, baseball season has ended and the ground outside is beginning to freeze over. Quite an interesting year, don't you think? Bonds broke the home run record, the A's managed to lose both the playoffs and Giambi to the Yankees and Acclaim has decided to ship All-Star Baseball 2002 over to the GameCube. Bet you didn't see any of those coming…
The All-Star Baseball franchise has been around for some time. But while Acclaim has managed to deliver some insane pitches in the past, they certainly dropped the ball for this season. With plenty of AI faults, some bad camera work and the most boring announcer this side of Fenway Park, someone needs to make sure this error is recorded.
The front end is familiar, with enough modes to keep you busy until next season. There's Quick Play (with computer selected teams), Home Run Derby, Batting Practice, Team Management (the fantasy draft), and MLB Play. MLB Play breaks down into even more modes including Exhibition, Season, All-Star Game, and Series. Take each of those modes, slam them together and you get a whopping total of eight modes. That's more baseball than you'll ever need.
There are a few other nice little bits, including Hall of Fame Teams and a Player Creator. If there's one thing ASB 2002 has going for it, it's thoroughness.
At first, the gameplay seems decent enough. Pitching is made comfy with ye olde pitching cursor for you to move around on screen and, as usual, different buttons throw different player-specific pitches. Some pitchers have more to choose from, some have less. It all depends on your man.
Batting is just as simple with a triangle-shaped batting cursor hovering over the plate. Just hit the big green button and smash away or just hit 'X' and give that little round sucker a bunt. One nice feature of the batting game is the ability to tilt the batting cursor. This makes it much easier to hit the grounder or fly ball you're going for. You can also hold down the 'R' trigger and try to guess at the next pitch location. Guess correctly and you just might be the hero. It's all really easy to handle due to the simple, intuitive control.
I just wish things were always as simple as they seem, because once you get into the game, you'll only be dealt a decent hand that gets screwed by one of the game's numerous faults.
Easily the most annoying problem with ASB 2002 is the lame AI. The outfielders must have passed through Dr. Frankenstein's lab, since they seem to be missing any type of brain matter. Picture this: A ball flies out down the left field line and manages to go over the head of the left fielder. The ball rolls to a stop in the corner and the left fielder stops cold. I'm not sure if it's some kind of sensory overload or the "sun" getting into his eye, but the LF just stops and stands perfectly still. This leaves the ball for the center fielder, who has to come trotting over to the 3rd base line from half a field away. Brilliant.
Outfielders often stand by as pop flies drop at their feet. This even happens during night games, but I bet it was that pesky "sun" again. Who let their brains out?
Equally frustrating is the game's camera work. Just forget about catching foul balls because you'll never see which player you're controlling. The baseline cameras almost never include fielders. You'll just have to get lucky in order to swing someone over in time.
The visuals are nothing special, featurng very plain stadiums and the occasional disproportionate player. The player modeling is subpar. Everything just looks drab. Even the bizarre cut-out crowd looks bored. Make sure have a few pillows handy.
Keeping with the whole dull theme is the announcing, which is as boring as the visuals. You'll hear the occasional player factoid or update on the game, but absolutely nothing else. No color, no excitement, no fun. This is partly due to having only one announcer, I guess, which was a bad design decision.
The only bright spots are some of the player animations. Several of the catch animations are pretty smooth and add realism, particularly when they flow into one another. I once witnessed two fielders going for the same ball with one jumping over the other to make the catch. Pretty neat.
But once again, the good is mangled by the bad, as the transitions between animations stink. Even scooping up a simple grounder can get messed up. One second he goes to pick up the ball, the next there's a jerk and the player is magically lined up for a ball that would have otherwise gone past him. This can lead to irritating moments of having to wait for the player to finish his cheap animation before he throws the ball, costing precious seconds and potentially ruining a play.
As it stands, All-Star Baseball 2002 is just a ho-hum game with some annoying AI and marginal presentation. Despite its plethora of modes, it's simply not very fun. This team must be in its rebuilding phase, since the greatness of past ASB games is nowhere to be found. Maybe next season they'll make it to October.