A swing and a . . . hit?
Whipped from the still hanging hand, the fastball hurls itself to home plate. Cringing with velocity, it longs for the safety of a cushy catcher's mitt, but is met with the violent crack of Barry Bonds' bat.
Soaring peacefully while the world slides by, the ball falls towards the earth in a state of suspended grace, like a boxer's slow-motion descent to the canvas. The camera pans seamlessly to cover the moment, and a tear falls from my eye. I never knew 3DO had it in 'em.
Meanwhile back on the ground, slick players do the low-framerate jitterbug, while hopelessly inhuman announcers comment on the play. Some things never change.
And in 3DO's new High Heat Major League Baseball 2003, most things haven't since last year - which is a good thing. Aside from the much-improved graphics, two new play modes are the prime selling points of 3DO's latest pitch.
Batting Practice is a great idea that doesn't quite make it over the wall. The problem here is the extremely fast tempo. A minuscule amount of time separates a hit from a new pitch, and after practicing for about ten minutes, a player will be able to time pitches with slamming precision. Unfortunately, such a zone is undermined by the relatively slower tempo in actual games, making the best mode for batting practice the Exhibition mode.
Better guidance than "Swung too early," or "Swung too late," would have been very helpful for fine-tuning your swing.. It would also be nice if there were some sort of actual tutorial a la Madden 2002 instead of just pitch after pitch.
The other new mode is the 2 on 2 Showdown, which highlights two serious flaws in High Heat 2003 and baseball games in general. 2 on 2 Showdown is a quick game in which each team picks a pitcher and a batter. Each side pitches once and bats once (one inning is played). The pitcher pitches, the batter tries to hit, and the outcome is simulated by the computer. There's an interesting scoring system that awards points based on strikes, outs, and hits.
As opposed to a drawn out, nine-inning affair, business is settled quickly. Also, you don't have to field, which is attractive because fielding in baseball games is rarely good. While it would have been nice if they had found a way to make fielding fun, cutting it out of the picture seems like the next best thing. Way to swing, 3DO.
The rest of the modes are ubiquitous, which include an All-Star game, Home Run Derby, Playoffs, and Season. However, 3DO spices them up with a startling level of customization. Not only can you tweak your teams, but you can tweak the way the game is played. Want runners that put Willie Mayes to shame? Or how about CPU hitters that are barely strong enough to hold a bat? In any case, 3DO's extra options give High Heat 2003 enough bang to get it out of the old ballpark and into the new Mercedes' windshield.
Still, pitching in High Heat is about as exciting as a high pop-up. You pretty much just select the pitch and its placement, and watch your selection rocket toward the batter. Stamina also tends to play too large a part, with tired pitchers being ridiculously inaccurate. I'm sorry, but Randy Johnson should not be throwing into the dirt in the seventh inning.
Batting is decent in High Heat, but still can't compete with that in the MLB series. Aiming your swings bears inconsistent results (again, an explanation of the effects of aiming in batting practice would be very nice), and guessing the pitch type isn't worth the penalty incurred if you're wrong. While it's certainly nice to pick a fastball and blast it out of the park, you can easily hit homeruns without calling the pitch.
Attributing all fielding commands to the 'X' button is a bad, bad idea. Relying on the same button for essentially every maneuver leads to ridiculous errors, making what would normally just be boring frustrating as well. Just press 'X' and forget about catching that line drive.
The biggest improvement this year can be found in the graphics. High Heat 2003 is a major achievement for 3DO. While there are still some jaggies and lousy animations, the players look pretty good, the textures are nice, and the framerate is solid. The camera moves around smoothly, and from the angle it assumes right after a ball is hit, everything looks good. However, once the ball is thrown to a base the visual cuts to a close up of the baseman, which isn't nearly as flattering as the zoomed-out view.
High Heat's sound effects are standard for this not-so-new generation of games with jeering fans, realistic voices and decent batting sound effects. Dave O'Brien and Chuck Valenches serve up the latest rotten helping of poorly synched commentary. You can say that again! Y-Y-You can s-s-s-say that again!
While not the graphical grand-slam 3DO promised, High Heat 2003 is a fresh game, a better game than its predecessors and a worthy contribution to any digital slugger's collection. Play ball.