Even though it seems like the 2001 World Series was yesterday, a new baseball season is upon us and so is a new batch of baseball games. The latest from EA, Triple Play 2002, takes the straightforward approach in a game that should appeal to hardcore fans and newbies alike, though it's not the best baseball gaming has to offer.
Whereas the High Heat and MLB games are more batting-centric, the Triple Play series places pitching as the prime pleasure and good hits are relatively expensive. The only real shame with the game (outside of fielding, of course) is that there is no middle ground with batting and pitching - you're either master or servant, a stud or a dud.
Graphically the PS2 version is a step below the Xbox version, but still holds its own against other PS2 baseball titles. Though the anatomy of the character models may seem a bit askew, I find them a pleasing reference to the good ol' big-headed 8 bit days. Odd anatomy aside, Triple Play 2002 looks uniformly clean and smooth, with good player animations, no jaggies, great fields and usually good scene splicing.
Of course, there are a few graphical fouls, like occasionally choppy ball movement during big hits and fielders who have static animations. Sure, they look good throwing and running, but the transitions are stiff and the default stances don't look alert enough.
The game includes only the most common modes: Single Game, Season, Playoffs, and Homerun Derby. However, within each mode are a plethora of options, from creating new players to choosing fields to fantasy drafts.
While the options don't necessarily go above and beyond what you might find in any other baseball games, there are certainly some nice touches to be found. For example, in the Create a Player mode, you can choose between several batting stances, all based on the stances of real MLB stars.
The real focus of any baseball game is the pitcher/batter duel. As the pitcher, you have a little ball cursor to move around which designates where the ball will be thrown, although you can influence the trajectory of the ball with the left analog stick after it leaves your hand. By pressing R2, you can make the cursor disappear, making it a lot harder for the batter to predict where your pitch will wind up. Against a friend, the hidden cursor makes for some very tough pitcher/batter battles.
Pitching might be somewhat basic, but it's better than the batting. Unlike other games that feature Total Control Batting (the ability to guess pitch types before swinging, etc.), Triple Play 2002 is very bland. Your targeting cursor changes sizes depending on the skill of the batter in question. If the ball flies through a point in the middle of the cursor, you'll hit it super hard, whereas if you get a hit in the outlying regions of the cursor, you might get a base hit. Triple Play is fairly liberal with letting the ball slip out of the ballpark, but it's also ruthless when it comes to crappy ground outs.
The result is a batting system that's dumbed down a bit, but is actually harder than most. That's not a great combination.
Fielding is awful, but not nearly as bad as it has been in previous Triple Play games. The ball's trajectory is indicated by a series of yellow arrows, and a large, spherical shadow represents the ball's movement. However, the fielders seem to move really slowly and the whole press-a-direction-plus-the-X-button theme sucks. Throwing the ball to second (up on the analog stick) while running toward the infield (down on the analog stick) is way too awkward.
Also, Triple Play 2002 relies too heavily on pressure sensitivity. A power meter would improve pitching, while batting could use a button for slugging and a button for regular hitting. Oddly, stamina never seems to be a factor in the game for any of the players.
The sound is very good, with dynamic, varied crowd noises complete with hawkers, hecklers and announcements to prize-winners. The crack of the bat sounds lifelike and each pitch has a sound effect attached to it that enhances the illusion of velocity.
The play by play, courtesy of Bob Costas and Harold Reynolds, is well done, even though Harold Reynolds comes off a bit over the top. His wackiness is especially apparent when juxtaposed with Bob Costas' sober, calm delivery.
Aside from the typical Modes and nice details, Triple Play 2002 also contains some thoughtful DVD extras which include interviews with Bob Costas, Harold Reynolds and Luiz Gonzalez, a bit on motion capturing, and some "Making Of" footage. While the interviews are a bit dry, the motion-capturing piece isn't bad, and the "Making Of" segment gives you a glimpse of the people behind the game. Good call.
Triple Play 2002 is an entirely different take on the genre. Pitching is easy and fun, while batting is almost too difficult. The nice sound and graphics really save this game from mediocrity, leading to a game that's at least worth the price of a rental.