"It's a Triple Play...unnnnbelieeveabble!"
The announcer sure got that one right about Triple Play. Finding a game this good is about as rare as the real thing.
When turning on my Playstation, I was expecting the next level from World Series baseball, which is essentially saying that in a short loading time of about, umm, 40 seconds. I was expecting to be introduced to the greatest baseball game ever. After the amazing FMV intro, I was thinking maybe along the lines of the greatest sports game ever.
While that might be a stretch, it definitely warrants itself a spot in that Great Debate for another day. Meanwhile, Triple Play '97stands as the new symbol of baseball excellence anywhere, which is no small feat, since the Playstation has been gushing out games faster than a horny rabbit has babies. Hardball 5, Bottom of the Ninth, Bases Loaded '96, and Frank Thomas Baseball have already been released prior to Triple Play. Not to mention the delay-plagued MLB Pennant Race, Grand Slam '96, 3D Baseball, and the much anticipated MVP Baseball due out for future releases this fall.
Triple Play '97 has taken World Series Baseball, a dramatic step forward in terms of everything. The gameplay, which is a bit more arcade than Hardball 5 or World Series, but not as fast as say Bottom of the Ninth, is what sets this game drastically apart from all others. When a game has such outstanding features as this one does, and also widely outdistances the competition in gameplay, you know you have something special. The controls have been tweaked almost to perfection. With the choice of aggresive/conservative controls for things such as hitting, running, and throwing, gameplay really opens up.
Starting with the offense: the hitting control is unbelieveable. The controls are precise to the nanosecond, which is absolutely necessary for the strategy employed for sucessful hitting in the game. Four factors control the way you hit the ball -- more than the traditional "time-the-pitch" routine where the ball flies randomly. These factors are: pitch type/location, your stance, your position in the batter's box (unlike Triple Play like for the Genesis, you can finally move around in the box), and the timing of your swing. Factors such as wind, and agg./con. controls also influence how and where you hit. These intricate factors focus on logic and strategy rather than luck. For example, lets say you have a tie game, with a runner on third and one out, and you want to hit a sacrifice fly to right deep enough to get the run home. Well, you can stand closed (to go to opposite field) or normal, depending on the pitcher's right or left-handedness, guage the force of the wind to, or away from right, adjust your stance (depending on the degree you want to hit it to right), or time your swinging early or late, either aggresively or conservatively. These expansive options really help the gameplay, and add a new dimension to the strategy used in the game. Despite all these controls, the learning curve is not really that steep once you learn the mechanics.
The aggresive/conservative options are also godsends, for the added degree of strategy they add to the game, and the fun of learning how to control them reasonably well. The aggresive, or "homerun" swing, is usually responsible for booming homeruns, and hard liners off the wall. It is also responsible for virtually every pop-up you'll get, which is what usually happens when you don't catch the ball in just the right way. The conservative, or "normal" swing will get you most of your basehits, and allows more control as to where you hit the ball, but offers few homeruns (or pop-ups), wjich are needed sometimes in late game situations.
These are not the only situations in which aggresive/conservative control toggling make a difference in gameplay. Aggresive sliding will usually better your chances by half to be safe -- and also better your of being injured by half. Aggresive/conservative throwing also make a difference in gameplay with simalar riskes and strategies involved. As for features, Triple Play '97 is top of the line. The Virtual Stadium technology gives a very real TV-like effect to the visuals. The stadium flybys are the most breath-taking effect in any sports game, with an appearance comparable to the superb FMV intro of Resident Evil (my 8-year old brother thought it was an ESPN commercial or something). The accuracy of the true to life stadiums is scary. You still have to hit the ball a mile high to get it out of Fenway, and a mile far to clear the 23 ft. fence at Joe Robbie (Marlins, not Dolphins), or battle the raging winds at Candlest. . . err, 3 Com Park. Wrigley Field, Coors Field, and Fulton County Stadium are (just like their real life counterparts) the league's best hitter's parks.
Triple Play '97gives you the typical features of any good sports game: trading, season play (you can pick up to 6 teams at a time at a time making for great multiplayer leagues), stat tracking (sigh, finally) in HR's, RBI's, Batting Average, Slugging Average, At Bat's, Games, SB's, Doubles, Triples, ERA, Wins, Saves, and Winning % (with League Leaders in the underlined catagories). There are Rookie, and Pro (should be All-Pro, compared to rookie) difficulty levels, and a Manager (non-playing) mode, for when you just get too good (or too bored, which is highly unlikely). There is finally (thank goodness!) a Create-a-Player feature, which EA Sports actually improved over the Genesis version, where attributes were dependent on the "how-well-the-computer-liked-your-name" method. Here you can sort and edit player attributes before you create the player (though for some reason, not after), as well as make 25 new players per season, keeping you well occupied. Though lacking in the extremely customizable options of Hardball 5 (who doesn't), Triple Play has more than enough to keep you busy.
The sound is beautiful, and complements this game perfectly. There are 3 different kinds of music depending on your musical tastes: rock, jazz, and acid-jazz[?!]. The SFX/BGM, and crowd noise are well done, and are important to gameplay, as you will find out when timing your pitches. The announcer is unreal (in the good sense), sounding about as close as any game's ever gotten to the real thing. They announce every player's name (except created players). They even update your progress as the game goes on, with tidbits like, ". . .he struck out in the 3rd. . .", or ". . . McGwire has two home runs already in the ballgame. . . " It is truly an amazing experence.
Graphically, this game is top of the line, equal to the superbly animated standards of World Series, or NFL Gameday, but with those amazing stadium flybys, Triple Play is a notch above the rest. The players don't get too pixelated except when batters get too close to the screen, which of course, should be expected. Players are even made proportionate to their actual size, as when batting with Randy Johnson, his 6'10" frame will extend to almost the top of the screen, and Frank Thomas's mammoth frame definitely puts the Big in Big Hurt.
Now for the, uhh. . . "negatives", if that's what you want to call them. This is always the most difficult part of a game like this. One thing that is not necesarily a minus more than a thoughtful suggestion (hint,hint) is that I would have liked to see something comprable to the broad list of options in Hardball 5. For example - it's annoying when your loudmouth padna comes over, talking major head, and you pick the Seattle Mariners - snickering to yourself, already going over his eulogy in your head, when you come to remember Alex Rodriguez still a .232 hitter with 5 homers, and Griffey still packs just an average wallop, even with 17 homers to his credit. Without the option to edit existing players, you can do nothing to change it (double hint). Also the absence of ratings gets annoying at times. Having actual stats is cool and all, but when does John Vanderwal's .342 average as a pinch hitter make him a better player than Spike Owen's .232 as a starter on the same team. For novices, this can prove confusing trying figure out why Matt William's 23 homers pack twice the wallop of Jim Thome's 25.
With the controls, I only found one slight problem. When directing the infielders, you cannot dive sometimes, or have to hold down the button to do so. This occasionally gives the computer "guaranteed singles" because the infielder won't do anything. It is a rare occurence, though, and a minor complaint compared to the vast upside this game has to offer.
But then again, remember, most of these "complaints" are directed at the game company (EA sports) as improvements for next year's version rather than as harsh criticisms on the game. But since this is as deep as my complaint list goes, it's a definite indication of what kind of special game you have here. Bottom line, this is one of the best baseball, heck,... sports games to come along in years. If you are looking for a baseball game this the standard by which all other baseball games will be judged (except perhaps World Series II).
Although Triple Play '97 is this good, I won't call it the best baseball ever, but the best baseball yet. This is still the All-Star break of baseball gaming, with World Series II, and MVP Baseball lurking ominously just below the horizon. Although Triple Play '97 is out to an early lead in the (32-bit) division, there's a long half of baseball still left to go. . .