Hitting for the cycle.
Lately, my weeks have involved a mix of Miller Lite, weeping with rage while reading conspiratorial literature from inside a cardboard box, and playing lots and lots of baseball games.
While the literature is getting sort of repetitive (i.e. "They're all out to get you," "It's you they're all out to get," and "Duck!"), the baseball games keep getting better and better. In fact, Acclaim's new All-Star Baseball 2003 is one of the best I've ever played. With graphics smoother than an assassin's grin, more details than the back of a dollar bill and decent all around gameplay, All-star Baseball seems to be the marquee baseball title for the Xbox.
ASB 2003 has a bazillion modes. There's everything you'd expect, such as the ubiquitous Exhibition and Home-Run Derby as well as a highly detailed, twenty season Franchise mode. Then there's everything you would NOT expect, like three different styles of Trivia games. While sitting playing baseball trivia all night is right up there with watching Golden Girls reruns in my book, the fact that it's included and done well exemplifies the effort Acclaim Sports put into making All-star Baseball a frighteningly deep game.
And the fun doesn't stop there. There's also a Series mode in which you can play a seven game series with any two teams of your choosing, Batting Practice, the ability to create players and semi-customizable expansion teams and then play with them in any of the other modes, and an All-star game (the computer picks the stars while you control the lineups). Did I mention the player cards? There are 300. Be prepared to lose sleep.
The gameplay in ASB 2003 has all the aesthetic details you could ever want. While pitching, you can toggle between ten different tendencies for the infield and nine for the outfield. Have your shortstop and second baseman drop back or shift your whole infield shifts towards first base. Unfortunately, no matter how you format your players, fielding still sucks.
But at least it sucks to the same degree as most any other baseball game. Instead of a bunch of different buttons for things like diving and jumping, all maneuvers are handled badly by the lone 'R' button. You would think that in just pressing 'R,' your player would do whatever was necessary to catch a ball. But no, if it's high, he'll slide right under it.
Also, the game features the ability to press a button corresponding to a base before your player makes a catch, causing the player to throw the ball without wasting any time. However, if you do not press the button before the catch, your player will waste lots of time. Even if you tap the first base button immediately after a catch, the fielder will pause for a moment before making the throw, presumably to think about last night's drunken debauchery.
This weird duality of detailed control and inexplicable gameplay glitches pervades pretty much every aspect of the in-game experience. ASB 2003 has great handling, but the most random things happen. For example, if your player is chasing a ball that's bounced off a wall, the game will occasionally just cut off the play and go back to the plate. And then every once in a while, fielders will just throw the ball back and forth to each other repeatedly without being told to. Maybe they have OCD.
Pitchers seem a bit prone to tiring out. After about four innings of play, they have trouble accurately keeping balls inside the outskirts of the strike zone...which is a good thing for the batters, because a pitcher who can consistently place a ball in the corner of a strike zone is nearly impossible to hit. ASB 2003 uses a pitching and batting scheme similar to that found in the Triple Play series, with disappearing pitching cursors and sweet spots of various sizes depending on the prowess of the batter in question.
However, All-Star's scheme is better than that in Triple Play due to the accelerated tiring of the pitchers and a more forgiving contact rate with balls outside your batting cursor. The only thing I don't understand is why the pitcher can hide his cursor, but the batter can't. The fact that the pitcher always knows exactly where the batter is going to swing is ridiculous and gives the pitcher a serious upper hand until he begins to tire out.
ASB 2003 sounds fine with good effects, crowd noises, and unobtrusive commentators, but the game really shines in its graphics. It looks amazing. This game is a testament to the superior power of the Xbox with fluid animations, a rock solid framerate and instant replays that look just like television. There are occasional collision flaws like balls being thrown through players, but overall, this is the best looking baseball game on the market.
While not without its random defects, All-star Baseball 2003 is an impressive baseball game. Smooth graphics and a slew of modes and features make this a game Xbox baseball fans won't want to miss.