Let me ask you a question...
Do you like baseball? I mean, do you really like baseball? Because if you do, Sega Sports has given you a very special treat. It's called World Series Baseball '98
, and it's by far the best baseball game that I've ever seen. It's the most lifelike, the most competitive, and the most involving game to hit the stores yet.
In the past, there have been games that have had great elements; whether it was the graphics, the gameplay, or the little details. But a game that had it all wrapped into one hadn't been introduced. Until now, that is. It's very clear that the Sega Sports team did their homework in studying not only the players, but also the little details that make a baseball game so interesting.
Let's start with the graphics. To begin with, you're playing in the real stadiums, which are represented accurately and beautifully. While this hardly affects actual gameplay, it offers a nice touch of reality to the experience.
More importantly, the hitters all stand in their own realistic batting stances, and the pitchers windups and deliveries are impeccable. Last year, Crystal Dynamics' 3D Baseball made some big strides in this department. It was the first game to have the players pictured in this lifelike manner. The problem with their graphics, though, was that all the players looked alike. For instance, Cecil Fielder, who's about 300 pounds, had the same body type as, let's say, Joey Cora, who weighs in at about 160. That's a big difference. Sega Sports corrected that. Cecil's gut is now accurate, much to his dismay.
But the thing that World Series Baseball '98 excels at graphically is the pitching. Unbelievable. Every pitcher is represented in near perfect fashion. Someone like Hideo Nomo with an outrageous windup is lots of fun to watch. And that's saying nothing about the pitchers themselves, who come complete with their actual pitch repertoires. If you're pitching with Roger Clemens, then you've got his fastball in the mid 90s, and that nasty splitter of his. Tim Wakefield has a knuckleball that dances around the strike zone. And hitting Tom Gordon's curveball is like drinking coffee with a fork. You almost feel like a big league hitter, walking away from the plate shaking your head. Not only is this fun, but it's mighty challenging.
Maybe a bit more difficult, but equally interesting, is the hitting aspect of the game. For each batter, the game displays a "hitting zone", which shows you each player's strong and weak areas of the strike zone. The zone is divided into 4 quadrants. Each quadrant corresponds to a button on the controller.
Before each pitch, you have the option of selecting one of the four areas in which to concentrate your swing. If you pick the quadrant that the pitcher throws to, then your chances of making solid contact are increased. If you pick the wrong quadrant, you can still hit the ball, but you'll often hit a pop-up. And, in a situation when you only want to make contact with the ball, you don't have to pick a quadrant at all. While not choosing a quadrant may keep you from driving one out of the park, it makes it more difficult for the computer to strike you out and you have a better chance of hitting the ball.
As I mentioned before, it's the little details that make a game interesting. These are things you take for granted in a real game, but really notice in a video game. I'm talkin' about when a runner is charging to first, he doesn't stop on a dime on the base, like in most other games. He runs through it full speed, and lurches forward at the last instant to maybe beat the throw. I'm talkin' about foul balls hitting the backstop. I'm talkin about injuries, and rain delays, and throwin' the ball around the horn, and the 7th inning stretch, and a wild pitch, and the 6-4-3 double play, and the suicide squeeze, and up to the minute batting averages, and the minor leagues.... I think you get my point. These are the things that turn a good game into a great game, and make you feel like you're really there!
But as with all things, my friends, nothing is perfect. The game actually has its share of problems. To begin with, all sports games must have instant replays! I repeat -- All sports games must have instant replays! Especially when you have the capacity to make the great plays like you can in this game. Hey, why can't I see Mike Piazza's swing in slow motion? Or that devastating slider of Randy Johnson's that nips the outside corner. Or that catch by Griffey over the center field fence to rob Cal Ripken of a homer. Why did they leave them out? I don't know. I just don't know.
Yet I've gotten over that. But what's impossible to overlook in the age of the free agent is the inability to trade players to and from teams. It's just an absolute necessity. Players switch teams as frequently as ever, and as a result, this brand new game is already somewhat outdated. Dozens of players have already been traded since Sega Sports finished making the game. So, for the entire time I own this game, Mark McGwire will be on the A's instead of the Cardinals. Rickey Henderson, these days on the Angels, will forever be a San Diego Padre in World Series Baseball '98. Sorry guys, but that's a serious drawback in my book.
I also found the baserunning to be pretty tough. Definitely too tough to do manually the first several times you play. Until I got the hang of it, every time I tried manual, I lost almost every runner. That's why you should probably use the automatic baserunning option at first. But, be aware! The computer makes some unwise baserunning decisions, and you're gonna lose some runners.
Defense is a challenge also, but it's not as tough as running the bases. It's very difficult to judge where the ball's been hit right off the bat. So, you almost have to guess. And if you're wrong, the ball goes by you. As with baserunning, for the first couple of games, use auto fielding.
But that's pretty much it for the problems. Oh yeah, and the announcer is pretty bad. But I've yet to hear a really good video game announcer -- or at least one who doesn't become stale within the first couple of games. So I'll let that slide.
I think it's pretty plain to see that the positives outweigh the negatives by a landslide. So, if you're looking for a serious baseball game that you can really sink your teeth into, you have to try this one. Otherwise, stick to Nintendo's old RBI Baseball.
So I ask you again...Do you like baseball?