All-Star Baseball 2003Swing, batta batta batta! All-Star Baseball takes a giant step forward in its quest for the best. Watch as All Star Baseball steps up to the plate and whacks a grand slam over the right field fence! Review inside. Just in time for the start of the baseball season, Acclaim has released the newest incarnation in the All-Star Baseball (ASB) seriesâ€”ASB2003. After last years less-than-stellar version (which was decidedly buggy), Acclaim and ASB make their bid this year to reclaim the spot stop the baseball simulation pyramid. The competition is rather fierce this year also, with both High Heat Baseball 2003 and Triple Play Baseball 2003 right on its heels. This year, however, Acclaim has fixed the majority of the complaints and returned the game to its dominant form. Once a great series on the N64, All Star Baseball is a reflection back on previous efforts that does much to compliment both the series and the genre. To start, ASB2003 is fully licensed by the MLB and MLBPA, which means it features all the major players and teams. Rosters are also quite accurate, featuring most trades effective since the beginning of February. Presentation is top-notch, including commentary, accurately recreated stadiums, and other novelties that recognize each other and tie together to create an excellent baseball simulation. Gameplay ASB plays very smoothly. Acclaim didnâ€™t have to massively change the game to make it better, but the changes they did make changed the series for the better, and they made it back into a World Series contender. Controls are quite simple: A, B, Y, and X throw to different bases, and white throws to the cut-off man. You can easily change from power swing to contact swing, and also direct where you want to hit the ball. You can also guess the pitch type and location for a better chance of getting a hit. The batting interface is one of the best Iâ€™ve ever used, and its easy to play, and very easy to shape whether you want to pull the ball, grounder, pop-fly, or hit to the opposite field. And you CAN do drag bunts (running bunts) to use the speedy Ichiro the way he was meant to be used. After hitting the ball, a fielding cursor appears on the field showing where the ball will land. You then must (in a 2 player game, your partner) move to the cursor to catch the ball. If it does manage to land, run after the ball, and use the buttons to decide which base to throw to. Itâ€™s easy to operate and fun to use in the end. The camera is also very intuitive. It zooms in on the batter during the batter-pitcher duel, and in on the ball as it flies through the field. Missing the ball because of the camera is no longer an excuse. The cursor, however, causes some errors because you actually need to be a blurb in front of the cursor, not right in the center. Now, after you finally catch the ball, ASB has many scenarios for you to work with. Fast balls fly by like lightning strikes in the midnight sky, pop flies float in the air, and line drives skim the field at a low horizon. Players have a variety of throwing speeds also, from quick and nimble to slow and blob-like. Many players even throw underhand, like Scott Brosius did before he retired. The A.I. of the game is improved from last year. To put it simply, last yearsâ€™ AI sucked. It was horribly glicthy, and to be honest, I havenâ€™t encountered a glitch yet. Throughout all the modes of play, including Quick, Exhibition, All-Star Game, Season, Franchise, Season, Expansion, Home Run Derby, and Trivia Game, I havenâ€™t encountered a problem. After you step up the difficulty, you will see its all very real. Pitching is now thinking about outsmarting the batter instead of just throwing a ball. Running, which you can choose to take full control of, is a challenge. I enjoyed the AI of the game greatly. Iâ€™m sure anybody, from casual fans to die-hard baseball jockies will enjoy the game also.
Graphics ASB has always been a great looking series. Even back on the N64, the graphics were extremely sharp. On Xbox, the graphics are quite amazing. The player models are accurately proportioned to their real-life representations. Randy Johnson and Derek Jeter are thin, whereas Mo Vaughn and Rafael Palmeiro look slightly more chunky. Faces on characters are also nicely rendered. All the big names (Jeter, Ichiro, A. Rod, Garciaparra) are carbon copies of the real thing. There are wrinkles in the uniforms, and all characters use their accurate accessories. Shin guards and arm pads are all in the gameâ€”Barry Bonds has his armor, Shinjo has his arm bands, Jeff Bagwell has his shin guard, as well as his odd batting stance. Animations are generally nice, but there are some problems. Throwing animations have some errors. Sometimes characters fail to reset themselves before they throw, looking like characters are flinging the ball from the opposite arm or direction. Itâ€™s rather odd, but the animation does get the job done. There are plenty of extra animations, also, including glove adjustment, brow wiping, and bat checking. Umpires signal safe and out at the appropriate times, and the base coaches are also fully animated. Yankees 3rd base coach, Willie Randolph, even uses his trademark â€œwindmillâ€ maneuver, signaling for runners to continue and round third. The stadiums are very nicely recreated. Iâ€™ve been to Yankee Stadium many, many times, and I can easily pick out where I sit. All the stadiums, fields, and domes are correctly remodeled and pay much attention to detail. Yankee Stadium has monument park, and all the retired jerseys and numbers painted along the wall. Itâ€™s all very impressive. All the stadiums look really, really good. Shea Stadium, which is really close to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, is notorious for its planes flying overhead, and YES, they are in the game! Kâ€™s are also strung along the wall after strikeouts. The overall atmosphere of the game is really very impressive. There are, however, some ugly things in ASB2003. Object detection is just flat-out bad. Sometimes balls scooped up in gloves will accidentally go through a players glove, and base runners often being tagged out because of improper timing. Sometimes youâ€™d swear you were safe or out, but the game calls another way because of faulty animation. It actually happens many times, also! Itâ€™s very annoying, and it should be fixed. Collision detection is also poor, or, for better use of the term, there is a lack of collision detection. Players run through each other, umpires, and base coaches without any physical punishment. Sometimes, on plays, the shortstop will walk through the pitcher or second baseman when catching a foul ball. Itâ€™s humorous, actually, but then again, this is a baseball SIMULATIONâ€”nothing is supposed to be funny about it. Sound Sound is usually two-fold in a baseball game. You have in-game sounds, and then you have commentary. The crowd sounds are very good; they all clap together, boo together, and cheer together at the appropriate times. Bats and broken bats make the appropriate CLACK sound they usually make, and the umpires yell STRIKE very loudly. Itâ€™s quite ambient and fits all together nicely. The commentary from Thom Brennamen and Steve Lyons is usually dead-on, but there are some times when all quirky call comes out of place. Lyons offers color commentary, and itâ€™s quite monotonous. I shut him off. Bob Brenly also comments occasionally, especially during the Home Run Derby. Too bad, because he is the least irksome of the three, and his voice talents could have been used elsewhere for a better effect. Iâ€™m not the biggest baseball game fan. I think they take too much time, and I feel its much more fun to go outside and just pickup a ball. Yet, I enjoyed this game very much. The gameplay, graphics, and sound all tie together to create a great baseball experience. Baseball fans, treat yourself to this awesome game and enjoy! --Matt Durrant