Ultimate Baseball Online - PC - Preview
The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, a white baseball streaking toward the fences against a clear blue sky – ah, the joys of baseball.
The good folks at Netamin had an idea that could well revolutionize the way baseball games are looked at and played on the PC. Ultimate Baseball Online is sort of like a massively multiplayer role-playing game, but instead of fighting off monsters, you are battling pitchers. Instead of defending castles or keeps, you are trying to keep the ball in the park against some of the big sluggers currently residing in the beta of the title.
Yes, this is a game that is in beta, and yes, it has a lot of bugs and issues that prohibit it from being a realistic and smoothly flowing game. But the core is there, and in time – hopefully – the other elements will also be there. If all that comes to fruition, expect UBO to be an incredible online sports experience.
For those interested, the game can be downloaded at http://www.ultimatebaseballonline.com.
The game mechanics are a little rough, but rather than dwell on the lag and other issues that can interrupt the game play, let’s instead look at what the game offers. You begin by downloading the game and registering for an account. Then you go into the character set-up screen and create a ballplayer. No real Major League Baseball uniforms or teams exist, and while leagues will be available in the future, for now you can either practice with your avatars of indulge in pick-up games. More on that in a moment.
Your avatar has certain traits that can be worked up. As you play, you can earn experience points, which can be allocated toward improving skills – like run speed, your catching area, arm strength, power, et cetera. You also advance in levels and earn points that can be allocated in certain areas. For example: you get your avatar to level 2 and earn a point to spend. You can spend it in the pitching area (if you are a pitcher and want to make your range of pitches – which increase as you bolster the skills – more effective, you can invest there), or say in the batting area. The batting area is broken into nine zones and you can increase your power zones up to a maximum of 15 skill points per zone. You will not be able to become the consummate hitter in every zone.
Avatars can be male or female, and you can customize them to a certain degree and put your name on the back of the jersey. Once you have your avatar, time to head for the field or to batting practice.
The game uses a combination of mouse and keyboard controls. To bat, you position the mouse cursor where the ball will enter the hitting zone, and left click to swing. Right click allows you to adjust the amount of power you wish to use. The more power, the more precise the swing must be. The less power you use, the wider the cursor target area. If you manage to hit the ball, you use the keyboard to run the bases.
Fielding is a different proposition. You use the keyboard to move your avatar, and then hold left click on the mouse to catch the ball. Release the left mouse button, use the keyboard to target where the throw is going, and then power up your throw with the left mouse button. Unfortunately, this takes time to do and if the base runner has any speed, a routine infield grounder won’t result in an out at first base about half the time.
Players can play any position on the field, but if you have a pitcher that is getting shelled, too bad. So far the game has no option to replace a pitcher. And should your pitcher lag, or otherwise drop, it’s game over.
Ultimate Baseball Online has some grand plans for the future of the game, but this is a title that is rather raw in places at the moment. The community is made up of a finite amount of players, and you generally see the same faces in game after game. The chatter on the screen can get a little rough, and though there is a chat filter in place, players can get around it easily enough.
The game has some rather silly fan banter, a redundant ‘tomahawk’ theme and that tired ‘charge’ musical encouragement. Graphically, the environments do look a little like colored concrete, but the animation is rather good at this juncture.
UBO has the potential to take the genre in an amazing direction, and to be a terrific game experience. It has a lot of issues to work through, but that is why it is in beta. But right, while still growing, this is an addictive game experience that eats up the hours quickly. UBO has the core elements in place, now it needs tweaking to transform it from a good idea to an amazing online gaming experience.