All-Star Baseball 2003 is the best baseball simulation available for the Xbox, and it will satisfy hard-core fans of hardball.
The Xbox already has a wealth of sports games available, but baseball has yet to find a home on Microsoft's console. But that has changed with the latest installment in Acclaim's long-running baseball franchise, All-Star Baseball 2003. Once considered the finest baseball simulation available when it was released exclusively for the Nintendo 64, the franchise has slipped in recent years under its multiplatform guise. But with this year's outing, Acclaim has reclaimed the glory that the franchise once held by creating a game that is deeper than the competition in both gameplay and options.
All-Star Baseball can always be counted on to include a wealth of gameplay modes, and the 2003 version ups the ante with the inclusion of an impressive franchise mode. You can play for 20 consecutive seasons and allow the statistics to pile up while watching players retire, win the Cy Young award, get inducted into the Hall of Fame, and much more. You can also monitor your farm team and bring up prospects when they're ready for the big time, trade and release players, and manage salaries. If you're not happy with the current roster of free agents, you can always create your own with a simplistic player-creation tool. One issue concerning the franchise mode is that the schedule for each season is always the same, so it would have been nice if Acclaim had included a schedule randomizer to avoid this. Even so, the franchise mode in All-Star Baseball 2003 is the most thorough and realistic you'll find in any current baseball game. For those who enjoy a less arduous experience, there are plenty of other gameplay modes. The exhibition mode is available for up to four players, and you can choose from any of the 30 MLB teams, both all-star teams, and a legends team composed of all-time favorites such as Willie Stargell, Robin Yount, and Rod Carew. If you like to play with only the best, you can cut to the chase and jump straight to the All-Star game or World Series. The franchise mode may be a bit too much to follow for some, but the single season mode is a nice substitute. It includes all the same features as the franchise mode except statistics, and players do not roll over into the next season; plus, there's no need to scout prospects. As you perform certain objectives in the franchise or season mode, you are awarded points that can be spent to buy collectible cards. These cards can then be used to unlock hidden stadiums and teams. The home run derby may seem like nothing more than a fun diversion, but it really helps in coming to grips with the most difficult part of playing the game: batting.
All-Star Baseball 2003 retains the same batting interface as last year's game, and while it's incredibly deep, it's not easy to master. Like in most baseball games, a cursor system is used for pitching and hitting. Pitching is quite easy--you simply choose a pitch from the pitcher's real repertoire, adjust the pitch location with the analog stick, and press the A button to let it fly. The ball can be slightly manipulated while it's in the air, which can help fool the batter. However, batting is a bit more complex and much more difficult. Your batter's cursor is sized in relation to his batting average and his abilities against the particular pitcher on the mound. If you feel like you have a good handle on lining up your cursor, you can press the X button to swing for a home run. This makes the size of the batting cursor significantly smaller, but if you make contact with the ball, it's destined for the outfield fence. If you'd like to tailor your hitting to take advantage of holes in the defense, you can adjust your swing accordingly with the right analog stick or attempt to guess the pitch, which increases the size of your batter's sweet spot. While the options available to you when you're inside the batter's box are impressive, actually hitting the ball is far too difficult. Pitches come in way too fast, and to make contact with the ball, you have to swing a split second after the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. It doesn't leave much time to adjust the batting cursor before swinging, and it often results in balls going past the batter before he's had time to get the lumber off his shoulder. You'll eventually adjust to the speed of the pitches, but it can take several days of playing the game.