Regardless of how you feel about this latest edition in Sierra's Front Page Sports: Baseball Pro series, you have to admit one thing: It's obvious the company spent a lot of time and energy correcting the problems of the '96 edition. How much you enjoy the game, though, depends on what you expect from a baseball sim. If it's on-field action that gets you pumped, you'll probably be a little disappointed with BB Pro '98 - but if you're looking to take on the role of general manager and guide your favorite team to the World Series, there's no better game in town.
Probably the first thing you'll do when you load up BB Pro '98 is grab a joypad and fire up an arcade game (easier to hit and field) or exhibition outing (more realistic, though you can fine-tune numerous settings to make it less difficult). But just as with Sierra's Football Pro games, arcade-style play is not this game's strong point. The graphics, at least from the batter-pitcher perspective, are certainly decent - until you notice there's no option for a pitcher-batter perspective, and that, with the exception of skin tone, all the players are generic in the way they look, the way they step up to the plate, and the way they swing.
Sierra's CAMS system (which sets up viewing perspectives once the ball's been hit) has a powerful array of options for deciding what you'll see once you get some wood on the ball, but it's difficult to find a setting that works well all the time: The settings that look great are lousy for actually controlling players. The play-by-play commentary is minimalist in the extreme - limited to an announcer growling "Strike!," "Yer out!," and "Foul! - and you'll be left scratching your head when you see the catcher run up into the stands and over the flattened crowd to snag a pop-up foul.
On the up side, you do have a nice variety of managerial options available in the hands-on mode, as well as extensive control over pitching (type, location, speed) and batting (type of swing and area to look for the pitch). The game looks and feels a lot like real baseball - the animations are dead-on without looking canned and the ball physics seem to be about right.
So controlling the on-field action is a mixed bag - but that's certainly not the case with the league management portion of the game. Whether you want to control one team as owner and GM or become commissioner of an association in which other BB Pro '98 owners take charge of their own teams, this game provides the most flexibility, power, and versatility of any baseball sim you can buy. The detail is overwhelming: If you can think it up, there's a 99 percent chance that there's a way to do it. And the best part is that you can exercise as much or as little control as you want: A computer GM can be told to handle everything from free agent signings and draft picks to actually making the calls during a game.
Simulation results are credible, though there do seem to be an inordinate number of injuries (more on that later). To speed sim-only games, Sierra's added a "fast sim" option (you can't view highlights after a game) and a "one pitch" option that only displays the last pitch thrown to each batter (useful if you choose to watch a game being simmed out). A remote manager option allows you to compete with fellow BB Pro '98 owners remotely - a wonderful feature, except the lack of modem support means the only way to play head-to-head against fellow league members is at the same keyboard.
Don't like the way players respond under computer control or the way the ball bounces and rolls on turf? There's a feature to insert a file named PB.INI in the Baseball Pro '98 directory that lets you set those factors and dozens more just the way you like them. It gives you control over how the computer GM will react in six defensive and four offensive situations, allows you to change five parameters that determine when substitutions will be made, alter ten physics factors, set the pitcher and batter AI along with fielding and running abilities - and that's not mentioning all the sub-categories that affect the overall sections.
Some might say this is Sierra's way of letting consumers fix "bugs" - but no matter how you design a baseball sim, there will be people complaining about how players or computer managers respond in situations or how the ball behaves, and this is the closest you can come to pleasing all the people all the time. If it looks a little too complicated for you, check out the PB.INI file at the (you'll also find several other files that alter other aspects of the game such as the number of injuries or players being released into free agency.)
There are a few more minor problems with BB Pro '98 - the Braves' Turner Field isn't included, and there's no way to set up two leagues with three divisions of five teams each to reflect the realignment of MLB teams after the arrival of next year's expansion teams - but they pretty much pale in comparison to all the things the game has to offer. For hard-core baseball fans, Baseball Pro '98 dishes up everything except World Series tickets.