Last year's release of High Heat 2000 exists as an example of one of the worst PlayStation sports titles ever released. Unlike its PC cousin, the PS version was visually offensive, sounded abhorrent, and lacked any semblance of decent stat keeping. Undaunted, 3DO is back with this year's update, Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001. With a year's worth of mistakes to learn from and the addition of Sammy Sosa's namesake, the 2001 release aims to offer baseball fans some modicum of redemption.
As is true with every other console baseball title, you can choose from exhibition, season, home-run-derby, play-off, and player-editing modes. Do you want to create a seven-foot-tall power hitter and unleash him on the opposition? High Heat 2001 gives you the tools to do so, provided you don't mind replacing an existing major leaguer. Infamous to the High Heat series, family mode lets you play a quick game with the most forgiving of settings, making itself useful for those times when you have nonfanatic friends as your competition. Getting started is easy, the menus are concise, and the control interface is excellent.
Depending on the simulation level you choose, batting, pitching, and fielding are tailored for various skill levels. On the lowest setting, a single swing sends the ball flying, and pitches require minimal effort in the presence of computer-assisted fielding. At the highest setting, pitching becomes a nightmare of angles and speed, batting requires painstaking precision, and fielding is nearly as difficult as the real thing. Though there are four levels of simulation, only the lowest and highest differ noticeably from one another. Regardless, High Heat 2001 offers precise control, responds quickly, and executes about ten times faster than last year's release.
If there's any drawback to gameplay, it's not the controls or game mechanics but the lack of decent artificial intelligence. Without tricks, the game's four difficulty settings let you square off against a balanced computer opponent at your own skill level. Unfortunately, Team .366 left the game vulnerable to two of the oldest tricks in electronic baseball history, the low curve and the double-steal attempt. Regardless of difficulty level, the CPU will strike out time after time to curveballs low and away. Furthermore, if you get a man on first and a man on third, you can usually send them running and manipulate the CPU into giving you an extra base or an added run. Unless you're the type of person who can avoid such shortcuts, you'll be destroying the AI by 30 runs in no time.
Visually, High Heat 2001 improves upon the previous release in hundreds of minor, albeit necessary, ways. Characters resemble human beings this year, and though they lack in polygons, they even animate with some level of realism. Stadium visuals, while remaining blocky, are also improved. Whether you play in Safeco Field, the Sky Dome, or the Ebbots Field of yore, at least the environs resemble their real-world counterparts. The polygon count is still a bit low, and the action does get blocky at times, but compared with last year's release, High Heat 2001 is beautiful. One has to wonder, though, why are the bases recessed into the field? It's silly to note that the developers couldn't spare an additional 20 or so polygons for realistically detailed bases, especially considering how wonderful the PC version looks.
While Team .366 spent some time fixing the game's visual problems, the audio is still as sparse and uneventful as ever. Ted Robinson's play-by-play is repetitive and sleep inducing, sound effects lack enthusiasm, and the spectators drone on with a crescendo reminiscent of bad opera. Electronic Arts and 989 Studios can make baseball games that sound exciting, so there's no excuse for the bland audio that Sammy Sosa High Heat 2001 delivers.
Although this game is not for everyone, it's safe to say that this year's High Heat will be a welcome addition to the game libraries of those who enjoyed last year's game. The gameplay is decent, many of last year's aggravating flaws are nowhere to be found, and the general feel of a baseball game is present. Unfortunately, the game's visual and audio quality remains far below what the competition offers, failing to bring about the same kudos that its PC counterpart is known for.