While the real boys of summer are still working out all their kinks in spring training, EA Sports has just released the latest installment of its long-running Triple Play franchise for the Xbox. The game tries to strike a balance between delivering an authentic baseball experience and being a fun game to play, which it does quite well. The only question as to whether or not it's the right baseball game for you depends on what you're looking for.
Triple Play 2002 delivers an authentic set of features that includes all the teams, players, and stadiums from the MLB. You have your choice of four different gameplay modes: exhibition, season, playoffs, and a home run derby. The game's season mode lets you play a 15, 30, 60, or a full 162-game season with multiple players. You can use the default roster settings during a season or create your own players in the game's create-a-player mode, or you can even initiate the game's fantasy draft to get a completely new draft of the league. All the players during season play are tracked in 31 different statistical categories.
Whether you'll love or hate playing Triple Play 2002 almost solely depends on the type of baseball game you like to play, since the game tests not only your understanding of baseball strategy, but also your reflexes and timing. The game's batting interface is a fairly standard targeting system that gives you control of a targeting cursor. To get a hit, you have to line up the target with the destination of the pitch and also time your swing just right to make contact with the ball. The pitcher's cursor can be hidden, which leaves you with little more than a guess and a split second, from the time the pitcher releases the ball till it hits the strike zone, to see where the pitch is headed. The size of the batter's targeting cursor is determined by the ability and stats of the virtual batter's real-life counterpart, which makes your chances of hitting the ball realistic for each batter. For instance, when a batter the likes of Barry Bonds steps up to the plate, you'll see that his targeting cursor is very large, which makes it fairly easy for him to make contact with the ball. But when a player like Randy Johnson, who doesn't have great batting skills, steps up to the plate, you'll see that he has an extremely small target, which makes it difficult to get a hit. The ball physics, specifically once hit, are a bit more gracious in the game than they are in real life. On the game's easier difficulty settings, the computer lets you find the ball more often than not, which results in an inflated number of home runs. On the game's all-star setting, however, you'll be challenged by the computer-controlled pitchers, who seem to always find a way to get the ball past your batter, which results in scores and home runs that are more akin to what you'd see in the real MLB.
Fielding and pitching are also very involving tasks. The amount of strength that a pitcher or fielder puts into throwing the ball is tied directly to the amount of time you spend holding down a button. Also, tapping the A button makes your fielder run faster so that you can get to the ball more quickly. These button-sensitive actions make you play the game as it should be played and occasionally penalizes you for not doing so. For instance, if the batter hits a grounder back to the pitcher who picks up the ball, in this situation you'd want to tap the button to make an easy throw for the easy out. However, if you hold down the button and send the ball rocketing off, there is a greater chance that the throw may be off or the first baseman may miss the catch.
Graphically, Triple Play 2002 is just about the best-looking baseball game you can get. The animations of the players running, diving, and throwing the ball all blend together amazingly well and really create a wonderful illusion of realism. Even the animations for the players' signature batting and pitching animations have been re-created quite authentically. Even if you don't know what Barry Bonds' batting stance looks like, you'll certainly be able to recognize him by his face, since one of the more impressive visual aspects of Triple Play 2002 is the faces of the players. More than 200 MLB players in the game are wearing 3D-scanned versions of their real-life counterparts' faces. The stadiums have been beautifully re-created with all the little extras that make each stadium stand out in real life. Aside from the extreme detail that brings these stadiums to life in the game, there's the sense of scale. All the stadiums truly look and feel very large--when the stadium first appears onscreen, you almost get the same feeling that you do when you first walk out of the tunnel to take your seat at a park and see how big it actually is.
In the audio department, Triple Play 2002 has had a major overhaul since last year. Buck Martinez, the Triple Play series' long-running commentator, has been replaced this year by Bob Costas, who now has Harold Reynolds at his side. The new duo offers play-by-play calls and much more insightful and professional commentary than before. The play-by-play calls are usually right on the mark, although every once in a great while you'll hear them say something that didn't happen, like a "deep shot to center." Overall, though, the commentary is pretty good. The sound effects and music are decent, the crowd reacts fairly accurately when the home team does well, and the game's stadium announcer sounds quite authentic.
In the end, Triple Play 2002 is a very fun baseball game to play. The game's great graphics, involving gameplay, and great commentary all blend together to deliver an exciting and authentic game of baseball. Whether or not it's the game for you completely depends on your personal preference. If you're looking for a game that is a little more realistic, All-Star Baseball might be a better choice. Nonetheless, a rental of the various Xbox baseball games on the market should quickly clear up any confusion you might have.