Last year, Triple Play 99 received the highest rating of all baseball games we reviewed. However, this was mostly due to the fact that it shipped first - by a wide margin - and therefore was compared with the previous year's baseball crop. Triple Play 2000 has no such luxury. As EA's newest baseball title hit the shelves, 3DO's High Heat Baseball 2000 was right there with it, and Microsoft Baseball 2000 was a mere two weeks behind. And while Triple Play 2000 is markedly improved over previous incarnations, it does suffer from a number of annoying glitches, oversights, and bugs. The good news for EA and Triple Play 2000 is that the competition has just as many problems.
The first new feature you'll notice in Triple Play 2000 is the drastically enhanced 3D engine. Though Triple Play 99 was easily surpassed by Microsoft Baseball 3D and VR Baseball 2000, this year's edition is by far the best-looking game in the baseball crowd. The superbly rendered players, with trademark EA details like changing facial expressions and gum chewing, are complemented by the excellent, accurate 3D stadiums and a host of lifelike animations. Batters flip their bats in the air after a strikeout, pitchers pump their arms after a K, and Sammy Sosa even does his trademark kiss to the sky after a home-run trot (no hop after the hit though - EA will have to address that in a patch). Of course, there are still a few oddities about the 3D engine. For example: Why can't this advanced rendering code draw names and numbers on players' jerseys without distorting them?
Looking under the hood, Triple Play 2000 might seem at first glance to be the same old game we've all seen and played for the past three years. This is not the case, however. The gameplay follows the same basic arcade-style formula, but it's obvious that EA has tried very hard to make Triple Play 2000 more realistic and challenging than its predecessors. In many ways, it has succeeded. A new hitting mode, which uses an aiming box and is basically a much slicker version of the one employed by Microsoft Baseball 3D, is a tremendous improvement over the old "up for fly, down for grounder" model. That simplistic system is still included for the game's rookie mode, but once you try the more-advanced hitting method, you probably won't go back. There's just something very satisfying about lining up that box perfectly with a low fastball. If you nail the ball just right, you are rewarded by an explosion sound effect that, despite being corny, can generate a bit of a rush. Why you are able to generate this sound effect on a long fly out is beyond me, however.
The game's new mouse-only control method is both good and bad. For pitching, it's excellent, as the screen overlay lets you pick your pitch and location with the utmost simplicity and precision. Batting, fielding, and baserunning with the mouse, however, are cumbersome and annoying.
Armchair managers may be disappointed to discover that the manage-only mode is gone from Triple Play 2000. But this was intended as a stop-gap method for playing the game over Internet links, so fans of the feature might be happy to discover that they can now play full-twitch mode over the Net. Performance is, as you might expect, unpredictable and often choppy, but it can be fun with a good connection.
Several problems from previous games have been corrected, such as a lack of triples. You still won't see all that many triples, but you will see them now. You can also pick off base runners in Triple Play 2000, though this actually becomes far too easy once you get the timing down. As for the AI, Triple Play 2000 is slightly improved over last year's version, but it still won't wow anybody with its crafty computer managers, base runners, or pitchers. Examples? Trailing in the bottom of the ninth with runners in scoring position, the computer will still let the pitcher bat. With the bases loaded - even with slow runners like Gary Gaetti and Mark Grace - the computer pitcher will still try to pick the runner off of first base. We're not talking about once or twice either; the pickoff attempts actually pile up into double digits on a regular basis, and it is easily the game's most aggravating and silly aspect.
Triple Play has never been a series for management fans and stat-heads, and this version will do nothing to change that. However, season play has been enhanced with a "smart trade" feature through which computer-controlled teams will offer trades during a season. Some of the offers are decent, some are ludicrous, but it's good to see that the human-controlled teams aren't the only ones making deals for a change. Also, you can still play a short, medium-length, or full season (unlike Microsoft's full-season-only nonsense), and you can tailor the game's difficulty settings to suit any skill level. In fact, this year you can make the game even easier than it has been in the past, and you can make it harder than it has ever been - a nice combination, really.
The home-run-derby mode, where none of the other baseball games can even touch Triple Play, is different this time around. Instead of the old ten-out system, you now play a head-to-head game between two players over nine innings, just like the old-time TV show you can catch on ESPN Classic when you're really bored. In the grand scheme of things, a home-run-derby feature is not the sort of thing that's likely to push a game over the top, but there's no denying the fun of Triple Play's homer contest (especially when you just want to get in a quick game with a friend).
One of Triple Play 2000's biggest drawbacks is the poor interface for some very basic features. Multiplayer game setup, for starters, is poorly laid out on the screen. Trying to find an Internet game in Triple Play 2000 is a lengthy and often frustrating experience. Similarly, the postgame statistics roundup is terrible. For one thing, the game does not generate a box score that you can look over as a whole - this is simply inexcusable in a baseball game. You can look at stats, but only one category at a time. For example, you can choose to see how many at-bats every player got, or you can see how many hits every player got, but you can't see both at the same time. Even when you look at the pitching stats after a game, you can't see who got credit for the win, loss, or save. League leader and team stat displays are a little better, but not much. Finally, when deciding on a starting lineup for each game, you can't even check your players' current season stats - you can only see how they did in real-life 1998.
Other notable flaws in Triple Play 2000 include a flaky stats engine that records some saves as complete games and lets computer players notch far too many complete games (while making it nearly impossible for human players to do so). Simulating five full-length seasons, the game seemed to get some things right (home-run leaders rarely exceeded 50, top pitchers rarely got more than 20 wins, etc.), but pitchers' strikeout totals were consistently too high, and batting averages often went through the roof. Larry Walker (whose career-high average was .366) hit over .425, and Greg Maddux (who has only reached the 200-strikeout plateau once in his career) threw at least 300 strikeouts in every simulated season. Add in 40 home-run performances from guys like Derek Jeter (career high 19) and Mickey Morandini (career total 29), and you can see that Triple Play 2000 is not a game you would want to use to simulate an accurate season.
So how does Triple Play 2000 stack up against this year's crop of baseball titles? In truth, it's still tough to tell. Each of the major games has at least one major selling point, and for Triple Play 2000 it's the simple fact that the game is a lot of fun to play. Yes it has a number of gameplay flaws and idiosyncrasies, and yes it's not a 100 percent-accurate re-creation of America's pastime. But no other baseball game is as much fun to play head-to-head for sheer bragging rights and power-hitting duels. If you crave the hard-core stats, realism, and strategy of the sport, however, make no mistake: You will not be happy with Triple Play 2000. But this is a great game for anyone interested in "baseball lite" with killer graphics.