If all you're looking for in a baseball sim are handsome graphics and a good interface when playing in action mode, VR Baseball gives you everything you want.
The first thing most hardball fans do when they fire up a new baseball sim is try their hand at an exhibition game - and in the case of VR Baseball that means they'll get to see the best parts first. Provided you've got a 3D card, the graphics and animation in the game's action mode are some of the best yet in a baseball sim (though I did notice a major drop in performance when using a Verite 1000-based 3D card as opposed to a 3Dfx-based accelerator).
All 28 MLB stadiums from the 1997 season are accurately modeled here, and shadows for all objects (including pitched and hit balls) add that extra oomph of realism to make you feel like you're out on the field. Player animations are extremely smooth and lifelike: Batters tap the plate with their bats, outfielders can dive or leap to make a catch, and runners slide to beat out a throw. About the only graphical shortcoming is that except for various shades of skin color, no efforts have been made to distinguish individual players: Everyone's got the same Quake-style face, and you won't find any signature sartorial stylings such as Chipper Jones' knee-high socks.
VR Baseball continues the winning ways of its action mode by offering a high level of control. Up to six joystick or gamepad buttons are supported, and you can configure them as you like. What's more, you're able to affect pitch location using the stick or gamepad's directional - a lot more satisfying than simply picking a pitch location a la FPS: Baseball Pro '98 and watching the play unfold.
On defense, you have the ability to decide each outfielder's position; after a hit deep into the outfield, you can opt for a cutoff throw to the pitcher or shortstop instead of trying to hurl it to a baseman. On offense, you control all base runners, whether sending them for a steal or advancing them on a hit.
What this all adds up to is an exciting nine innings at the ballpark. Once you move past the action mode and into the role of general manager, however, you discover that all the good looks and exciting on-field action have apparently come at the cost of any attempt to simulate the vagaries and intricacies of playing a full season.
I can overlook the fact that the game uses 1996 statistics despite a December 1997 release date, but considering that all 1996 rosters were pretty much set in stone by August it's dumbfounding that VR Sports couldn't have gone to the trouble of having the announcer use each player's real name when he comes to the plate. Sure, this is supposed to just be the 3D hardware version of the game, but how much time would it have taken to have the announcer say the names?
But that's a trifle compared with the other stuff missing here. Let's say you actually want to put in the hours and play out each of your team's games in a 162-game season in action mode. Want to check out how many pitches your starter's thrown or access some type of fatigue meter to see how he's holding up? Tough - there's no way to see how tired your pitcher is or even see how many pitches he's thrown. Need to choose the perfect pinch hitter to win the clutch game? Good luck - there aren't any stats to show you how a hitter performs against righties and lefties, a crucial factor in making a substitution in a tight game.
In fact, VR Baseball is best summed up in two words: "You can't." You can't view rosters by position, only statistics by name - and if you aren't familiar with every player on every team that's not a big help. You can't move players to different positions - not that it matters, because there are no injuries. Yes, you heard right: No injuries! Want to alter the batting lineup to take advantage of a particular pitcher? The only way you can do it is to play the game out manually. Want to alter the bull pen? Again, you can't unless you play out the game manually.
And the sim sins don't end there. Trades are automatic, so you can pawn off the lousiest swatter for Barry Bonds in the blink of an eye. Custom leagues and schedules? Forget it - all you can do is play out the 1997 season (with the previously mentioned encumbrances, of course), which eliminates any possibility of setting up a 1998 league to accommodate the two new expansion teams.
Want to edit a player's stats to reflect his real-life condition? Sorry - you can't. View an instant replay from the nearly infinite viewpoint the game offers? You can't. Want to play someone via modem? You can't. Want to play over a network? You guessed it - you can't.
Those last two flaws are almost inexcusable, especially in light of FPS: Baseball Pro's remote league capabilities; when a game released in the last month of 1997 only offers head-to-head play on the same computer, about the only conclusion you can draw is that someone just gave up on the idea of human-versus-human play altogether.
If all you're looking for in a baseball sim are handsome graphics and a good interface when playing in action mode, VR Baseball gives you everything you want. Anyone longing for a serious attempt at simulating the trials and tribulations of a World Series championship hunt, though, will walk away from VR Baseball feeling unfulfilled.