All-Star Baseball 2002 Hands-On

Acclaim was showing off the latest incarnation of its popular baseball series, and we got some time in with the first PS2 offering of All-Star Baseball.

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Acclaim Sports was eager to show off some upcoming installments in a couple of its major franchises at a recent press event held at the company's Austin, Texas, studio. Among the games presented was the next installment in the company's All-Star Baseball series. As the games that make up the All-Star Baseball line are among the company's most critically acclaimed, Acclaim not only has a lot riding on the upcoming installment's success, but it's also rightfully proud of the development team's recent accomplishments.

Acclaim's presentation began with an exhaustive exposition of the game's front end. Going for a more modern design, the game's interface seems heavily influenced by what is possibly the most notable trend in recent sports video games - the emulation of televised sports productions. The game's front-end interface is rendered in full 3D, and it's replete with all manner of audio and visual flourishes. Acclaim Sports is going for a cohesive look for all of its upcoming sports titles, so expect to see a lot of this type of interface.

After getting our hands dirty with the game, it's safe to say that it seems to be the most earnest attempt at a next-generation baseball game that we've seen yet. The game looks quite sharp; the player models - composed of about 5,000 polygons each and featuring over 300 unique face maps and personalized batting stances - look mighty impressive, and they animate quite well, considering that the game is still relatively early in its development. The stadiums are just as painstakingly rendered, made up of a hearty 30,000 polygons and packed to the brim with all sorts of life-imbuing details, including animate crowds, active dugouts, and fully functional JumboTrons. Topped off with tight dynamic lighting and environmental mapping (think reflective helmets) systems, All-Star Baseball 2002's visual package seems like it'll be the one to beat, come next season.

The meat and potatoes of the game also seem to be coming along quite well. Though the build on display has just reached beta form, the game was immensely playable. The pitching and batting interfaces - arguably the heart of any baseball game - seemed in top form. Returning is the ASB series' 3D cursor, which allows for precise control of your batter's hits. The cursor visually responds to the movement of the right analog stick, allowing you to affect the course of any ball connecting with your bat. Tilt the stick down, and the cursor will scoop out, resulting in pop flies; point the cursor straight ahead, and you'll let loose line drives.

Pitching was also a breeze. Each pitcher has a repertoire of throws at his disposal, each mapped to a face button. An onscreen reticle allows you to aim the ball, though it disappears after the pitch is executed. During the second or so that the ball travels to the plate, though, you're able to alter its course by a considerable degree. The result is a fairly dynamic pitching system that allows for momentary flights of instinct as well as pondered subterfuge.

The fielding game is the area of ASB 2002 that Acclaim needs to focus on most during the remaining stages of the game's development. The controls could be a bit more responsive, and the logic needs a small bit of tweaking. Acclaimed promised that both issues are currently being addressed, so we shouldn't expect them to be a problem come the game's release.

You can expect ASB 2002 to bear all the fruit of a MLB licensed game, including up-to-date rosters of all 30 teams and lifelike re-creations of their respective stadiums. The power of celebrity backing is not lost on Acclaim, either - the famous Derek Jeter's mug will grace the game's packaging, and the vocal talents of TV's Bob Brenly and Thom Brennaman will lead the in-game commentary. ASB 2002 will also feature a handful of extras included to appeal to die-hard fans of the sport, including the ability to play as the Cooperstown Hall of Fame team, which is populated by the likes of Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt, among others, and the inclusion of vintage team uniforms, which will capture the classic looks of bygone years.

Some of the more notable game modes include the all-star mode, which pits the best of both leagues against each other; the sim-like general manager mode, which allows you to trade, draft, and simulate entire seasons in seconds; and the create a player mode, which allows you to fashion your baseball stars by granting you the ability to fashion everything from their looks and batting stances to their game-related strengths and weaknesses.

All in all, it looks like All-Star Baseball 2002 is shaping up to be quite the package. Fans of video game baseball will no doubt be looking forward to its April release.

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