All Star Baseball 2004 Preview

We check out the Xbox entry in Acclaim's respected franchise.

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Fans of Acclaim's All-Star Baseball series should be excited for the latest game in the franchise, All-Star Baseball 2004, since it appears to improve on and fix most of the problems in last year's offering. The Xbox game is scheduled to hit stores at the end of February, but we've managed to get our hands on an early build that looks quite promising.

As you'd expect from a fully licensed Major League Baseball game, All-Star Baseball 2004 includes all the teams, players, and stadiums from the major leagues. But it doesn't stop there--All-Star Baseball 2004 also features a respectable number of historical teams and stadiums, as well as more than 110 legendary players, including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cal Ripken, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck O'Neil. In addition to the rosters packed into the game, Acclaim will be offering downloadable rosters so you can keep your virtual game of baseball as true to life as possible.

The series' graphics have been upgraded for the latest installment.
The series' graphics have been upgraded for the latest installment.

The game's front-end menu system makes use of a 3D representation of the offices of a professional baseball team. The effect works like the menu system seen in some DVD movies, where you make your selection and the camera moves down a hallway or into another area with more-detailed options. For example, if you are going into the game's franchise mode and need to take care of some managerial business, you'll find those options in a 3D model of a general manager's office. In all, All-Star Baseball 2004 features nine game modes, allowing you to do everything from simply jumping into an exhibition game with two teams of your choice to placing yourself in a specific situation in the game's scenario mode, which allows you to tackle 21 of the most talked-about situations from last year's season, such as trying to win last year's All-Star game.

The player animation looks good.
The player animation looks good.

All-Star Baseball 2004 will also feature a new pickup game mode that is set up so you and your opponent are given 18 randomly picked players to choose from. You take turns picking players until you both have full teams, and then you play a regular game of baseball, just as if you were playing at school or in a sandlot somewhere. Also new this year are a number of DVD-style extras that you can unlock in the game's scenario mode. Included with the extras is an incredible assortment of original interviews featuring commentary from Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter, and others. Another really handy new feature in All-Star Baseball 2004 is the ability to save a game at any point so you can come back to it later.

In terms of controls and overall gameplay mechanics, All-Star Baseball 2004 isn't dramatically different from its predecessor, but the series' gameplay has been refined to a certain degree. For example, the batting interface now has a number of parameters that can be adjusted so you can create the batting experience you prefer. So, if the game's default 3D cursor batting interface isn't to your liking, you can drop the 3D part of cursor, or even drop the cursor altogether to make the batting element a traditional timing exercise. You can even play games in which all the players involved are using different batting configurations.

The series' batting mechanic has been refined.
The series' batting mechanic has been refined.

The artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled players has been significantly improved since last year. Whether it's running the bases, fielding, or batting, the computer makes much more intelligent decisions. When trying to make a play yourself, you'll find that it's much easier in this year's installment, as the controls have been tightened up quite a bit. For instance, the batting cursor moves a little faster than it used to, making it easier to hit more pitches thrown to the opposite side of the plate. Overall, even in its current stage of development, All-Star Baseball 2004 feels really solid from a gameplay standpoint.

Visually, All-Star baseball 2004 looks a bit better than last year's game. The player models and faces are very authentic, especially since there is a new body type this year that really does a good job of representing players with a bit more girth. You'll notice lots of little extras on the players, like Barry Bonds' earring, plus lots of little touches in the stadiums. New animations have also been added to the game, creating a greater diversity in the types of catches and tags you'll see.

You'll find all the stats you could want in the game.
You'll find all the stats you could want in the game.

In the audio department, All-Star Baseball 2004 will be one of the first major baseball games to feature both English and Spanish commentary. In fact, every phrase has been translated, so you won't miss out on anything if you choose the Spanish commentary. Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons provide the English color commentary and play-by-play calls, and they seem to have a lot of interesting phrases and observations.

While we were pleased with the latest build of All-Star Baseball 2004, we'll have to reserve judgment until we see the final version of the game. What we've seen so far is definitely promising, although we would obviously like to see the Xbox Live support extended to an online multiplayer option. One thing that is fair to say is that fans of previous All-Star Baseball games should be excited to see the new game in action.

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