High Heat Baseball 2002 Hands-On

3DO stopped by the GameSpot offices with the latest playable build of its hard-core MLB simulation, High Heat Baseball 2002 for the PlayStation 2. Check out our hands-on report.

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3DO has slowly tried to bring the console version of High Heat up to speed with the excellent PC version. Previous console versions of High Heat were heavy in gameplay options but always a step behind the competition graphically. The visual capabilities of the PlayStation 2 provide the opportunity for a fresh start for 3DO's only sports franchise. 3DO looks to be seizing the moment because High Heat 2002 for the PlayStation 2 already sports enough improvements to put it in the same class as its PC sibling.

High Heat 2002 only vaguely brings on the heat in the gameplay mode department. The exhibition mode for up to eight players with two Multitaps lets you set the number of innings per game, set up the presentation to lengthen or shorten play time, adjust gameplay attributes like the frequency of errors or throwing power, and adjust the weather. You may also play full seasons with one of the most in-depth stat tracking systems yet seen in a console sports game. If you're not into enduring the incredibly long 162-game season, you may shorten it to any length you choose. If players aren't living up to the standards set forth in the game, you may tame their stats to make their performances more closely mirror their real-world abilities. Unlike the PlayStation version, there is no franchise mode, home run derby, batting practice mode, or create-a-player mode in High Heat 2002 for the PS2. While it's disappointing that the PlayStation 2 version of High Heat doesn't include as many gameplay modes as the PlayStation version, 3DO explained that its priority is solid gameplay and that more bells and whistles will come in next year's PlayStation 2 version.

A major problem with past video game interpretations of Major League Baseball is that nine-inning games can often take the better part of an hour to complete. This seriously impedes the pickup-and-playability of baseball games, and limiting the number of innings often cuts deeply into the strategy involved in a real game of baseball. 3DO is attempting to remedy this by cutting out the unnecessary lags between pitches, like watching the infielders go around the horn after outs. According to 3DO, this allows full-length games of High Heat to be completed in less than 20 minutes. If you're a stickler for tradition, there is plenty of presentation elements to enjoy. Players argue calls with the umps, wild pitches occur, catchers will drop third strikes, and the manager will make a trip to the mound to stall for time or to calm down the pitcher. All 30 MLB teams and stadiums are included in High Heat 2002, and 3DO has even gone the extra mile to make sure that both PNC Park in Pittsburgh and the Brewers' new stadium, Miller Park, are included. While you may take the helm of your team and actually play the game yourself, 3DO has included the option to choose just one position to play or take the role of skipper and manage your team, so this leaves the final result up to the number-crunching computer.

Once you're on the field, the game controls fairly well, but the interface for pitching and batting does not use a cursor system. As 3DO is quick to point out, this is highly realistic, but it leaves too much up to chance. You use the D-pad to choose the area of the strike zone to throw at. Whether your pitch hits its mark is dependent upon the computer working out the percentages for your pitcher. Purposefully placing your pitch on the outside corner is of the plate is difficult. Oftentimes the ball ends up way outside of the strike zone. While throwing strikes is left up to the computer, the batting with this interface is very lifelike. You have to actually watch the pitch instead of eyeballing the cursor the entire time, and when the ball crosses the plate, you must adjust your swing location with the D-pad and time the swing. Making things even more realistic, the ball physics are extremely accurate. Balls go to the correct field based upon your swing timing, and spins are placed on balls when they're hit less than perfectly. This is apparent when balls skip through the outfield at varying speeds. The balls also react to hitting portions of the stadium correctly so that a drive to the right field corner of Fenway Park can produce a ricochet that will allude the outfielder. Once the ball is fielded, you may throw to the proper base with one button press--the bases are mapped to the four major face buttons on the Dual Shock 2. Players may dive for the ball or scale the wall to make a home-run-robbing catch. You may warm up pitchers in the bullpen when your starter becomes tired and generally tweak your team in any way a real manager would.

Compared with the lack of visual splendor achieved in previous PlayStation versions of High Heat, the PlayStation 2 version is already off to a good start. The player models comprise up to 6,000 polygons apiece, and there are 180 unique texture maps for the faces of star players. Each stadium resembles the real thing, with nice attention to detail. The waterfalls in the outfield of Kansas City's Kauffman stadium are there, and you can crank home runs into the bay at the Giants' new digs. Real-time shadows mimic the rim of each stadium and will shift around the field as the game wears on. The animations for the players are adequate, and each batter has his specific batting stance. After a strikeout, a replay is triggered--it demonstrates the path of the ball over the plate. The same holds true for four-pitch walks. This can come in handy when pitches are disputed or when you're trying to find where the ball breaks for specific pitches. There are some other nice details, such as polygonal umps, coaches, managers, and a real-time Jumbotron that broadcasts the onfield action. Unfortunately, some presentation elements, like player celebrations, are strangely absent. While the graphics don't quite rival those of EA's Triple Play Baseball for the PS2, they are solid nevertheless, and the frame rates remain steady even during long fly balls where the graphics engine has to deal with drawing in a large stadium in addition to the regular action.

3DO is promoting High Heat Baseball 2002 for the PlayStation 2 as the antithesis to EA's arcade-influenced baseball series, Triple Play. The deep simulation elements, the endless amount of stat tracking, the ability to tailor nearly every aspect of gameplay, and the solid-playing interface is likely to be enjoyed by hard-core baseball fanatics. But those looking for a little more action and less customization in their baseball games will likely find more to enjoy in Triple Play. The early burn we played seems nearly complete, so High Heat 2002 is on target for its mid-March release date. We'll have more on High Heat Baseball 2002 when we receive our own playable version.

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