MLB SlugFest: Loaded hands-on

We strap on our batting glove and head out to the ballpark for a look at Midway's new baseball game.

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For the third year in a row, Midway is planning to release an installment of its over-the-top, arcade-style baseball game MLB SlugFest. The latest edition, called MLB SlugFest: Loaded, puts Sammy Sosa on the cover and adds online play that's similar to the tournament-based modes found in NHL Hitz Pro. It also adds the engine from the popular baseball management simulator Baseball Mogul to present a deep franchise mode. And so far, it looks like it will do all this while still keeping the rock-solid gameplay that made SlugFest an instant favorite when it was first released in 2002.

Upon first picking up the game, Loaded doesn't appear to be a drastic departure from what was contained in last year's game. However, that's not to say that the game is identical. Loaded is set to contain even more gameplay options than last year's game, including updated batting and pitching systems. If desired, you can use a pitch meter that sets the accuracy of your pitches. This actually adds an additional level to the game, in practice, since it's possible to hit the accuracy mark dead-on but still be aiming outside of the strike zone. This seems to work well for faking out human opponents. You can also turn off all of the crazy arcade stuff--like the ability to punch other players--to play SlugFest like it was just a friendly game of baseball. The options can be configured individually, which means that you'll be able to tailor the game and its controls to your liking before diving in. Online, the game will feature voice support via the PS2's USB headset and will also feature full support for Xbox Live, thus including some of the new tournament features that Microsoft is cooking up for its future update to the Xbox Live service. Once online, you'll be fed actual live MLB news and stats via a television-style scroll at the bottom of the screen.

On top of all this, the game has what looks like it could be a very, very deep franchise mode. Midway didn't show off too many details at its recent press event, but you'll definitely be able to draft, sign, and release players, and you'll be able to play the free agent market and can manage plenty of other off-the-field aspects of your team. The franchise mode will let you play through at least 100 seasons.

From what we've seen so far, SlugFest: Loaded looks like a pretty sure bet. It looks like it'll keep just about everything that made the previous games so solid, and the addition of a deep franchise mode and online play have the potential to be huge. We'll have more on MLB SlugFest: Loaded as we get closer to its June release date.

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