Of all the baseball games on the market, Interplay's VR Baseball series has consistently been one of the most promising and most disappointing. Despite a great graphics engine and some slick features that other games couldn't quite match, the series always seemed to come up short in the gameplay department for one reason or another. This year's version, renamed and retooled as Interplay Sports' Baseball Edition 2000, follows very closely in the footsteps of its predecessors.
The game offers exhibition, season (20, 40, 86, or 162 games), tournament, and home-run-derby play modes. Season play doesn't offer any sort of career option, and you won't you find a manage-only mode in this game. Still, as an arcade-style baseball game, Baseball Edition 2000 has most of the basic features covered. You can, for example, create and sign your own players. However, you cannot edit existing players, which is a shame, because the developers got a lot of things wrong when they assigned pitch types to the hurlers in this game. Everyone must have four pitches it seems, so the fourth pitch for some guys is a bit random (way too many knuckleballers in this game). Also, the stamina rating for some pitchers (like Cubs starter/reliever Terry Mulholland) is way off so that it takes a minor miracle to get them through five complete innings.
Visual appeal has always been a strength of this series, and for the most part the graphics are pretty good in Baseball Edition 2000. The developers used the Messiah 3D engine to deliver some impressive player animations, such as infielders holding up their hands to indicate the number of outs and a barrelful of great diving and sliding catches. The game also throws a bunch of idle-pitcher animations at you when you take too long to select a pitch - and taking too long apparently means taking more than two seconds. Unfortunately, these animations are incredibly annoying, because they take too long to run their course, and they don't stop immediately (as they should) when you actually do select a pitch. Hey, baseball games take a long time to play - I don't need to waste extra time waiting to see a virtual pitcher play with the rosin bag.
A few of the game's visual glitches actually interfere with gameplay, which is even more annoying. The batter's swing and the path of incoming pitches both seem jerky and abrupt, making it very difficult to time a hit. The problem seems to stem from the fact that the ball disappears once it reaches the plate rather than continue on to the imaginary catcher's glove, so you don't have a fluid motion to watch and time. Also, the batter's swing animation is awkward and only rarely seems to move the bat over the actual plate. Half the time, the batter appears to go from standing upright with the bat on his shoulder to leaning over the plate with the bat in front of him.
And yet, despite these two major problems, it can be laughably easy to rope home runs off the computer. Even on the highest difficulty setting, once you play a few games and get used to the timing, you'll have no problem at all smacking eight or nine round-trippers per game. In this regard, Baseball Edition 2000 is even easier to play than EA's Triple Play 2000.
The basic gameplay and artificial intelligence need some work also, though they aren't completely devoid of merit. The computer can be tough to beat at first (until you get that home run swing down, at least) and has a nasty habit of making you pay for poor pitch selections or locations. Still, the number of glitches and bugs in this game is stupefying. Pitchers fail to cover first base on at least half the balls that the first baseman has to play far away from the bag. Similarly, on most occasions a fast runner can steal bases at will because the shortstop and second baseman fail to get to the bag in time to tag him out. It's also far too easy to strike out the computer's batters (mostly because they're all highly susceptible to high, inside change-ups). In the outfield, you can't always see which player you're controlling when you try to chase down a deep fly to the gap. This is because your player isn't even on the screen at first, so when you think you're controlling the center fielder, you may really be moving the right fielder - and that's a problem.
The sound effects are another issue altogether. Although the PA announcer sounds great (and amazingly like the real-world Wrigley Field PA guy), he only seems to announce batters on their first trip to the plate. After that, you don't hear from him again until you make a pitching change - and that's not even a guarantee. The computer's pitching changes are only rarely announced to you, in fact. Sometimes, the only clue you get is that the pitcher suddenly changes color or handedness. Other times, the PA guy tells you about the switch and occasionally a graphic will pop up to show you the new pitcher's stats. But each time it's different, and that makes the game seem sloppy.
The game has some cool features, such as the enhanced pitch chart that tracks every pitch thrown to each batter in the game. You can see what type of pitch Jeff Bagwell nailed for each of his three home runs, and where they were thrown, so that you can throw something else to the guy. This is a very slick feature and one that other games would be wise to incorporate. The end-of-game wrap-up screen is very well done, with a complete box score and some selected special stats called out, such as a player with four home runs in the game. Also, the game can be fun to play, but not in the same way as a High Heat Baseball 2000, which makes you feel as if you're part of a real game, or even Triple Play 2000, which is an absolute blast when played against a friend. No, Baseball Edition 2000 is more of a "my favorite team just got whipped in real life so I think I'll take out my aggressions on the computer's weak AI" sort of game. Is that enough to keep Baseball Edition 2000 afloat among the other baseball games on the market this year? Not quite.