Though last year's High Heat Baseball lacked the spit-and-polish 3D graphics that most of us have come to expect from a top-level sports game, High Heat offered something that none of the other games could: realism. A game of baseball in High Heat often provided all the drama, the strategy, and the excitement of a real Major League Baseball game. This time around, with High Heat Baseball 2000, 3DO has taken a solid foundation and crafted an even better, more impressive game. At the time of this review, High Heat Baseball 2000 still had its share of problems, but it was also clearly the best action baseball game on the market.
Unlike last year's version, High Heat 2000 now has full licensing from Major League Baseball, so you no longer have to play with teams like Chicago-N and New York-A. An even more substantial change from the original release, however, is the new 3D graphics engine. Dismissed by many last year because of the 2D graphics, High Heat now sports a decent 3D engine that has enough bells and whistles to keep the game looking modern. True, the player models are still rather poor, and the batter's swing is still pretty weak looking, but at least the game offers a feeling of depth now. Also, High Heat is chock-full of some rather impressive player animations, such as pitchers throwing up their arms when a ball is called, teammates rushing to the aid of an injured player, and a fairly comical "where's the ball?" act when a player makes an error.
Gameplay is largely unchanged from last year's version. You still have the option to play in exhibition, season, home run derby, or play-off modes. A manage-only mode is available, and multiplayer support is provided for Internet, LAN, serial, and modem play (for exhibition games only). For season play, you can choose short, medium, or long seasons (16, 81, or 162 games). The home run derby is still as uninspiring (read: easy and repetitive) as last year's, but the rest of the game is as good or better than the original.
You can customize most facets of the game, including the designated-hitter rule, errors, wind, pitcher warm-ups, and a variable umpire setting, which is a great feature that re-creates the inconsistent strike zone we all see in the real MLB. The included player editor lets you modify every player's attributes and appearance. Also, even when you control your team in the field, you can have the computer handle batting, pitching, baserunning, throwing, fielding, and/or defensive alignment. To be honest, automatic defensive alignment is the most helpful of the bunch, since the task of constantly switching your infield depth and outfield shift can be a bit tiresome for nonmicromanagers.
Even more impressive this time around, High Heat now includes a minor league system and a career mode for season play, allowing you to bring along young talent to replace aging players. This is simply a tremendous feature, and though there seem to be some bugs in it (players being cut from the major league roster without your say-so, for example), it adds a wonderful dimension to the game. Of course, the minor leaguers all have made-up names (my AAA team actually had three starting pitchers named Snake), but you can change them in the player editor to reflect real-life prospects.
But when you get down to it, the area where High Heat shines brightest is on the virtual field. No other baseball game (with the exception of pure strategy titles like Diamond Mind) does a better job of re-creating the feel and drama of a real baseball game. Leading by five runs in the top of the ninth inning and cruising to an easy win? Think again, as the computer pounds out a few doubles back-to-back and suddenly has your bull pen scrambling to pick up the pieces. And it's not as if the game gives you the impression that it cheats to keep things close - far from it. You really get the sense that (for the most part) logical baseball decisions are being made to make the game as challenging as possible. Also, make a bad decision on a pitch or pitch location, and watch out: More often than not, a bad pitch ends up in the bleachers. Throughout it all, High Heat uses a solid statistical model that generates believable season and game stats (depending of course on your ability and the difficulty setting you choose to play).
Unfortunately, the game was clearly rushed out the door, either in time for the start of baseball season (which is just pointless, really, especially when you consider the number of roster moves that occur just before the season begins) or to get out there at the same time as EA's Triple Play 2000. Whatever the reason, High Heat 2000 suffers from a number of niggling little bugs and irregularities. For starters, the game does not seem to handle days off and rest properly in the play-offs, where pitchers seem not to get the same amount of rest from day to day, causing them to make their next appearance at substantially less than 100-percent readiness. Also, the game has a nasty habit of making relievers disappear completely from your game roster after you start them warming in the pen. (Talk about a nasty surprise when you finally go to put them in the game....) Other problems include baserunning glitches that let a player return to the previous base even after passing the next one (this simply should not be allowed) and ultraconservative baserunning in general, which causes players to return to the bag before advancing even on obvious base hits. An audio problem cropped up that caused the PA announcer (a cool feature that every baseball game should have) and the play-by-play guy to call every member of my team (Cubs) Terry Adams. Finally, the game carries stats from the regular season into the play-offs.).
Except for the reliever bug, all of these are minor issues. But together they smack of a hurried product. Ironically enough, 3DO had no reason to rush this product out the door. Even with its problems, it is still the best arcade baseball game on the market today. Let's hope that with the forthcoming patch High Heat Baseball 2000 can further solidify its claim to that title.