Microsoft Baseball 2000 includes a number of enhancements and new features that make it better than the original (Microsoft Baseball 3D). Unfortunately, the game still suffers from a number of bugs, design flaws, and gameplay issues that keep it at the bottom of the pack among arcade baseball games.
First, the good news. Last year, Microsoft boasted some of the best graphics in the baseball genre, and if there's one area in which the game continues to shine this year, it's the graphics. The lush 3D engine features some of the best player models around, complete with eerily lifelike facial features and skin tones. The animations are excellent for the most part, though the transitions between multiple animations are so choppy and ludicrous that they make each game look as though it's being played by a bunch of robots. In particular, the pitcher walking back onto the mound after covering a base looks ridiculous (he runs to the mound then slams to a halt and climbs tiny invisible stairs to the pitching rubber in near slow-motion).
Still, the game does an excellent job of re-creating the look of a real baseball game. The 3D stadiums are well modeled and, for the most part, accurate. They convey a great sense of depth too, which is something that is often missing in computer baseball games. The play-by-play is very good also, though it still sounds as if it's being recorded in a small cardboard box. Many of the comments are humorous, and all of them are in context, which is impressive. The game even has a sizeable library of rivalry anecdotes to spice up some of your matchups.
Gameplay is much improved over the previous version simply because WizBang! built in some midrange difficulty levels. The batting difficulty, for example, now includes a middle setting so that you don't have to go with just basic (which is laughably easy) or advanced (which is still very, very difficult). The batting interface is still a strong point, in fact, though it is tough to precisely move the batter's aiming box with a typical gamepad. Triple Play 2000's toggle, which centers automatically when you release the pad, is much more intuitive even if it doesn't create quite the same level of realism. But for all its awkwardness, the Microsoft Baseball 2000 batting system does generate an exceptionally realistic array of hits, foul balls, and whiffs. No other baseball game, including 3DO's impressive High Heat Baseball 2000, has as many varied hit locations and velocities as this one. The pitching interface, by the way, is the best around without a doubt. It may take a while to warm up to it, but after some practice, you should be able to appreciate the way it adds elements of pressure and unpredictability to your pitching - good stuff. The gunshot effect has to go, though - nobody in the MLB is really capable of throwing at 120 miles per hour, after all.
Fielding is very tough, though you can have the computer do it for you. Unfortunately, the computer makes a lot of boneheaded plays on your behalf and, on numerous occasions, simply refuses to move toward a ball at all (and there is apparently no override option that lets you assume control in these situations). Computer-assisted baserunning, as with most computer baseball games, is problematic and should be avoided. Of course, manual baserunning can be tricky as well. Several times when I would hit the button to advance my runners, they would ignore me completely. Turns out that I had to hit the button three or four times before they did something, and by then it was often too late to turn that single into a double (the gamepad was in perfect working condition, by the way).
The game offers season, exhibition, and home run derby modes, but for some bizarre reason you still cannot choose to play a short or medium-length season: It's 162 games or nothing. A great player editor is included with the game, and it lets you edit, create, and trade players at will - but just like last year, it is not incorporated into the actual game. You have to launch it separately from the Windows start menu.
Microsoft Baseball 2000 exhibited a number of graphical bugs and glitches. For starters, the menu screens were flaky, with buttons and menu items appearing and disappearing from screen to screen. This happened with the latest drivers for a Riva TNT card, so the cause of the problem is still uncertain. Also, the game choked completely the first few times I tried to launch it in Voodoo2 SLI mode (1024x768). The game was actually going on, but all I saw was the "Game loading" screen, overlaid by the lineup that appears at the start of each game. This problem eventually went away on its own, but again, the cause is indeterminate. Finally, about halfway through a game between the Cubs and the White Sox, the game flipped out entirely and decided that it was now taking place between the White Sox and the White Sox. Both teams became the same, and the computer seized control of the action. It was pitching, it was hitting, and it was fielding, and I could not stop it without quitting the game entirely. That was a most disturbing bug.
Overall, this is still a decent game but not one that can compete well against High Heat Baseball 2000 or even Triple Play 2000. The graphics are excellent, and the batter/pitcher interface is equally impressive. Unfortunately, the rest of the game is rather disappointing. About the best thing Microsoft Baseball 2000 has going for it is the $19.99 price tag, which should help boost sales among uninformed buyers.