The problem with many sports games is that often the demands of putting out a new version every year mean a game will look dated after only a couple seasons. Unless the development team is given the resources to keep apace with the latest technology, a sports title can look as old and worn as Wrigley Field but without the charm.
Tony La Russa Baseball, now in its fourth version, is showing signs of wear and a need for a complete overhaul. The old graphics engine, still as buggy and quirky as it's always been, looks ready for retirement. The pixelated FMV players need to step aside for the next generation of stars: full 3-D, polygonal, texture-mapped athletes who resemble the actual person in bodily frame, motion, and even visage. In TLR4, the players all look the same - one batter, one pitcher - and all have the number eleven on their backs.
Sadly, all of TLR4's graphics are something of an eyesore. At first glance, they pique some interest, but after one inning, they're enough to make you want to stay in the front office. The pixelated ballparks and slow frame rates cannot be helped even by the removal of backgrounds, such as the buildings across the street from some of the more urban ballparks. (Don't be fooled by the screenshot of Camden Yards on the back of the box either; according to Maxis tech support, it was taken before the product was complete.)
Outside the game arena, the interface design makes you want to scream for the standard Windows stuff. To make matters worse, it's laid over a blurred background graphic that can cause confusion in even experienced computer users. Take for example those thermometer-style slide bars: Not only do they lack left and right arrows (though, once you figure it out, you can click on the numbers on either side of the slide), but the slide itself is a small, chrome bit, about the size of a sharpened pencil lead. Even your mouse pointer is considerably larger. Trying to click and drag it can be like pulling a hair out of your mouth.
Tony La Russa 4's strongest features are the same as they've always been: the GM and manager support and the simulation engine. Unlike other baseball games, TLR4 gives you good control over your team even while you're away. By setting manager preferences, you can be confident that your team will be run reasonably well if you choose to simulate a few games. And the simulation engine can do an entire day's worth of games, both leagues, in about one to two seconds on a P-133, an entire season in a matter of minutes.
So it's the actual playing you want to avoid in Tony La Russa 4. Pitching is standard: Choose a pitch from four or five available, then move a reticule around the strike zone before the pitcher automatically executes. After that, it's all a matter of the pitcher's ratings to determine the outcome. Batting is another story: You either do it all or nothing. In other words, you can tell the batter to take a pitch or bunt, but that's it. You either have to swing yourself or sit and watch. Even so, batting is nothing more than choosing to swing normal, for contact, or for power. Then just hit the swing button and hope that the game's slow response doesn't make you swing too late.
Worse yet are the number of bugs and flaws in this product. If the ball winds up along the side walls of the field, good luck finding it - it becomes hidden. While you run your player around hoping to blindly run into it, the computer players are smart enough to send their guys around the bases. There are also incorrect schedules of some of the teams - roster inconsistencies are understandable, but schedules?
Even with its few strong points (simulation, management), this product is far from a winner. There are already five traditional computer baseball games on the market this year, and Tony La Russa Baseball 4 is the worst of the lot.