For years, many EA Sports games have been able to coast along without fear of a serious threat from any other sports line. But competition's heated up for the Triple Play baseball series in the past two years, and what's more, the latest version of the game is weaker than its predecessor. Triple Play 2001 has a number of new features, but nearly all of them are superficial. Otherwise, the gameplay is uninspired, and its similarity to real-life baseball is remote at best.
As with most EA Sports games, the graphics in Triple Play 2001 are quite good and have an obvious attention to detail, especially in the player animations. The face-mapping technology as seen in NHL 2000 and NBA Live 2000 is now present in Triple Play 2001 as well, which means you can also import your own picture for a custom player. Many of the game's animations are excellent, such as the celebratory home-run trots and the wall-climbing catches in the outfield. On the other hand, the game still can't fit a long name on the back of a jersey, so it cuts most names off after eight letters. Also, Triple Play 2001 now uses cheesy giant block lettering to signify a home run, strikeout, double play, or other special event during a game. The block-letter text messages glare out at you in obnoxious bright reds and blues, and usually interfere with your view of the next pitch if you're batting, and otherwise make the game look cheap.
Fortunately, game modes are plentiful in Triple Play 2001, which is one of the game's saving graces. In addition to full-season mode (15, 30, 60, or 162 games), you can also try your hand at a single exhibition game, custom play-offs, Big League Challenge (the new, official name for home-run derby in the real world), and a home-run-legends game that pits current players against Ruth, Mantle, Aaron, and other all-time greats. Triple Play 2001 also includes a variety of head-to-head modes for multiplayer games for single-computer, modem, LAN, and Internet connections.
Triple Play 2001's gameplay has changed very little over previous versions, with the exception of the not-very-notable addition of a rewards system. By accomplishing certain tasks during a game - for example, hitting a home run, striking out a computer batter, or completing a double play - you can accumulate points that can be used to upgrade your team or purchase Hall of Famers to add to your roster. That's right, if you hit enough home runs, you can add Ernie Banks to the current Cubs' lineup. On the other hand, you could spend your points on training your current players or on improving a hitter's power or a pitcher's control. Either way, the entire rewards system seems silly. What's more, you can also unlock an array of special codes and power-ups that give your players big heads, extra-tall bodies, and other useless or gimmicky attributes. It's almost as if EA Sports has thrown in the towel on trying to achieve realism in its baseball games and is trying to make it as obvious as possible.A few of the game's new features are nice, such as the defensive point-of-view camera option and the extra animations for umpire arguments and postgame celebrations, but they don't help the game where it needs help most: in its gameplay. The core problem in Triple Play 2001 is the pitcher-batter interface, or more specifically, the complete lack of one. According to the documentation, you can aim for specific pitch locations, and you can also aim a batter's swing. Yet while there is indeed an advanced batting mode that lets you see a target box for each swing, the pitch location is another matter. You can thumb the game pad control up and to the left all day, but half of your pitches will still sail outside, down, or away, or in some other equally unwanted direction.
Perhaps the pitching inaccuracy was added in the interest of realism, since real MPB hitters seem to be knocking the stuffing out of every ball thrown their way these days. But in computer games, it's nice to have a little more control over what's happening from pitch to pitch. Yet in Triple Play 2001, you never get the sense that you have complete or even near-complete control of your pitcher. Furthermore, striking out a computer batter is a major accomplishment, since he'll never swing at bad pitches. Of course, it doesn't help that when you choose to throw the ball, it sails so far outside the strike zone that only a bad Little Leaguer would swing at it.
What's even worse is that your fielders aren't always much help behind your beleaguered hurler. Infielders must literally step right on the ball or dive on it to stop an inordinate percentage of ground balls. This is unlike High Heat and Microsoft Baseball, in which your fielders will make a play if you get them close enough to make a play. At least Triple Play 2001 lets you make unbalanced throws, so you don't always have to stop and plant before throwing the ball to a base.
You'd think that with poor pitching control and seemingly unreliable fielders, things would be bleak when you take on a computer team. However, hitting in Triple Play 2001 isn't very challenging at all - even on the higher difficulty settings and when using the advanced batting. It's not uncommon to hit five or six home runs in a game, and it's only slightly less common to hit two or three in a row. This may once again be an eerie parallel to the current state of Major League Baseball, but then again, it's also been a problem in nearly every other Triple Play game.
The bottom line is that Triple Play 2001 has serious problems. Worst of all, and unlike in Microsoft Baseball 2001, most of the game's biggest flaws are the result of design decisions, and as such they can't easily be patched. So if you have any interest in a computer game that accurately depicts real baseball, then you should stay away from Triple Play 2001. Then again, if you enjoy playing long ball with a ten-foot, fatheaded Mark McGwire, then Triple Play 2001 is the game for you.