The first World Series Baseball for the Dreamcast had so many problems that Sega decided the sequel should be developed by another company. A lack of manual fielding and an unintuitive batting interface were more than enough to nullify the game's stunning graphics. Now that the series has been handed over to Sega's premier sports game developer, Visual Concepts, there are high hopes that a shift in development houses for the franchise will pay big dividends. While it's a drastic leap forward when compared with the Wow Entertainment-developed 2K1 version, World Series Baseball 2K2 fails to attain the polished state of Visual Concepts' other Dreamcast sports games.
If you're looking for depth from your baseball games, the staggering number of gameplay modes in WSB 2K2 will not disappoint. A rudimentary exhibition mode is available for up to two players, and you can play full seasons with player and team stats tracked in 13 different categories. You can even monitor all-star voting to see if players from your squad are receiving national recognition. This year's World Series Baseball includes a franchise mode that carries your players' stats over from the year before and you can read newspaper headlines every day to see how your moves as a general manager, player, and coach are panning out with the local beat writers. The home run derby can help you get the timing of swinging for the fences. Another welcomed addition is the create-a-player mode. There are 13 different appearance settings to fiddle with, providing you with the power to choose the most minute of details, like undershirt type. Once you're satisfied with your player's look, you can crank up his attributes and make him a monster on the diamond.
While the home run derby and franchise modes are welcomed, the biggest addition to the World Series Baseball franchise this time around is the network mode, which lets you play against other Dreamcast owners online. If you use the same user name and password, your wins, losses, and the number of times you bailed out of games are stored on Sega's server. There's even a list of the top 50 online players to gaze upon. Going head-to-head against other players around the country is an excellent idea in theory, and Visual Concepts has done an excellent job getting its other sports games online. But lag affects baseball video games in a more drastic manner than it does other sports games. Getting struck out by a pitch that paused halfway to the plate because of lag can be infuriating, and fielding ground balls is practically impossible when the game stammers. While you're playing online, it's impossible to see the repertoire of pitches in your opponent's arsenal, but then, Pedro Martinez doesn't have a list of pitches scribbled onto his jersey in a real MLB game, either. Beyond the problems with lag, which are inherent to all online video games, the WSB 2K2's network code can be buggy at times. It will often refuse to let you join a server or crash when navigating the network menus.
As with any sports video game, all the gameplay modes in the world are irrelevant if the gameplay is rotten. World Series Baseball 2K2 is a generous improvement upon the 2K1 version in this area, but it still hasn't reached perfection. The confusing batter interface from WSB 2K1 has been replaced with a more traditional setup. To hit, you must align your batting cursor with the ball and time the swing. Your batter's cursor size is dependent upon his batting average, so while Barry Bonds' cursor is huge, a pitcher's cursor is barely the size of a baseball. It takes some time before hitting becomes second nature, and even then, it can be difficult to track a knuckleball or slider with your cursor. Each pitcher has the ability to throw the same pitches he does in real MLB play. Each batter has a chart that demonstrates his hot and cold spots in the strike zone--and these spots are key to keeping runners off the bases. Affecting the ball after it leaves the pitcher's hand is impossible, so the only option is to choose your spot and let it fly. Before the pitch, you may adjust the alignment of your defensive players to compensate for power hitters or for those who have a tendency to pull the ball to one side of the field.
Depending upon how you look at it, the most glaring improvement in World Series Baseball 2K2's gameplay is the addition of manual fielding. But attempting to scoop up a ground ball is far more difficult than it should be. The zone of influence around each player is too small, resulting in many ground balls that skirt past your player's shoes. The ability to dive for the ball doesn't improve matters much because you often leap over the ball instead of sliding across the ground and stopping it. Defensive players also move a bit too quickly, and it takes a while to get a handle on the timing. Routine ground balls often turn into doubles or triples because the sluggish switching of computer players will often cause your outfielder to mimic an infielder and dive to the ground or get completely out of position to make the most simple of plays. Mastering fielding takes determination, and it's almost enough to make you understand Wow Entertainment's decision to omit it altogether from the last World Series Baseball.
Unlike most of Visual Concepts' games, World Series Baseball 2K2 has several gameplay bugs. You can often trick the computer into going for an ill-advised double by throwing the ball to first base. Once the computer is running, it's a simple toss to second for the easy out. Another problem is that high fly balls hit closely to the outfield wall will sometimes be called a home run, despite falling short. The computer is dreadfully difficult to beat, so any bugs that work in your favor are gladly accepted. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, slouchy teams like the Devil Rays can put up 10 runs against great pitchers like Roger Clemens over the course of just a few innings. On the pro or all-star settings, it takes a great deal of skill to just stay in the game. Hard-core baseball purists will likely enjoy the challenge, but those looking for quick-hit fun will not.
As you might expect from any game running on Visual Concepts' sports engine, World Series Baseball 2K2 looks great. To discover all the graphical minutiae that has been hidden inside the game's code, you'll have to play it for months. Players have their signature batting stances, and it becomes apparent the first time you see Tony Batista stand in the batter's box with one foot on the line or Luis Gonzalez balance himself on his toes. Player models are incredibly rounded and come in a wide variety of sizes. While some players are missing obvious graphical depictions, the majority of players are immediately recognizable. Players will walk off the field like drones at the end of an inning, but during play, the animations are far from robotic. Runners coming home will try to dislodge the ball from the catcher's mitt with a well-placed shoulder, and those sliding into second will attempt to disrupt the double play. The only complaint with the animation is that it sometimes takes infielders too long to set up for a throw--making turning double plays akin to bobbing for apples in a bottomless tub.
Particle effects are used effectively to show catchers kicking up dirt and runners sliding into base. There's even a puff of dust that shoots out from gloves when you're catching a ball. The real-time lighting and self-shadows are also worthy of mention. You can see the shadow of the bat stretch along the player's body, appropriately darkening portions of his uniform. The stadiums have been modeled with care and include every seating section and JumboTron found in the real thing. The camera angles are normally fine, but they could use some tweaking for balls hit to the outfield. It will often remain panned out, making it difficult to pick up a ball sitting near the wall. Despite a few slight issues, World Series Baseball 2K2 is one of the Dreamcast's most visually impressive games. The player models and stadiums are detailed and lifelike, the animations are smooth and believable, and the frame rates are mercury smooth.
The play-by-play announcing may not live up to the lofty standards set by World Series Baseball 2K2's graphics, but the rest of the sound sure does. Phrases are repeated regularly, and the announcer is often a play behind or even calls plays incorrectly. However, turning off the announcer and cranking up the ambient sound effects make a tremendous improvement. You can hear peanut vendors in the stands drumming up business or fans yelling for their favorite players. If the home team is performing poorly, the faithful in attendance will begin to boo, but if you knock one over the fence, the stadium starts rocking. The sound of the ball coming off the bat is perfect, and players will grunt while making solid contact. The aural experience found in WSB 2K2 isn't leaps and bounds above the competition, but it immerses you into the atmosphere that is America's pastime.
Despite its frustratingly flawed gameplay, World Series Baseball 2K2 is the Dreamcast's best baseball game. Its graphics are top-notch, the gameplay options are plentiful, and its online play is a nice fringe benefit. Players dedicated to perfecting their skills will enjoy the difficult fielding more than most, but casual players should rent first to see if they're willing to invest the time required to become competitive. If you're a baseball fan with a Dreamcast, pick up World Series Baseball 2K2 and know that you have the best hardball game the system has to offer.