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All Star Baseball 2002 (PS2) Review

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This is the first apology I'll have to give the readers this Spring. It's already a month into the baseball season and All-Star Baseball has been out for quite some time now. But from the better-late-than-never department comes our review of All-Star Baseball from Acclaim Sports for the PlayStation 2.

Acclaim has generated a decent amount of respect for their All-Star Baseball franchise from the Nintendo 64. On the Pokemon- and Mario-dominated console All-Star Baseball was one of the few bright spots for sports fans. The games in the franchise, while flawed in some areas, were nonetheless worthy of your gaming dollar. For its inaugural effort on the PS2, Acclaim attempts to capture the same recipe which made them successful on the N64.

The one- or two-player ASB 2002 of course features every major league team. In addition, Acclaim went the extra mile by supplying alternate and classic uniforms. And of course you're promised improved graphics and animations. An altered batting interface makes its way to the PS2, but for the most part the game plays similarly to the older N64 version.

Graphics : 75
The early press on ASB 2002 was that it would have graphics to die for. Honestly, I don't understand what all the chatter was about. While the graphics are indeed clean, they are in no way mind-blowing. The player models seem repetitive, particularly in the field where players all seem to have the same body shape and textures. At the plate, we at least have nicely proportioned batters compared to Triple Play's players who appear to be in need of Jenny Craig. In the batting stance you'll notice no texture breakups of the uniforms, which feature clear names, numbers, and logos. You'll also clearly see the throwing motion of the pitcher as he hurls the ball your way. The pitcher's animations are smooth, as are those of the batter. Once the ball is in the field, however, things start degrading somewhat. Balls disappear a few feet before they reach the glove, fielders make strange throwing motions, and infielders catch the ball and instantly go into a basketball-style face-up position. The stadiums are a mixed bag graphically. The stadium artifacts are rendered nicely, such as scoreboards. But beyond the stadium walls the graphics aren't nearly as good as in Triple Play for the PS2.

Unfortunately the graphics impact the gameplay in two areas. First, the animations must be completed before you can throw the ball. You will miss the occasional double play due to a slow animation sequence involved in the first out. And each throw is a sort of lob rather than fast bullets to get the second out. The other area where graphics affect the gameplay is with the camera angle. The cameras are fixed in the game, and while the batting camera is perfect, the fielding camera leads to frustration. As soon as the ball gets in the field of play the camera shifts focus to the ball. More times than not your player will be off screen. For a few seconds you don't know which player is to field the ball and where he is. This makes line drives almost impossible to field, and even balls hit to the outfield can be troublesome. Compounding the problem is the inability to switch fielders. The game decides which fielder should field the ball.

Audio : 82
I have to admit that I have a difficult time watching regular season baseball on television. It is as exciting as watching paint dry. The best thing a TV presentation has is the play-by-play and color commentary. Unfortunately for ASB 2002, its sound is like drying paint. The play-by-play is by the book calling. There are times, however, when even the mundane action is miscalled. Color commentary is virtually non-existent. Fortunately the sounds of the game improve the sound somewhat. The sound of the ball hitting the catcher's glove is plainly there, as is the sound of a cracking bat on the ball. To add to the baseball atmosphere, a dynamic crowd cheers appropriately. If nothing else, we don't have to listen to the whoosh heard in Triple Play.

Interface/Options : 90
Aside from Madden, every sports title on the PS2 has been lacking in options. All-Star Baseball 2002 appears to carry over most of the options from the N64 version of the game. There are a few items I'd like to see in there, but overall the game has a nice set of features. A Quick Play mode quickly puts you in the action and is more arcade-based. For more serious baseball gamers, the MLB Play mode lets you play an exhibition game, play an all-star game, head right to the World Series, or play a full season. In the season mode you can create players, manage rosters, make trades, and sign free agents. Overall the management features are solid. And finally there is the home run contest (yawn).

In the quick play, exhibition, and series modes you can set additional options including which stadium to play in, the time of day for the game, and the weather. In all modes you can adjust options such as the batting interface (whether or not to use a batting target), the pitching interface (pitch location marker and strike zone outline), auto-positioning for fielders, and manual or automatic control of fielders. It should be noted that while auto fielding of your players gets rid of the camera problem, it makes the game a bore to play.

Statistically ASB 2002 scores big. The stats engine is thorough with stats in every imaginable category. I simmed a season and all the stats were reasonable, although some of the players seemed to perform above their true abilities. The stats are easy to track with the intuitive menu system.

Gameplay : 70
When it comes to baseball games, gamers are usually in one of two categories. You either like a sim-oriented game or one with more arcade-like features. I personally favor simulations though I'm not adverse to a sim with arcade elements. All-Star Baseball falls into the latter category. The number of hits in each game and the ease of striking out the opposition takes it away from a simulation, but it isn't completely over-the-top.

First the positives. I love the batting interface. I'm a big fan of batting targets. If you watch real baseball (and even though I find it boring I do watch occasionally) you'll notice that players have the ability to guide the bat in the direction of the ball, whether there is break on the ball or not. It is up to the batter to track the ball. In much the same way, the batting target creates a challenge. In ASB 2002 you can move the target in the strike zone as well as tilt the cursor up, down, left, or right. This lets you try to pinpoint where the ball will go. The diversity of line drives, grounders, and fly balls in the game is amazing. I've hit the ball to just about every area of a stadium. The only negatives with the hitting interface are the inability to move the batter in the batter's box and the sensation that you swing at the ball once the ball has passed the plate.

Likewise, the pitching interface is pretty smooth. I know some sim lovers hate the pitching target, but you really have to understand that most big league pitchers, with the exception of the Astros' staff and Jose Lima in particular, have exceptional control. Pitchers like Pedro and Maddux have the talent to pitch to any location they desire. ASB 2002 mimics this trait well. You can select a pitch location and let the ball go. For pitches with a little motion, the final spot is off a bit, but in general the ball goes where you tell it. To its credit, as pitchers fatigue they lose their control and balls rarely land where you expect them. Unfortunately pitchers don't seem to lose velocity as their pitch counts increase. Another negative is that AI players swing at anything. After a few games I realized I could follow a pattern with every batter. On the first pitch I'd pitch high and outside. Whiff. Next ball is high and inside. Whiff. Finally, if pitching lefty-on-lefty or righty-on-righty, a curve ball low and away usually netted a strikeout. Otherwise, I'd just paint a different corner and hope for a third strike. I routinely netted a dozen or more strikeouts a game.

On the basepaths, the AI runners are a bit confused. I have yet to see an AI runner steal, and usually they make no attempt at extra bases or else they turn around if a throw is made. For both the AI runners and your players, they jog along the basepaths. I've actually thrown a few players out at first on balls which landed in the outfield. And the lack of a sprint button means unbearably slow fielders and runners. Likewise, throws are incredibly slow. Throws from third to first take a leisurely trajectory no matter the situation.

Replay Value : 65
I have played all three baseball titles for the PS2 and have yet to find the perfect game. There are elements from all the games I like but none of them is a complete package. For All-Star Baseball 2002 I love the batting and pitching interface. That alone goes a long way in my enjoyment of the title. But the problems with the fielding camera almost require you to turn on auto fielding. Once you do that you're left with a game where you pitch and bat. Frankly, that doesn't do much for me.

Overall : 78
All-Star Baseball 2002 for the PS2 is a decent, but not great, baseball title. The batting and pitching interfaces are good, as is the statistical engine. The graphics are clean, but camera flaws ruin the fielding in the game. If you're a sim fanatic, the game will surely disappoint. However, if you like more of an arcade baseball game, then All-Star Baseball 2002 certainly may make you happy. The fielding problems are resolved with auto-fielding, making the game little more than an arcade play.

By: James Smith 5/7/01

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