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High Heat Baseball 2002 (PS2) Review

Background Info

The red-headed stepchild of baseball games has finally made its way to the PlayStation 2. Much heralded for its gameplay, High Heat Major League Baseball 2002 from 3D0 is an excellent demonstration of how it is not always best to choose girlfriends or wives for their looks. Personality counts too.

High Heat was the last of the trio of baseball games to come out for the PS2, and while you could argue about saving the best for last, there is no doubt that the game is a solid product. The game promises the most lifelike pitching, batting, baserunning, fielding, and managing. It also features, and I'm reading right off the back of the box here, stunningly accurate stadiums from thousands of scouting photos. It also says there are incredibly lifelike star players with facial details. That's a whole lot of promises.

Graphics : 60
Honestly, there is not much good to say about High Heat's graphics. I remember the first time I played NASCAR 2001 on the PS2 with the rear view mirror on. I was shocked and horrified as my PS2, which cost a mere 300 bones, displayed an image on the screen that rendered the game unplayable. It was ugly. While not as ugly, High Heat is a pretty ugly date. The detail of the stadiums and players is poor. Player names are blocky and lack the smooth texturing of both Triple Play and All-Star Baseball. And the so-called lifelike facial details are limited to chunky graphics to represent eyes, noses, and the like.

Stadiums fare no better. Grass fields are exceedingly bland, and they look ripped out of a PSX game. When playing outdoors, the detail outside the stadium is very coarse. Flags on poles are stiff and never wave in the wind. To me, the stadiums look no better than an N64 title. But what really irritates me about the stadiums is the lack of decent collision detection in some. Living in Houston, I naturally follow the Astros. Choosing them as my team in High Heat, I was first struck by how poorly the stadium was modeled - I didn't see the centerfield poles nor the train in the outfield. That's just small stuff. Imagine my surprise as Lance Berkman stepped up to the plate and launched a ball to left center only to have the ball bounce back in the field. Every time you hit the ball to this part of the park and clear the fence, the ball bounces off the brick wall or balconies (both should be ruled as homers). Instead of a home run, I get a single or double. And this happens several times a game.

Equally bad are the animations. While the pitchers have nice motion, every other animation is bush league. Batters twitch with the touch of the swing button. If you tap the hit button rapidly you can make your batter spazz out. The problem appears to lie with an inadequate number of frames of animation for each sequence.

But not all is bad in the game. High Heat is the only PS2 baseball game that lets you customize the cameras. The lousy camera in All-Star makes the game virtually unplayable, so the ability to change camera in High Heat was a big plus. Even more, the camera switches quickly to the field making grabs easy. My fielding errors dropped substantially in this game compared to the other titles simply due to the camera. In addition, it's the only game that lets you adjust the camera angle on replays.

Audio : 92
By far, High Heat has the best sound of the baseball games. The two-man booth balances the play-by-play with color commentary effectively. It does repeat itself on occasion, however, but never to the point of being annoying. Many times it will hint the CPU will bunt (which it never does). The baseball sounds are very good. The sound of impact of the bat and ball is done well, and the crowd noticeably gets into the game.

Interface/Options : 70
There are quite a few options in High Heat, but unfortunately the error-filled game manual leaves many of them out. The manual goes into the basics of the game modes, which includes exhibition games, season play, and an all-star game. Getting to the field can be a chore at first. I found the game menus to be a little confusing. Once on the field, the confusion really set in.

Noticing my pitcher was tiring, I looked up how to a relief pitcher in. In the menu before the game I specified I wanted pitcher warmup so I could get more realism. I go to page 10 and follow the instructions. My relief pitcher instantly enters the game without any time in the bullpen. The manual leaves out two crucial steps. To send a pitcher to the bullpen, instead of changing the pitcher, you have to select "view pitcher" and then select the player from the list of pitchers.

At the game, you are given a full report of the action similar to a newspaper box score and game summary. The summaries are second to none and mark on of the highlights of the game. But then when you want to cycle through the league stats, the manual again comes up short and you are left figuring out the menu system on your own. The manual makes no mention of using the L1 and R1 buttons to switch categories. Once you figure this tidbit out you'll find a stats engine that is realistic in every category. The unrealistic behavior was saved for the team management section. You can't pull of multiple player deals and the CPU appears to blindly approve every trade you propose.

Perhaps the weakest aspect of the interface is the lack of analog support. Control of batters, fielders, baserunners, and pitchers is all done with the digital pad. With the invention of the analog stick I figured my thumb was safe from soreness. Thanks, 3D0, for bring back the pain.

Gameplay : 85
Some of you out there consider High Heat to be the best baseball franchise going. While it's pretty good, I can't honestly say that it's head and shoulders above the competition. Now my personal preference is to use a batting and pitching cursor. On the pitching end I understand that most big league pitchers have almost pinpoint control. On the batting end batters have the uncanny ability to track the ball. I feel cursor-based interfaces mimic reality pretty well. In High Heat the interface is more elementary. When pitching, you first select where on the rubber you want the pitcher to stand (there are three positions). You then select a pitch from the pitcher's repertoire and then decide if you want to throw a ball or strike. If you press the directional pad while selecting a ball or strike you can put some additional motion on the ball. At first I thought the whole system stunk, but with time it really grew on me. It's well implemented, though I'd have to imagine that analog support would have improved it somewhat. Once you understand how your pitcher pitches you can predict where the ball will end up.

An area that appears to need some improvement is pitcher fatigue. In one game Jose Lima was on the mound. After two breakout years, Lima followed up with egg on his face last year. The jury is still out this year. So far it's not looking too good. But as bad as Lima has been pitching, he's not as bad as what I saw in High Heat. Going into the seventh inning of a game, Lima's pitch count was a measly 50, yet he was completely fatigued. Completely unrealistic unless he was coming off a previous start the night before. I can understand lousy control, but fatigue?

On the batting side, you can't move your batter in the box. With this limitation the only way to hit to different areas of the park is with timing and pressing the digital pad. The pad lets you aim the bat. In addition, if you press up while swinging the bat will swing near the shoulders. Pressing down causes you to swing closer to the knees. Again, the interface grew on me, but ultimately my favorite this year would have to be Triple Play with its ability to move the batter in the box.

What is nice is actually being walked in a console baseball game. In High Heat pitchers pitch realistically. A nice mixture of balls and strikes are thrown, and if you wait for the right pitch good things happen. In fact, sitting back and waiting for a pitch makes this game shear brilliance at times. High Heat is the first game that has really fooled me as a batter. The CPU pitcher will throw straight heat for a few pitches followed by a changeup. I look like a big league idiot whenever I swing well ahead of the pitch on changeups. Likewise curve balls have exceptional break. The end result is a game which requires more thought.

Once you start making contact, you'll find the game gives up too many homers and doubles. Playing on several difficulty levels, I found the long ball was invariant with the toughness. The number of doubles was way more than I was expecting and served to cheapen the game somewhat. Once on the basepaths, the response seemed to be off just a tad. I still have difficulty getting certain runners to run while holding others. More times than not I end up having a runner called out because of inadvertent advances.

The AI in High Heat is decent. On offense, the CPU makes excellent baserunning decisions to avoid being thrown out, though I have only seen one steal by the CPU. Yet at the plate I question some decisions. Imagine the following scenario: The game is tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth. The CPU has a player on first with no outs. As a manager, what would you do? If you answered bunt you would get a thumbs up from a majority of managers. Unfortunately the CPU swung away.

Replay Value : 90
Baseball games have inherent replay value unless the gameplay is just plain rotten. High Heat has very good gameplay, and as a result it has made its way into my gaming rotation. I doubt I'll ever finish an entire 162 game season, but the quick 30-minute play means I'll pick this game up if I want a fast game of baseball.

Overall : 83
High Heat is not a game that will instantly grab your attention. First impressions are important. And clearly the first impression High Heat makes is one of an ugly girl. It's ugly. Real ugly. But once you get into the game you'll uncover a pretty good baseball game. The pitcher-batter interplay is second to none and comes the closest to simulating the real contest. The more I play the more I uncover. It's the subtleties that impress me the most. As you play you'll no doubt uncover them as well.

By: James Smith 5/15/01

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