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Triple Play Baseball (PS2) Review

Background Info

If you believe it or not, this is not the first baseball game for the PlayStation 2. Owners of the Japanese systems have had the option of picking up one of many baseball titles, ranging from high school league baseball to big-headed pro ball. But stateside Triple Play is heading out of the chute neck-and-neck with one of its competitors, All Star Baseball from Acclaim.

Triple Play Baseball for the PlayStation 2 utilizes the heritage of the Triple Play franchise and updates it for the 128-bit world of the PS2. But where we have become accustomed to PS2 versions of PSX titles, Triple Play marks a significant departure. While not as revolutionary as the transition of Madden from the PSX to PS2, Triple Play stands out in its own right.

The press sheet promises things like new intelligence levels for throwing, catching, and fielding. Basically better AI. It also touts an all new pitching and hitting interface. There's better throwing logic with support for the analog buttons. And of course there are the obvious graphical improvements with better looking players and stadiums and even more animations. The press sheet promises a bunch. Does it deliver?

Graphics : 85
The first thing I did once I booted Triple Play Baseball up was to head to two parks I have excellent familiarity with - Enron Field and Fenway. At Enron I was pleased to find the flagpoles in the outfield, which were missing from the 32-bit version of the game. EA even went the extra mile and put the antique train engine in the outfield. Apart from that, every bit of the stadium is modeled in exact detail. Next was a trip up the East Coast to Boston to check out famed Fenway. The outfield grandstands have the appropriate taper, and the green monster was there in all its glory. But I was struck by one thing. The notable Citgo gas sign was missing. In its place was a triangular billboard but with a fictitious logo and company name. Then I did some more searching. Dunkin' Donuts is all over Boston, including the ballpark. Yet every sign in Fenway and every other park had no real names. I guess the advertising arm of EA was slow to pick up contracts. Every billboard and outfield sign, while looking absolutely marvelous with nice textures, is for a fictitious product or company. One nice touch are the outfield scoreboards. The power of the PS2 really shows as scores from other games are easily readable. On the other hand, the crowds are uninspiring; they look more like the crowds of NBA2K1 on the Dreamcast than what we know the PS2 is capable of.

The next graphical item to check off the list is the player. EA established their own trend with Madden by making players look somewhat squatty. Nothing has changed here. To me, players look like overgrown little people (or the less politically correct midgets). Some body parts are too big for the smaller heights, giving each player a funny appearance. Looking past the heights you'll notice extensive detail. Uniforms look spectacular, and at the plate you can make out every detail of the bat. While you can't read the bat logo, it's pretty close. EA claims to have added facial textures to over 150 players to give them lifelike appearance, and for many players you can definitely see a resemblance to the real life players.

Animations are handled wonderfully. At the plate, Jeff Bagwell had his characteristic bent-knee stance and would wag the bat close to the plate. While batting, there are plenty of frames of animation to make for smooth transitions. If hit by a pitch, players will toss a nasty glance towards the pitcher. On the basepaths, players slide convincingly and will even kick up some dirt. In the outfield fielding animations are pretty good. The exception has to be with some line drives, where infielders can sometimes catch a ball with their backs turned to the plate. Otherwise, the players scoop up the ball and toss it over to the appropriate base. Throwing to first generally yields a close-up view, adding to the TV style look.

One problem with the PSX version of Triple Play Baseball was fielding due to the slowness with which the game transitioned from the batting to fielding view. Fortunately those problems have been fixed. I've been playing much better with the PS2 version of the game because of the snappier graphical transition. What's odd, however, is that the PS2 version of the game has a reduced camera selection. The PSX version has three fielding and batting views. In the PS2 version, there is a single view for batting and for fielding. The batting view is ideal, with the camera right behind the batter. It provides a good view of the path of the ball and you can predict where the ball will land. My only complaint with the fielding view is that at times the ball will land in a gap in the outfield and neither outfielder can be seen. EA and developer Treyarch should have done a better job here to zoom out to at least capture the ball and one outfielder. In the infield the camera is certainly acceptable.

Also gone is an excellent replay system. The PSX version of the game has an incredible number of cameras. You can replay the action from the point of view of any of the players or a few static cameras. Unfortunately Triple Play Baseball for the PS2 has fixed replay camera views. You have no control whatsoever.

Audio : 88
The sound in Triple Play Baseball is slightly improved over the previous editions of the game. Sean McDonough provides play-by-play and Buck Martinez chimes in on the color. The two man booth calls the action straight with Sean getting most of the air time. Buck's color usually consists of historical stats from past players as well as previous stats of the players on the field. There is some back and forth banter between the two to keep the audio somewhat stimulating.

Listening past the commentary, you'll notice that the over-the-top whoosh sound borrowed from the Tiger Woods golf games occurs less and less, thankfully. This is due in part because a change in the hitting interface which restricts power hits. The end product is a more realistic sounding baseball game. Balls leave the bat with a crack, and only homers and deep flys near the wall will generate that cartoonish whoosh. On infield throws you can barely make out the thud as the ball hits glove. Likewise, the voice of the umpire can be heard over the booth commentary and cheering of the fans.

Interface/Options : 85
One area where Triple Play Baseball skips a beat is with options. The options set is diminished with respect to the PSX version of the game. While the game modes are the same, the behind-the-scenes options are what have been cut. The game ships with the single game, season, playoff, and Big League Challenge modes. All but the Big League Challenge mode is the same as the past editions. This time, the Big League Challenge, while still a home run derby, doesn't have the target practice version of the game. The season mode can be played with front office options, though no franchise mode exists. I personally could care less about a franchise mode with a baseball game. True sim fans will have a hard enough time getting through a single 162 game season let alone multiple seasons. And if you argue for multiple 30 game seasons, you're not a baseball purist anyway.

Options which have been cut include the cameras from which to view the game and fielding help. You can't select manual or auto fielding but must live with the default fielding in the game. Also, there is a single batting mode instead of the previous easy or hard modes. However, you can still cycle options like difficulty (rookie, pro, or all-star), errors, and innings per game.

One glaring omission from the season mode is the lack of injuries. To make up for it, a generous general manager mode is included where you can create players, sign free agents, make trades, initiate a pre-season draft, and shuffle your lineup.

The statistical system appears up to snuff for the various teams in the league. One oddity I noticed with the stats engine was when I viewed pitching stats for league wide leaders. Remarkably, while wins were shown in the stats, losses were not. I had to go to the team stats section to get loss records. With the new AI I was actually able to record a few strikeouts, though my players rarely walked. For the rest of the league, these categories had realistic results. I simmed a 162 game season and the league leading stats passed muster. AL MVP Manny Ramirez had a career long ball year. His league leading 63 homers capped off a .312 season with 159 RBI's. Andruw Jones took home the honors in the NL with a solid .324 average, decent homer (41) and RBI (109) totals, but also a nice season on the basepaths (50 steals). Hideo Nomo gets comeback player of the year award. His 19-6 record with a 3.19 ERA was good enough to capture the Cy Young award. The Braves pitching staff again ruled the roost. This time Kevin Millwood shut the league down with a 21-5 record and stately 3.00 ERA. The World Series champ ended up being the Blue Jays. Additional simmed seasons produced similar numbers but with different names.

Gameplay : 82
Triple Play Baseball for the PS2 seems to be migrating the title from the arcade based game it's been on the PSX and PC into a full-fledged simulation. The most noticeable thing is the change in hitting. First, gone are the two types of hits. Previously you could hit for power or simply swing the bat. Power hitters almost always swing for the fences and lack the finesse that ground ball hitters possess. In reality, homers are a combination of power and location. EA and Treyarch have come to that realization and implemented it wonderfully in the current version of the game. Batting utilizes one button only - the X button. To hit a pitch, a round batting cursor is moved with the analog stick. You can move the cursor anywhere in the strike zone. As a pitch comes in, you can adjust the cursor to track the ball. If contact is made, the type of hit is a function of where the ball was hit in the cursor. If the cursor is just below the ball, it's a fly. Hitting above the ball yields a grounder. Line drives can be had by hitting near the center. Homers come by hitting the ball just right, which occurs at a realistic pace. The batting interface is much improved and is one of the best you'll find.

Equaling the batting interface, the pitching interface is a dream. First, you select one of up to four pitches for a given pitcher. Next, you move an image of the ball to select pitch location. If you get to the edge of the strike zone, the Dual Shock 2 controller vibrates to let you know. Then, press the X button to pitch. Triple Play uses the pressure sensitive analog buttons for pitching. If you lightly press the pitch button very little strength is put behind the pitch. If you press hard, the pitch strength meter fills up completely. While a great concept, the interface needs to be worked a little. I found it difficult to get anything but minimum or maximum power pitches. Trying to pitch in the middle powerband was difficult. Finally, something which is not documented in the manual is that there is pitching aftertouch. I know what some of you are thinking - I can move the ball all over the map. The aftertouch is really used for better ball placement. For example, if you select a curve ball up high and start the windup, you can have the ball break down and out by pressing the appropriate direction. The amount of break appears to be a function of initial pitch location and strength. I tried a few pitches inside with the intention of bringing it back in the strikezone. All I got was a hit batter. I noticed the CPU using this aftertouch feature as well. At the plate the ball would drop or break at times like a big league pitcher can do.

The improvements made in the pitching interface makes the game more of a simulation. You can now really set up batters. While I would prefer to have a schematic showing batters' hot and cold zones, I'll add that to my wishlist for the next version of the game. The interface is one notch below the excellent pitching interface of All-Star Baseball 2001, which says a lot.

My big gripe with the PlayStation version of the game was the lousy control in the field, due in large part to inaccurate controls and slow transition from the batting to fielding view. All that has changed with the PS2 version. EA has come on to something with throwing. They still use the X button in combination with the stick or pad to throw to a base (I prefer a button for each base), but this time around the game recognizes the direction much better. The biggest improvement is that throws are pressure sensitive. If you tap the X button, your fielding kind of tosses the ball to a base. If you press hard your player whips the ball across the field. The pressure sensitive throwing is a real nice feature that must be used wisely. Abusing it opens you up to errors, as the likelihood of missing the ball increases with throw strength. This is especially true when throwing from the outfield to home directly. Many times the ball was thrown wide and an extra run would come in. You have to utilize your baseball smarts and throw to the cutoff man in the right situation.

At times fielding can still be problematic. While it is much improved, I did find situations where my players would not make a play on the ball. There were also times when the closest player wasn't always selected. Nothing is more frustrating watching your second baseman or shortstop stand while a grounder rolls by just a few feet away. I am disgusted when the CPU automatically selects one of my outfielders to grab the ball. But the AI has been tuned substantially to the point that the good far outweighs the bad. EA's press sheet mentions the game has semi-automatic control, and this saves some aggravation in the game. You still have good control over your players, but EA includes a bit of a crutch in some situations. The mix makes for a much more enjoyable game. The semi-automatic control means there is no complete manual or automatic control in the game. Depending on how you like your game, this can be good or bad. I personally prefer more control.

One thing I really liked about the PSX version of the game was the AI. The CPU always made great baseball decisions. In the PS2 version, this appears to be the case as well. While the number of situational bunts has decreased (happened a little too often in the PSX version) the overall AI just leaves a wonderful taste in my mouth. My games are clocking in between 45 to 60 minutes, and each game has been bliss. The reason is that this game really gives me a sense of baseball. Some of the highlights include a game where Griffey was on first base. I notice that he's taking an aggressive leadoff. I zip the ball over to first and catch him heading to second. A quick flip to second nails him. In reality a rundown should have occurred, but I wasn't complaining. If the game melts down in one area, it is with rundowns. When the CPU is in the field, they'll throw a couple of times in a rundown situation. If you are patient you'll easily beat the rundown as the CPU team basically gives up.

Another example of some solid AI is the time the CPU had men on 1st and 3rd. The man on first steals. As soon as my catcher gets the ball the graphics switch to a wider view. As my catcher gets up I see the man on third cheating towards home. If I throw the ball he'll cross the plate, so I just hold the ball. Then there was the time the CPU had men on second and third. The batter lines one up the middle for a clear single. My centerfielder makes a good break on the ball, picks it up, and rifles the throw home. The man on third retreats back once he sees the ball come in. The ball takes a bad bounce and my catcher misses it. In comes a run. The baserunning AI is some of the best I have seen in a console game. When I was at the plate, I knew I was out for sure. I popped the ball up in the infield and was shocked when the first and second basemen ran into each other. The ball dropped to the ground and I was safe. Then there are hit batters by both my pitchers and those of the CPU team. Everywhere I turned I was pleased with what I saw. The most significant AI flaw really is the aforementioned fielding problems, which occur less often than previous versions of the game.

If there is one complaint I have with the gameplay, it has to be the bullpen. The manual makes no mention of warming up relief pitchers. If you make a substitution for a pitcher, it's immediate. The incoming pitcher has all his stuff ready. Another omission is the lack of injuries. These problems notwithstanding, Triple Play Baseball appears to be replacing my previous all-time favorite console baseball game - Acclaim's All-Star Baseball 2001 for the N64. As I put even more time into the game, I'll update the gameplay section if my initial impressions change. But after a dozen games, I like what I see.

Replay Value : 90
The graphics, sound, and gameplay have come together to make Triple Play Baseball one heck of a game. The franchise has taken a step away from arcade action and is slowly transforming into a full-fledged simulation. While there are still some things missing to make it complete, the current state of the game is the best ever. I am honestly having a great time with this title. Even though I'm struggling in a big way on the pro level (no thanks to the abysmal pitching staff of the Astros), the games have been interesting. The games take as long as you want. Nine innings can be completed in half an hour. If you want to immerse yourself in the action by checking runners and setting up batters, games take much longer. Either way the pace is enjoyable.

Overall : 85
If a game stinks, I don't hold back. There are a couple of genuine complaints to be made about Triple Play Baseball, such as the lack of a decent replay, lack of injuries, the occasional quirky fielding, and squatty player models. But honestly EA and Treyarch have put forth a nice product, making several improvements over the PSX versions of the game. The implementation of the pressure-sensitive buttons adds a whole new dimension to the game. The new hitting and batting interfaces are more to my liking and are a clear departure from arcade based titles. In a time where we criticize EA for making almost direct ports of their PSX titles and often leaving out features, we must praise them for adding improvements to the PS2 version of Triple Play Baseball.

By: James Smith 3/15/01

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