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Reviewed: Baseball 2001
Author: Chris Kim       Date: April 23rd 2000
Page: 2

With the 2000 baseball season underway, it was inevitable that the baseball games would start rolling in. One of the first to hit the field is Microsoft's bargain bin Baseball 2001 which boasts many new engine enhancements and now backed by the Baseball Mogul technology. The previous Baseball 2000 effort was a decent one that was able to stand in the crowd for a while, but was overshadowed by bigger, more respected titles as Triple Play 2000 and High Heat Baseball 2000. One of the strengths of Baseball 2000 were it's graphics and solid pitcher/hitter interface, however, the game stumbled once it came to GM functions and other simulation features. The new 2001 version was set out to fix that problem adding the new Mogul technology.

As with typical baseball games, the game consists of several different game modes and play styles. As with all games, there are the exhibition, league, playoff, and homerun derby competitions. Unique to the Baseball 2001 (along with other Microsoft Sports titles), is the Tonight's Game feature, which based on the date, will return the games that are played on that day based on the schedule. Then combined with the Mogul technology, there are the deep career and GM functions that the player can play around with to produce the hardest hitting or pitching team.

Swing Batta, Swing
Stride Now
Toss it in There

One of the best implementations of GM and career options are present in Baseball 2001. Using the Baseball Mogul technology, managing and taking control of a team and developing them into a solid ball club is simply a joy. Very similar to how real-life works, with rookies and youngsters developing getting better and worse, the same effect takes place in the league options in Baseball 2001. Basically, players will obtain control of a team and then guide them through the years to turn them into a World Series winning ball club. All players will start in the year 2000 with ratings based on their 1999 statistics and their skills will develop over the seasons, either increasing or decreasing their ratings. The dynamic ratings change from season to season depending on the numbers they post during the previous season. These skills and ratings have a dramatic event on the field as to how they perform and play. This development can be used in either play or simulation modes.

Another quite accurate portion of the development of the game is the accurate simulation mode. Most of the statistics and scores that the game posts tend to be believable and realistic. Most players will not hit over .400 or hit 70 homeruns, although they can get close. Most games are played within reasonable range of a realistic baseball score. Another great feature is the implementation of the money system, which is seemly based upon millions of dollars, but isn't necessarily representative of anything. Each team has a certain amount of points to distribute among players and other parts of the team such as scouting and farm systems. Depending on the funding in certain areas, better farm players will develop and trading with other teams will become a whole lot easier. The development of farm players is amazing; players will be formed with random names and skill levels. This is important because players as they age will retire. This adds a lot of depth to the game, making managers think twice before making such rash decisions as trading a 39 year old star for a 19 year old hot prospect in AAA. As more time is spent in AAA, players usually develop more skills and gain their abilities gradually, shift them too fast into the majors, and see their skills and statistics plummet towards the ground.

Get on the Field
Doh, That's Coors Field for Ya
Just Looking In

If only the on-field action was as good as the off-field action, Baseball 2001 might have been one of the best baseball games of all-time or at least played at the same level as Sammy Sosa's High Heat Baseball 2001 for the best baseball game title. The downfall is not with the pitcher/batter interface, but with fielding and the outrageous bugs in the game. Similar to last year's title, Baseball 2000, the 2001 edition uses a similar interface where the pitcher has a cursor, as does the hitter. The pitcher with their controller moves a cursor around the pitching zone and selects an area to attempt to throw at. The hitter then must move his cursor over to the pitch and time it at the same time. Depending on the skill level selected, the speed and timing factors change drastically as do the times that the pitching cursor is visible. At the easy levels, hits are not too uncommon, but on the higher skill levels, a more realistic level of strikeouts and walks are issued.

Another admirable feature is the relatively realistic turn outs of games being played, that is of course assuming that players are playing on the higher difficulty levels and haven't mastered the level they are playing on. When playing at a well-matched difficulty level, an accurate amount of walks and strikeouts happen. Also with the pitching and batter interface, both the computer and human players will swing at their fair share of balls and strikes. This results in a much more realistic and immersive baseball environment. When batting, their respective skills have a direct effect on the size of the hitting zone and power zones. Each batter has a sized batting zone, that they will make contact with the ball assuming the timing of the swing is right. Within the batting zone, is a sweet spot, that when made contact with usually results in a line drive. Hence, not a whole lot of homeruns or extra base hits occur. This incorporates a deep realism factor. Some other extras in the game are a bunch of small hidden details such as batting practice mode where players hit through the line-up regularly, but outs don't count.

Out the Strike Zone
Toss it to Second
Out at First!

Where the game really stumbles is playing the field. The most annoying thing about the game is the incredibly small and hard to track baseball once it is in play. Because the ball is so small, it is nearly impossible to tell where and to whom it was hit near to field it properly. There is also a ball trial option that supposedly allows for following the ball easier, but that turns into an annoying nuisance rather than an aid. Another incredibly annoying aspect about fielding is the increasing amount of errors that a team makes. Most of these errors and mistakes don't seem to be any real errors that would be made on a real baseball diamond. They are simple errors like a slow dribbler that goes through his legs and countless throwing errors that happen. It isn't uncommon for three to four errors happening during the course of a game. On a related note, passed balls and wild pitches never seem to happen.

Only more annoying than the difficult to track ball and excessive errors are the seemingly slipped logical errors with the programming of the game. There are a handful of bugs that simply make the game half as enjoyable as it should be. Some of these affect gameplay more than others, but one of the biggest bugs is the 3D Acceleration crashing bug. On my G400 videocard with the 5.52.015 (dated Feb. 25, 2000) drivers, without switching to software first then going into 3D Accelerated mode, the game would hang and not display any graphics. Another bug is with sound effects looping over and stumbling over itself like a broken record player. Another annoying bug is with substitutions, when a player is substituted for another player, the substituted player can still come back into the game at a later point. The player that was substituted for, can still come back into the game at a later point. This means that no matter what substitutions are made, the bench will always be full of players when it shouldn't be. All these errors, while not big, make the game a whole less enjoyable. With a patch or two, however, these issues should be able to be flattened out.

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Added:  Sunday, April 23, 2000
Reviewer:  Chris Kim
Page: 2/5

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