The 2000 baseball season is underway and so far we've seen a
pair of baseball titles step up to the plate this year. Leading off
was 3DO's Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001, which promptly
nailed a triple off the centre field wall with its accurate and
immersive baseball experience. High Heat 2001 later scored on a
bug… errr, wild pitch. Next up was EA Sports' Triple Play 2001,
which quickly struck out looking with its over-the-top arcade style
play that offered little over its previous at bats. So now, batting
third, it's Microsoft Baseball 2001. Let's Play Ball!
As Microsoft Baseball 2001 walks from the dugout to the batter's
box, it brings with it a lot of hype and potential. For starters, its
endorsed by Boston Red Sox superstar Nomar Garciaparra. It
features all the necessary MLB licenses, including all MLB teams,
stadiums, players, and likeness. Last but not least, it boasts
Baseball Mogul technology, allowing the ability to manage teams,
players' careers over multiple seasons and control over a team's
finances. Let's find out if Microsoft Baseball 2001 can translate this
potential into a stellar performance.
The pitcher winds and delivers the pitch. Microsoft swings and
nails it! This could be gone if it stays fair. It's slicing, slicing, foul!
That's too bad. The count is 0-1.
So much for Mogul technology. The managerial options are
implemented poorly with several Mogul features absent from the
title altogether. For starters, finances are not managed in terms of
cash value, but rather point value. In other words, you might be
paying Carlos Delgado 56 points a year over 4 years. Sure, you can
imagine that's 5.6 million dollars a year, but it's just not the same.
You can negotiate contracts, make trades, adjust ticket prices and
other such options, but the overall effect is less than dramatic.
While certain teams have more money at their disposal, MS
Baseball 2001 doesn't really take small market teams into effect. At
the end of the year I was able to resign both Dustin Hermanson
and Ugeth Urbina while managing the Montreal Expos. It came
time to re-sign those free agents and I was automatically able to
sign them to new deals. Ok, I suppose that's possible, but why
every other team decided to let go of all their free agents is
beyond me. To top things off, I was able to sign Roberto Alomar,
Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams with absolutely no difficulty. Why
any or all of those players would jump at the opportunity to play
for my Expos is beyond me, let alone the reason why they didn't
re-sign with their respective clubs. It just wouldn't happen in real
life, which puts an end to that realistic aspect of MS Baseball 2001.
The computer doesn't manage opposing teams well at all. The
icing on the cake comes when you realize that simulated games
don't produce box scores. That's right, you have no way of
knowing how well your players do on auto-played games. As if
that wasn't enough, there's also no way of knowing what other
teams do in terms of transactions, any kind of news page is absent
Tough foul ball, talk about a missed opportunity. The pitcher sets
in again, winds and delivers the next pitch. Microsoft takes the
pitch low and away, ball one. The count is now 1-1.
When it comes to audio, Microsoft Baseball 2001 seems content
with producing the basics. Play-by-play and commentary is
produced by Arizona Diamondback announcer Thom Brennaman.
They've done a decent job ensuring there's a variety of comments
throughout the game, but it falls well short of the dramatic
commentary found in Triple Play 2001. It's certainly better than the
muffled High Heat commentary, but it didn't seem as though
Brennaman was really into the game. MS Baseball 2001 is also
rather void of music during the game. Besides the seventh inning
stretch, the tunes are absent during the game. Outside of the
game, you'll hear the usual menu-based music, but I tend to turn
that off considering I like to spend time browsing stats and such. In
terms of sound effects, the usual assortment of bells and whistles
are available during the game. Fan reaction and in-game effects
such as the bat striking the ball are all present, but just don't come
across like they should. When you get hit with a 95 mph fastball,
you should feel that and I just didn't here.
Here's the 1-1 pitch. Microsoft swings and sends a rocket down the
third base line, this could be extra bases!
Graphically, Microsoft has done an excellent job. If there's one
things Microsoft has been able to do well with their sports titles, it's
provide fluent animation and real-life likeness. Those features are
present in MS Baseball 2001 as all the big name players look
exactly like their real-life counterparts. The level of detail is
incredible. Not only are player textures well done but the stadiums
are much improved over recent years. Microsoft Baseball 2001
features arguably the best graphics in a baseball title. High levels
of detail are also noticeable in player movements and animations.
Motion capture has been used to make sure that all movements
look as authentic as possible. Much like their NFL and NBA titles,
player animation is one of the highlights of the game.
The ball rolls into the corner as Microsoft rounds first and heads for
The gameplay in Microsoft Baseball 2001 is quite good. The
physics engine is much improved over previous editions and the
gameplay doesn't feel scripted at all, an issue that many High Heat
fans have expressed concerns about. The camera angles are well
implemented and the entire atmosphere is definitely there.
The right fielder throws the ball to the cut-off man as Microsoft
rounds second base. The cut-off man quickly fires to second base
as Microsoft scrambles back to the bag.
The gameplay isn't all good though, there are plenty of bugs that
popped up during play that are inexcusable. Throwing errors
occur far too frequently during a single game and the AI doesn't
seem capable of discerning what an error actually is. If your
outfielder misses the cut-off man, the computer counts that as an
error, whether the baserunner advances or not. If the runner
doesn't advance, where's the error? Minor glitches also popped up
including an instance where I accidently had two runners caught
on the same bag. It was a double steal gone wrong and I got
caught in a rundown that resulted in both my runners standing at
second base. However, the opposing team was unable to get any
of my player's out despite the fact one of them was automatically
out. It didn't record the out until I physically made one of them step
off the bag, a move that I had to do in order to continue playing,
although I thought long and hard how to avoid the out. Other
minor glitches include the fact that stealing bases is literally
impossible in MS Baseball 2001. In many ways, MS Baseball 2001
reminded me a lot of High Heat Baseball 2000 with its gameplay
glitches. 3DO was able to eliminate most of those issues in their
latest instalment and hopefully Microsoft will do the same with a
patch. Perhaps after all that, Microsoft will think to include
multiplayer in the next edition too.
The throw comes into second and Microsoft is called out. Oh my,
that's a running error if I've ever seen one. That's too bad,
hopefully Microsoft will be a little wiser the next time up at the
plate. I'm sure the coach and manager aren't too concerned
though, Microsoft Baseball 2001 certainly has more at bats coming
in the future and besides, Microsoft's contract came fairly cheap.
It's still unfortunate that the young kid hasn't lived up to his
potential yet, but the future remains bright. Next batter, Play ball!