Do you hear that? That’s the sound of a group of athletes complaining that their respective teams won’t renegotiate their $10 million a year contracts because Alex Rodriquez is the new poster boy for greed. That’s right, it’s time to play ball! With spring training in full gear and the regular season just a month away, it’s the perfect opportunity for publishers to peddle their baseball titles to impatient fans waiting for the boys of summer to take the field. For PC gamers, that means the High Heat Baseball and Triple Play franchises. EA Sports has beat 3DO to the punch this year by releasing Triple Play 200… err, Triple Play Baseball. That’s right, EA Sports has decided to drop the year from the end of their baseball series this season, perhaps in anticipation that this will be the last Triple Play baseball title to focus on arcade gameplay? Let’s certainly hope that’s the case because this isn’t baseball, this is batting practice at Coors Field disguised as America’s pastime, if nothing more.
Leading off the top of the first for Triple Play Baseball is the usual wide assortment of game modes and options available. You can play an exhibition game or two, jump right into the post-season, begin a campaign, set-up a Big League Challenge (home run derby) or venture online to play head-to-head against an opponent over the Internet. Triple Play Baseball features all the current MLB teams, players and ballparks (including new stadiums such as the Pirates’ PNC Park). The season mode has been stepped up to include free agency and detailed individual player stats, and a new player editor allows you customize new or existing players like never before. Basically, Triple Play Baseball starts off the inning well enough but once you get to the meat of the order, it all takes a turn for the worse.
Triple Play Baseball is and always has been an action-oriented baseball title. The emphasis is on arcade style play, not simulation, so if you’re looking for a realistic portrayal of baseball, you might want to stop reading here and wait for our High Heat Baseball 2002 review to appear in near future. Heck, the fact that Triple Play Baseball boasts “all new hidden secrets” should be warning enough that this is probably going to be a pretty shallow experience. True to form, Triple Play Baseball doesn’t veer from its usual formula, which is unfortunate. Even arcade enthusiasts have got to be wondering why year in and year out the Triple Play franchise seems to be taking one step forward and two steps back.
Let’s quickly tackle some of the fundamental principles of baseball that Triple Play Baseball fails to capture. For starters, the pitcher-hitter match-up is non-existent. There’s no such thing as painting the outside corner with a curveball or even throwing a cut fastball. Every pitch is either right down the middle or well off the plate. There’s no fooling the batters here, it’s all about who can get the most hits and preferably, who can sock the most home runs in a given contest. The majority of games will see an inflated total number of hits, not to mention most of those hits will either be dingers or singles, as doubles and triples are considerably rare due to the fact that most outfielders have a cannon for an arm and sprinter-like legs. Base running is sometimes an issue as well. Since when do base runners not go from first to third on a single to right field? And for the love of Pete, can somebody please explain to me, like I’m a six-year old, why EA Sports continues to include a speed burst button in this series? Isn’t it safe to assume that players will hustle around the bags without you having to tell them otherwise? If not, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to reflect that in their skills, rather than with a button? Let me put it this way, whether I tell the man to pick up his feet or not, Johnny Damon is going to hustle for that extra base each and every time.
There are plenty of other issues that rear their ugly head throughout a game. For one, the AI is quite weak. Opposing teams don’t seem to recognize certain game situations, as they’ll often bring in their closer at inappropriate times. Fielding AI can also be a problem, particularly when infielders wander away from their respective bags. The ball physics don’t seem to be quite right either. The trajectory of some fly balls is awkward and ground balls tend to skip rather than roll. It’s also difficult to pick up pitches that break so it can become a game of timing rather than skill. To top if off, the fact that there are so many hits during any given game means that most contests will take upwards of an hour to complete. All these little gripes and miscues lend to a gaming experience that doesn’t feel like baseball at all.
What’s an EA Sports game without incredible visuals? (I’d hate to imagine in Triple Play’s case) You can always count on stellar graphics from EA Sports and Triple Play Baseball is no different. Players are easily recognizable as they step into the batter’s box or up to the pitcher’s mound, not only because of the facial detail and animations but also in their mannerisms. EA Sports has done an excellent job bringing each player to life. The animations throughout the game are usually quite good although I have noticed a few missing animations while playing the field and running the bases. The sound, on the other hand, has left the park. Jim Hughson and Buck Martinez return for yet another year of commentary (undoubtedly the last now that Buck is the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays) and while they rarely speak out of place, they repeat their comments far too often. The sound effects are your standard bunch but the soundtrack selection is terrible. The traditional ballpark themes are replaced with an alternative rock compilation. Who with the what now?
Year in and year out, EA Sports’ Triple Play Baseball franchise continues to disappoint. Some of the additions are commendable, particularly the player editor, improved statistics, free agency, and post-game wrap-ups, but this game just doesn’t feel like baseball. It never has and unless they present a fresh take on the series, it never will. The lack of a solid pitcher-batter match-up, questionable ball physics, weak AI, repetitive commentary and the inclusion of some ridiculous elements, such as speed burst and hidden secrets, all contribute to a baseball experience that is quietly losing it’s spot in the starting rotation. Diehard baseball fans will be disappointed by the lack of depth and arcade enthusiasts are bound to realize this series isn't much fun anymore. Triple Play Baseball is in need of a conditioning stint in the minors.
[ 26/50 ] Gameplay
[ 08/10 ] Graphics
[ 07/10 ] Sound
[ 07/10 ] Multiplayer
[ 07/10 ] Replay Value
[ 05/10 ] Fun Factor