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All-Star Baseball 2004
Score: 9.6 / 10
Any reader who has bothered to pay
attention to my sports game reviews here on Armchair Empire has likely
noticed what a sucker I am for games with a plethora of modes and
options. For sports games, I think the ability to re-create as much of
the real world sport as possible is essential to the gaming experience.
For that reason, EA Sports’ Madden series, despite being slightly less
fluid and innovative than Sega’s and Microsoft’s offerings, has been my
favorite football series over the past three seasons. On the baseball
front, the equivalent of Madden is clearly All-Star Baseball (ASB). ASB
2004 is the most complete, feature-rich console baseball game
not only of this year, but ever. Combine
those options with state-of-the-art graphics and user interface and ASB
2004 becomes a "must have" game for baseball fans and fans of sports
games in general.
ASB 2004 has a truly staggering amount of options. Aside from the
standard quick-play, franchise, and season modes (all with an enormous
amount of customizability), the
game also features a Madden-like scenario mode and a too-cool-for-words
pick-up game mode. The scenario mode puts the player in a specific
historical situation (introduced by former major leaguer Cal Ripken)
that ended badly for a team and gives the player a chance to reverse
history. A handful of these are available at start up along with many
more un-lockable ones.
The pick-up game mode is truly inspired. The game randomly generates a
group of eighteen players from all eras and players take turns picking
up teams. The games are played in a make-shift field complete with a
stop sign for home plate. Getting to play Honus Wagner and Mike Schmidt
on the same team gives the whole thing a Field of Dreams kind of feel
which is wonderful for a baseball nut like myself.
Graphically, ASB 2004 is at least on par with the other Xbox baseball
titles of the year. I think EA’s MVP Baseball features a more polished
look, but the animation and player models here are just as well done as
MVP. The stadiums are really well-modeled and give the game great
authenticity, as does the new, newsreel style interface which is a huge
upgrade over Acclaim’s past efforts. The only real complaint I have
about the graphics is the game’s aliasing and flicker, which puts it
about on par with Madden for the PS2. MVP Baseball features much better
anti-aliasing and, as a result, simply looks like a more polished,
higher resolution game.
All-Star Baseball features the best commentary of the year also, though
all of the new titles are a little disappointing on that front. Still,
where MVP has announcers that consistently say things that are unrelated
to the current game situation, ASB’s main problem is the delay the
engine needs to insert game-specific info into the flow of the
commentary. Sometimes, I was on the third batter while the commentary
was finishing up commenting on the first batter’s at-bat.
The stats engine of ASB is top of the line. As baseball fans are
notorious for being numbers wonks, it is nice to see that Barry Bond
performs like Barry Bonds and Randy Johnson pitches (and gets injured)
like Randy Johnson. The fact is that with the current state of
technology it is a simple matter to get the stats correct and ASB, like
the other two major baseball releases this year, gets everything right.
Using the sim option to play ten or so seasons will provide some
anomalies (like a thirty-three home run season for Rafael Furcal, for
instance), but overall the numbers simply feel right.
Finally, and most importantly, the game play of ASB 2004 is up to par
with its presentation and options. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of
the cursor-style batting interface, but it has grown on me over the past
few years. Regardless, players have the option to choose between other
batting styles before starting a season or dynasty, and ASB 2004 has a
batting style for everyone. Fielding is handled in the same way as it
was last years with the buttons on the face of the Xbox controller
representing the respective bases. Again, the controller makes this more
of a headache than it should be as, unlike the Dual Shock 2, the buttons
are not in a perfect diamond. This can make the early games a bit of a
struggle, but pushing the right button eventually becomes second nature.
That’s it then – ASB is a great baseball title that gets nearly
everything correct. Though I love the innovations present in EA’s new
MVP franchise, ASB’s multiple modes and options simply push it into the
lead position for this year. If you can buy only one console baseball
title this year, make it All-Star Baseball 2004.