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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Microsoft Game Studios

 

Developer

Microsoft Game Studios

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q2 2003

 

 

- Xbox Live support and good online gameplay
- Amazing animated stadium and surrounding environment visuals
- Good play-by-play and color commentary usage
- Championship Challenge is a lot of fun, but could have used a few more additions

 

 

- Uneven A.I. and lack of baseball ďsmartsĒ
- Awful after-play cut-scenes
- What? No franchise mode?

 

 

Review: MVP Baseball 2003 (XB)

Review: All-Star Baseball 2004 (XB)

 

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Inside Pitch 2003

Score: 7.0 / 10

 

inside pitch 2003 xbox review         inside pitch 2003 xbox review

 

Microsoft has been hard at work trying to create a first-party sports gaming dynasty for its Xbox. Its first two franchise efforts, NFL Fever and NBA Inside Drive, have improved in quality from their first to second year but havenít been any better than average especially against the strong, and much more polished, competition from Electronic Arts Sports and Sega Sports titles. Trying to buck the trend of a sub par debut is Microsoftís first baseball effort, Inside Pitch 2003. Unfortunately, even with strong online capabilities, Inside Pitch 2003 canít overcome the lack of a franchise mode, sometimes uneven artificial intelligence and baseball smarts, and gameplay thatís a little too close to the arcade side of the fence for true baseball video game aficionados to avoid an underachieving rookie campaign.

Inside Pitch 2003 has a few redeeming qualities in its repertoire. The strongest is its Xbox Live support, which by default makes it the best online Xbox baseball title,

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strictly on the merits of being the only online Xbox baseball title. Still, although itís in an online league of its own, Inside Pitch 2003 performs above expectations on Xbox Live. Although the gameplay tends to lean away from a true simulation and features arcade-style results, a lot of good baseball is packed into Inside Pitch 2003 online, where some of the gameís flaws are more forgivable.

The lone bright star of single-player gaming is

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Inside Pitch 2003ís Championship Challenge, which follows the biggest trend in sports gaming by letting you re-live some of 2002ís most memorable performances and trying to duplicate feats such as hitting Barry Bondsí 600th career home run, breaking the infamous tie at last yearís All-Star game, or the most difficult of all, duplicating Craig Biggioís cycle (hitting triples isnít easy, even in a video game). This mode is a great extra feature for real baseball fans, but unfortunately, there are only a handful of actual challenges and youíll definitely be wanting for more.

In most other areas, Inside Pitch 2003 drops the ball to some degree. While overall itís by no means an awful or unplayable game, it suffers from too many uneven facets. Case in point is the visual delivery.

Inside Pitch 2003 sports magnificent graphics when it comes to the many ballparks youíll visit. These are some of the most beautiful renderings of baseball stadiums seen, and on top of that are the animated scoreboards and surrounding stadium features that are the envy of many a sports game. The ultra-realistic scoreboards actually are completely animated with goodies such as score updates and the usual presentations you would see if you were at the game in person. Flags wave in the breeze, after-homer or after-game fireworks are dazzling and lighting during night action is super-realistic.

But as impressive as the stadiums and surrounding visuals are, the player and on-field graphical presentation is a huge disappointment. Once a ball is hit into play, the Inside Pitch 20003 players donít look or move close to lifelike at all. The only area that they arenít too bad is in the pitcher/batter interface, where both the hitter and hurler at least retain some semblance of realistic appearance. One other complaint is with the after-out animations, where every player waves and showboats to the crowd, even if he just caught a routine fly ball. Real baseball players may be the most obnoxious of all professional sports performers (at least in their off-field activities), but even they know that they donít show up other teams or players on the field without expecting major payback.

 

inside pitch 2003 xbox review          inside pitch 2003 xbox review


At first, Inside Pitch 2003ís defensive controls seem to be some of the best mapped out and well designed of any Iíve seen in a while in a sports game. Using the right thumbstick instead of the buttons to throw to each base was a good idea. Itís easier to hit the thumbstick right for a throw to first than trying to hit the ďBĒ button and instead hitting the ďAĒ instead, as happens in Sega Sportsí World Series Baseball 2K3. But Inside Pitch 2003 is perplexing because even with what seems to be a great control setup doesnít always perform well in actual execution. One big problem is when trying to turn a double play. Most times, there is a hiccup or delay in hitting up on the right thumbstick to throw to second and the actual throwing of the ball by your player. So what should be easy tailor-made twin killings instead results in a lot of runners safely reaching one or both of the bases thrown to.

Pitching and batting arenít hard to do with the gameís controls, although thereís a slight issue with the pitching controls. The game forces you to decide before you pitch if you want to throw a ball or a strike no mater what specific pitch is selected. You can still move the pitch around, but if you selected a strike, it will stay in the strike zone, giving an opponent a better chance of hitting it. Also, a pitcherís fatigue doesnít seem to have an effect on where it will place either in or out of the strike zone, even though there is a noticeable lack of velocity on a tired hurlerís deliveries.

Audio features fare better in Inside Pitch 2003, starting with the good announcing tandem of real baseball announcers Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. Iím still waiting for the day when Hall of Fame announcer Harry ďThat ballís outta here!Ē Kalas, who Iíve grown up listening to as the venerable voice of the Philadelphia Phillies announcing team, is used in a video game, but until then a good pair like McCarver and Buck will suffice. Itís not the all-time greatest play-by-play and color commentary in a sports video game ever, but they do a good job with providing commentary when appropriate. (Thereís also the ability to use the Xbox customizable soundtrack feature to play whatever music you want to play ball with.)

Hurting Inside Pitch 2003 more than a home plate collision is its uneven A.I., which performs extremely strange from time to time and also isnít the most baseball smart especially when you are hitting and have runners on base. There are times when you get a routine grounder to third or short and throw the ball to first, just as big leaguers would do. But instead of getting an out, the runner somehow beats the throw, which never should happen on routine grounders. An unhelpful A.I. makes trying to navigate the base paths a real adventure. You could have a runner on third base and hit a single. But instead of the runner being sent home by the A.I., itís left up to you to control the runner and send him home. Heís the runner you shouldnít have to worry about. Itís the player going to first and deciding if thereís any opportunity to go to second that you should be only worried about.

The most egregious error Inside Pitch 2003 commits is by not including a Franchise mode. You can play a sort-of franchise mode, a three-year Season mode where you can pull off trades, but nothing such as the excellently addicting Franchise mode seen in World Series Baseball 2K3 is remotely possible in Inside Pitch 2003. Players you traded for wonít carry over from one season to the next, which doesnít make sense at all. What was Microsoft thinking by not including a franchise mode? Were they concentrating more on Inside Pitch 2003ís online gameplay? Thatís the only conclusion I can come up with, because every other serious baseball game on the market today has an involved franchise mode that real hardcore baseball fans demand having in their baseball video games.

Online gameplay barely gives Inside Pitch 2003 a passing grade. Similar to the initial versions of Microsoftís NFL Fever and Inside Drive series, Inside Pitch 2003 shows potential but contains flaws that must be taken care of for it to move into serious contention against the likes of the All-Star Baseball and World Series Baseball franchises. Inside Pitch 2003 needs at least another year down on the developmental farm learning how to be a successful big leaguer in the highly competitive baseball gaming field. If you can deal with Inside Pitch 2003ís disappointing single-player experience and focus solely on its relatively solid Xbox Live gameplay, then you may want to give Inside Pitch 2003 a chance. But there are much better and more complete packaged baseball games available if youíre only into offline baseball gaming.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(July 13, 2003)

 

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