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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Sega

 

Developer

Visual Concepts/Blue Shift

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

 

 

- Addictive franchise mode

- Extremely challenging and baseball-smart A.I.

- Captures the true essence of baseball inside out

 

 

- No online play?

- Horrible play-by-play and color commentary

- Sometimes-frustrating outfielder control

- Control scheme on Xbox controller takes getting used to

 

 

Review: MVP Baseball 2003 (XB)

Review: Inside Pitch 2003 (XB)

Review: All-Star Baseball 2004 (XB)

 

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World Series Baseball 2K3

Score: 9.0 / 10

Sega’s World Series Baseball franchise made a triumphant return last year with the excellent Xbox-exclusive rendition in 2002. This year, World Series Baseball 2K3 (WSB2K3) on the Xbox (it also appears on the PS2) improves even further by including a ton of new features not only to the gameplay of WSB2K3, but to the great and highly-detailed franchise mode to create a Hall of Fame worthy title for any Xbox baseball fan’s lineup.

 

world series baseball 2k3 xbox review          world series baseball 2k3 xbox review

 

For me, WSB was the best baseball game period when it made its debut on the Sega Genesis and continued its all-star performance on the short-lived Sega Saturn. The franchise slumped noticeably, however, in its two appearances on the even shorter-lived Dreamcast, and it looked for all intents and purposes that the series was headed for an early retirement. But that was before last season’s dramatic turnaround that continues in WSB2K3.

 

New this year is a plethora of features that enhance last year’s title even further. Now, if a long drive’s headed for the seats, you can attempt a leaping Torii Hunter-style over-the-wall catch. Keeping on the defensive, the cut-off and relay throw controls have been improved. On the offensive side of the ball, WSB2K3 adds power swings, drag bunts, and user-controlled leadoffs on the bases. There are even classic stadiums such as Shibe Park and a Hall of Fame team to play with or against starring some of the greatest players to ever don a jersey including Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, and one of my boyhood heroes, the greatest third baseman to ever play the game, Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

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More additions to WSB2K3 include the improved franchise mode, which is a fantasy leaguer’s dream in its current state. Now, all statistics that are compiled during a season will be kept recorded for every single season the player’s in the majors, even for created players that are on rosters once the current crop of Major League player’s head into retirement status. Awards are handed out during and after the season, and there’s a Hall of Fame induction for worthy players each year.

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On the field, WSB2K3, as has become a trademark of Sega Sports games, has one of the most realistic presentations in any baseball game. Pitchers and the batters look and move just as they would on a Monday night ESPN game. There are a lot of ESPN presentation values here used in actual television telecasts including player statistics and half-inning score updates in the game.

 

Outfielders tracking down fly balls also are ultra-realistic. Watch the players leave the field once the third out is recorded and I dare anybody to argue that isn’t amazingly lifelike. Even the players that have their own distinct pitching and batting eccentricities like the Dodgers’ Hideo Nomo or the Orioles’ Tony Batista are represented true-to-life. WSB2K3 looks great almost in every aspect. Almost, because while WSB2K3 players act the same as their real-life counterparts, they surprisingly don’t capture the likeness. And even though the stadiums are re-created with a great attention to detail, WSB2K3’s crowds are awfully unrealistic appearing.

 

One big issue with WSB2K3’s presentation is downright terrible play-by-play and color commentary provided by real-life announcers Ted Robinson and Rex Hudler. Neither adds any significant valuable information to games in progress, the comments are sparse, and even worse highly repetitive. It kills a lot of the realistic quality the visuals achieve.

 

The biggest disappointment other than the poor announcing tandem is not having any Xbox Live support for online gaming. All of Sega’s other Xbox sports games have online support, why not WSB2K3? Again, that should be rectified in WSB2K4.

 

Actual gameplay is one of WSB2K3’s strengths, particularly while pitching. The pitching interface is implemented smartly for single-player gaming, allowing you to pick pitches from the hurler’s actual repertoire and place them anywhere in or out of the strike zone. One feature that can be exploited during a game is when you discover (or know from his real-life performance) an individual batter’s weak point hitting.

 

Ben Grieve of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays can’t hit a curve ball to save his life. Throwing him three curve balls, even smack dab right down the middle of the plate, and nine times out of 10 he will strike out. That works the opposite way too. If the A.I. pitcher throws you a pitch that you swing at and miss badly, expect another similar pitch in the generally same locale until you prove you can hit it.

 

It’s a little harder pitching to a human opponent because they can see where you’re going to throw the pitch. But you can change the location of your pitch right as it releases from the pitcher’s hand. So with a little practice, you’ll be able to keep your opponent off-balance to avoid home run derbies and instead get into some realistic scoring games. Also, a key to pitching is knowing when it’s time to make the call to the bullpen.

 

When a pitcher is tiring, there’s a noticeable increase in the amount of balls thrown compared to strikes and a drop in velocity. Bullpen pitchers need to be warmed up before coming into the game, so managerial strategy must be employed at the right time to avoid getting pounded on the pitcher’s mound.

 

Batting is a little more challenging to master. It’s not easy to become a hitting phenom. You will need tons of batting practice to become a steady hitting machine, learning when to swing and when to lay off pitches while trying to draw a walk. A good eye at the plate goes a long way into hitting development.

 

Fielding absolutely takes the most time to acclimate yourself to because of the button placement on the Xbox controller. The main buttons aren’t placed in the traditional baseball diamond configuration. Pressing the “A” button is a throw to home, but you will find yourself early on in your WSB2K3 experience hitting “A” to throw to first instead of the “B” button. It becomes second nature after a few games, but there is a learning curve.

 

world series baseball 2k3 xbox review          world series baseball 2k3 xbox review

 

Another difficult skill to get used to performing well is diving or leaping for the ball, either in the infield or outfield. The right trigger controls dives and jumps, and again will take practice. Even after much practice it’s not always perfect though, especially in the outfield, where diving for a ball and missing can turn a routine fly ball into an inside-the-park home run. In general, outfield defense can get annoying at times, because it’s sometimes easy to misplay a ball hit to the outfield, even fly balls that should be easy outs.

 

Plenty of modes will keep even the most devout baseball gamer completely happy. The standard season mode and the difficult-in-a-good-way Sega Challenge mode are just gravy on the potatoes that is the stellar franchise mode. The best attribute of any of these modes is that WSB2K3 is the savvy and challenge level of the A.I. Playing in single-player contests against you, the A.I. has great baseball instincts, so it “knows” how to handle situations such as what base to throw a ball to with runners on base, when to hit a cut-off man, and how defend in bunting situations. It also helps you too, automatically sending runners to the next base on hits, and sending them back on fly balls. WSB2K3 is decidedly one of the “smartest” baseball titles available.

 

I have to detail my adventures with the franchise mode just a bit more here. I spent more time simulating season after season in the franchise mode than playing full nine-inning games. For me, WSB2K3 is a “four o’clocker”, a game so good I’ll stay up until four o’clock in the morning playing, even on weekday workdays. The amount of details in WSB2K3 that must be kept track of in the day-to-day operations of running a baseball club is staggering. With trying to maintain a payroll, dealing with trade offers, hiring coaches, drafting players, and running a minor league operation, you’ll really get a good feel for what it takes to be a G.M.

 

Sega swings for the fences and hits it out of the park with WSB2K3, one of the most realistic and enjoyable baseball video games ever. It does have a few errors, such as the awful play-by-play and color commentary, some not-perfect outfield fielding controls, and (unbelievably) no online play, but there’s so much to like in WSB2K3 it can be forgiven. WSB2K3 is such an amazing game, it can single-handedly rekindle the love of the pure sport of baseball that many fans lost (including myself) that fateful lost 1994 strike season.

 

- Lee Cieniawa

lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(July 13, 2003)

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