Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Release Date: 03/14/01 | Genre: Sports
I loved to play baseball when I was a kid. I likely would now if not for the fact that I can't find seventeen friends who want to stand out in the hot sun and stay sober for a couple of hours on the weekend. I could watch television, but baseball games are often painfully boring to sit through. So what am I to do? 3DO asked this question and came up with an idea so great and simple its like bumping into a stranger on the street and saying, "Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter."
3DO has been making the High Heat series of Baseball games for a few years now. The games have developed a nice following and repeatedly receive high marks from reviewers everywhere. It is hard to compete in the video baseball realm because most consumers are very loyal to "their game". EA Sports has dominated the market for so long upstarts and gimmick games stand little chance.
High Heat has succeeded where others have failed mainly because of perseverance. They've tried to make their product better with each sequel (are you listening Tomb Raider?) by keeping what works and retooling or scrapping what doesn't. The result of this is a game that stands out amongst the competition and makes most other games seem like, well?Ķgames.
The graphics here are nice, though hardly eye-popping. Stadiums are made to look like their real life counterparts. And while you can obviously tell you are playing at Wrigley or Shea, the virtual stadiums don't feel as real as I think they could. Players look like real baseball players, but they don't look as realistic as I was hoping. For instance, who could deny looking at a profile of David Wells should look different than Mike Hampton? In High Heat they look far more similar than IRL.
Now the animations part of the graphics look outstanding. When a player dives for a liner in the outfield, you can almost feel the strawberry he's sure to get on his elbow. Pitchers with different arm angles and release points add to the realism quite nicely and give you a sense of the difficulty hitters face IRL. The first baseman stretching to scoop a low throw is a great touch. As is the SS/2B hopping off the bag for the relay to first after receiving a soft flip from his double play partner.
Control is very sensible and smooth. I have some complaints about my outfielders throwing to first from the warning track instead of the cut-off man, but hopefully this is something a patch will take care of soon. Hitting is no problem once you get the timing down (practice mode is great for this). Pitching is simple to learn but, of course, hard to master. Any idiot can throw a fastball down the pipe without any problem, though I don't recommend that course of action. In the field the you just press a button to switch to the player closest to the ball and then lead him where you want to go. You can also press a button to run to the base if you have the ball. This is good for when your 1B fields a grounder and the pitcher is strangely slow in covering the bag. Again, fielding is simple to learn, tough to master.
Actually playing the game is a pure joy. The AI is nothing short of outstanding. The computer pitcher changes speeds and location well. The fielders don't make mental mistakes like throwing to the wrong base or blowing it when they have you in a rundown. The computer manager also makes logical pitching changes. If a guy is getting shelled, he won't last long. If you have a hot lefty coming to the plate, bet on a lefty reliever to get the nod in the bullpen.
The outstanding AI means that you have to think like it's a real game. If your starter has trouble in the fifth, you should think about having somebody warm up for the sixth. If you need to get someone into scoring position late, you should sacrifice him over. And if someone on your bench is slumping, give him a start at Coors Field to try and get him started.
Great sound in a baseball game should be simple. You need the bat connecting with the ball, whoosh of a fastball blowing by your knees, a little crowd chatter, and maybe the umpire giving you a hearty, "Strike three, Yer Out!" But this game goes well beyond that simplicity. A nice soundtrack with some catchy tunes accompanies all the menus. The PA announcer lets the fans know who's stepping into the batter's box. The play by play duo of Dave O'Brien and Ray Fosse are solid. How good are they? Most games I turn off the commentary after a few days of playing. With High Heat I haven't even looked for the option. They're not perfect but they add something, and that's hard to get in a sports game these days.
You like stats? You like to be the GM? Well High Heat has got you covered. Stats I never knew existed are kept for each player in the game. There's also a farm system so you can build for the future. Should you keep a guy hitting .420 in double A or move him up and see how he fares? Need to make a deal for a closer at the trade deadline? The other manager will likely want some of your prized prospects in return. There are no salaries to further complicate matters (believe me, juggling 3 farm rosters is complicated enough). But at the end of the season you choose which guys from A-ball you wish to promote and the rest get their walking papers. You then fill you're A-ball roster with a rookie draft for the next season. The career mode also includes retirements and hall of fame induction for the great ones.
High Heat is also loaded with options. Multiple camera angles let you watch the game how you like. Ball cursor can help you see where a pitch will cross the plate (very helpful for beginners). You can have the computer control the stuff you have trouble with like fielding or base running. You can set the number of games played for each season to how many you wish all the way up to a full MLB schedule. Five difficulty settings combined with the other options allow you to play as easy or hard a game as you want.
For all the good things this game brings to the table, it just missed receiving a solid A from me. Why? Bugs mostly. I had one where the hitter pounded the ball into the turf and it took like half a minute to come back down. The runner stayed at first and didn't try to advance so no major damage occurred, but this same thing happened four or five times and got pretty annoying. Another bug crawled out from under the sink when a pitcher balked on three consecutive pick off attempts and my guy never got to move up to second base. There was also an occasion where the computer player argued a call and was ejected but never received the 5 game suspension that all my guys got for arguing. Of course the cut off man thing I mentioned earlier is the one that happens most frequently, about once every 7-8 games or so.
So what have we learned? High Heat is an excellent baseball game. If you don't like baseball then you probably aren't reading this. If you area a fan of the National Pastime, you will not be disappointed with this game. Even without all the bells and whistles this would probably be the best game out there based solely on game play.
By learning from the past and retooling for the future, 3DO has reminded me just how much fun it was to PLAY baseball in my youth. High Heat's lineage helps it deliver a solid foundation of sound game play. Good graphics, great sound, smooth controls, and a wealth of stats and managerial options make this the most realistic baseball game I've ever played. Bugs aside, it sure beats the heck out of watching a three hour slugfest on television. So if you can't find seventeen friends with nothing to do on the weekend, check out the latest version of this top-flight franchise. Then see if you don't find yourself saying that this is the best combination since those little peanut butter cup things.