All Star Baseball 2005 Review

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Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Acclaim

Platforms: Xbox and PlayStation 2
Reviewed on Xbox

Acclaim's All-Star Baseball series has long been lauded as the most in-depth Major League Baseball game available – the ultimate experience for hardcore baseball fans. Last year, EA Sports tried to close the gap with its new franchise, MVP Baseball, but due to ASB's inclusion of minor league rosters, and the incredible level of detail within its franchise mode (for example, the presence of the league commissioner and GM offices) All-Star Baseball remained the deepest, richest experience for absolute baseball fanatics. This year, Acclaim presents All-Star Baseball 2005, promising the same level of intricate detail and boasting a new FielderCam, which offers new camera angles in the field to put the gamer deeper into the game than ever before.

Solomon Dirigible

All-Star Baseball 2005's menus and interface are unchanged from last year. The entry screen is the interior of a major league locker room and the camera moves around the locker room as you select different play modes. Of course, most diehard baseball fans want to jump into the Franchise Mode and immediately begin building a championship team (which you can lead through up to 20 seasons). ASB '05's Franchise Mode offers the same options as that in other games. You can select a team to control, electing either to maintain the real-life rosters of your squad, or to place the players into a fantasy draft, in which the teams are randomly ordered to select from the entire pool of major league players. You can also tweak some of the standard settings, such as whether or not to enforce a trade deadline or to allow injuries to occur. All of this is standard, but ASB '05 also offers an Expansion Mode, in which you create your own team from scratch, selecting such features as the team's home city, the team's mascot, and your stadium's design (so you can finally realize your dream of leading the Edmonton Man O' Wars to the World Series, and bring the pennant to Fischbach Stadium). You'll then proceed to an expansion draft, which is similar to the fantasy draft, except that you're the only team making picks and you won't be able to take other teams' superstars in a Steinbrennerian display of greed and power – the only players available to you are the ones that the other teams can live with losing.

Plenty of Detail for Everything But the Crowd

No matter which mode you select, you'll find the level of detail impressive. You'll manage rosters, develop minor league players into big league talents, sign free agents and draft rookies in the yearly amateur draft. Overall, the control you have over your individual franchise is excellent, and if you're the type of gamer who wants to manage every last detail, you'll love it.

Another excellent addition to the Franchise Mode is the Spring Training setup. You can elect to play each game if you want, but if you'd rather just simulate through Spring Training to get to the meat of the regular season, you can. But having completed Spring Training, you're able to actually assign the areas in which your players improve, rather than having the CPU generate the areas of improvement.

Heading from the GM's office to the field, the game remains solid, though there are some flaws. The player models are all lifelike, with most of the players recognizable (though Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon's new Grizzly Adams look is absent). When you're batting, the game defaults to the standard behind-the-catcher view, though you have a number of options for how the batting interface actually works. You can elect to use a batting target, which means you not only have to time the swing correctly, but aim the cursor. If you prefer, though, you can play the game using a swing based only on timing, which you'll find easier. The graphics are fairly tight, though the pitcher looks somewhat ghostly, and shimmers brightly compared to the other players. When you're out in the field, the camera defaults to a behind-the-pitcher view, which lets you see the batter, catcher, umpire, and the crowd behind home plate. The good news is that the fans from this viewpoint are near-photo realistic. The bad news is that they are just the same group of a dozen or so fans repeated throughout the field of view, and that they move in the same repeated pattern throughout the game. This wouldn't be so notable if it weren't for the fact that while this very visible crowd doesn't react to individual plays, the game's audio does. It's sort of disconcerting to hear the crowd get loud on an 0-2 count with 2 outs and the bases loaded in the 9th and then see them moving the same way they did on a 3-0 count with the bags empty in the 4th.

Use Both Analog Sticks

Once the ball is hit, the new FielderCam takes effect. This is actually a good springboard to bring up one of the main questions of all sports videogames, which is: Are the developers trying to recreate the experience of playing a game, or is the object to let you control a game you might see on TV? The addition of the FielderCam suggests that Acclaim is aiming for the former. Television broadcasts cover the fielding action from a camera mounted high above home plate, and that's how most videogames choose to follow the action. FielderCam instead puts the camera close up on the fielder who has the best shot to make a play, and then its up to the gamer to get him to the ball. This can be very difficult, at first, because most of us just aren't prepared to handle the tasks involved. You'll use the left analog stick to move the fielder into position to make the play, and use the right analog stick to control the camera, either zooming in/out, or rotating the camera to get both the player and the ball in view. Some players may appreciate this as a new way to approach the game, but to me it seems that the developer was simply determined to use both analog sticks. In addition to the difficulty of controlling a camera and a player at the same time, you'll find it difficult to make throws to the correct base. The four buttons on the controller correspond to the baseball diamond's first, second, third base, and home plate. But if you make a play as a second baseman, first base is to the left of the screen, so your instinct is to press the left-most button on the controller to throw the ball to first base. However, the buttons remained fixed to the bases they represent, so first base is always the right-most button on your controller. You can get used to it, after time, but it's a difficulty that isn't justified, given how relatively little FielderCam adds to the gaming experience.

In addition to the Franchise Mode and the standard, one-game, quick play, there are a number of other play modes you can choose from. The "This Week in Baseball" scenarios are a pretty interesting mini-game, in which you'll recreate moments from the 2003 season, and possibly rewrite history. A limited number of scenarios are available at first, and as you complete them, more are unlocked. If only the scenarios actually allowed you to go back in time and pull Pedro Martinez out of game 7 of the ALCS before he let the Yankees come back and tie it up, ASB '05 would become the greatest-selling videogame in New England. Another fun new play mode is the Pick-Up Game. In this mode, you and a friend head to the ballpark and draft teams from the pool of Major League Talent, just like picking sides for kickball at recess. Both of these provide some relief when the depth of the Franchise Mode gets to be a little much. The Trivia Game that debuted in ASB'04 is back to test your knowledge of baseball history and is another fun mode.

All in all, All-Star Baseball 2005 is a solid, though unspectacular, update in the series. While the FielderCam is unique and the Pick-up game is fun, these new additions alone don't make it a must-have, especially if you've got last year's edition. If getting online is important to you, though, or if you're a diehard fan of the series, you won't be disappointed by this year's game.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 18, 2004 7:15 AM.

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