MLB SlugFest: Loaded Review

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Publisher: Midway
Developer: Midway Sports/Point of View

Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

From the same family tree that includes NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, Midway presents an over-the-top, adrenaline-infused, arcade-style baseball game in MLB SlugFest: Loaded. Batters or pitchers who are on a roll will burst into flame, proving that they are "on fire," as in Midway's NBA Ballers. Violent fights can break out on the base paths; pitchers will have a number of physics-defying pitches at their command; and fielders can use turbo effects to make gravity-defying leaps at the wall to rob hitters of home runs. Clearly swinging for the fences, Loaded includes a dynasty mode and online play in an effort to compete with the more down-to-earth baseball sims available.

Solomon Dirigible

Midway's sports games have become the staple arcade-style games available for consoles. They've managed to pump up the NBA, NHL, NFL, and Major Leagues with aggression and excitement, relying on distinctly unrealistic animations and play. The games have been successful, if a little weak on depth, and MLB SlugFest: Loaded continues the tradition. Licensed teams, players, and stadiums lend a realism to the game, but clearly the selling point is the over-the-top "Slugfest" mode. No matter what style of play you're interested in, however, you'll be playing a good-looking game.

It's All About Atmosphere

The player models in Loaded look good, though there is, understandably, an almost universal, overly enhanced musculature for each player. Well-rendered shadows and movements add to the depth of the game on the field. There's some sense of emotion on the players' faces, though most excitement/frustration is conveyed through arm waving or anguished gesticulations. As different batters walk into the batter's box, they may do things like bend down and rub some sand onto their hands, or look back to the dugout for instruction, which keeps the game fresh. The swing animations are well captured too, as each batter has his own unique stance, and you can easily tell the difference between a swing designed for contact and a swing designed to crush the ball. The pitchers' windups are varied and you can pick up the ball and watch its flight to the plate without difficulty, no matter which of the game's many camera angles you choose for the pitcher-batter interface.

The stadiums are all recognizable, though the crowd graphics aren't anything to write home about. The familiar flashes of waving arms and moving shirts are repeated throughout the stadium and there aren't any recognizable differences from one group of fans to the next. Unfortunately, this really makes the stadiums, beyond the fields, look two-dimensional.

The game's audio is on a par with its graphics, and the commentary is a welcome boost to the fun factor in playing Loaded. Jim and Tim, the "play-by-play" and "color" commentators, have a unique interaction, to say the least. What Midway has managed to do brilliantly is to include jokes between the commentators, some of which are even pretty long-winded, while not missing any of the action on the field. If something happens on the field, the play-by-play man will cover the action, but the joke being told isn't cut off, and you get to hear the punch line. Some of the comments do get old, but for the most part, they're a welcome addition to the game. For example, after striking out, you may hear the play-by-play man say, to paraphrase, "That was certainly not his best at-bat." The color man might then say, again paraphrasing, "Actually, according to our statistician, that was his 1714th best at-bat." While it's not exactly Abbot and Costello, the interplay between the two commentators is well done and adds to the game. The sounds of the stadium are also nicely done, though the crowd noise isn't perfectly synced with the action on the field. You'd like to hear the crowd get loud with 2 strikes in the bottom of the ninth, but there doesn't seem to be much variation in the decibel level of the fans. The crack of the bat and the slap of the ball into the leather gloves are captured well, as are the sounds unique to this game, such as the pummeling of a pitcher by a recently beaned batter.

This brings up the issue of the more over-the-top variations on the national pastime that appear in Loaded. If a batter gets beaned, he may well charge the mound, though the player has no control over this. If a fight does break out on the mound, the camera will cover the middle infielders, and rather than seeing the fight, you'll see the reaction that the infielder has to the beating, while hearing the sounds of that fight. It's a good way to present the violence in a way that shouldn't ruffle the feathers of Major League Baseball, which is a good thing, since you don't want Midway to lose their license. On the basepaths, baserunners can smack the fielders covering their base, in an effort to knock the ball loose and continue on around the basepaths. Fielders can also smack baserunners in an effort to knock them off their path and tag them out. These features aren't exactly a big part of baseball, but they are fun. Perhaps the best part of the over-the-top features is the fact that you can choose to turn off some or all of those options, to customize the game's style to your liking. If you want to play a regular, run-of-the-mill baseball game, you can do that, though you'll find it doesn't measure up to some of the straight baseball sims out there.

But How Does It Play?

In general, the gameplay is okay, but not spectacular. A meter appears when you pitch, similar to that found in MVP Baseball, though rather than the full bar over the pitcher's head, there's a flickering star on one side of the screen and you must time an arcing point of light to click the button when it intersects the flickering star...yes, this is just about as distracting as it sounds, and really does shift your focus from the game. You choose what type of pitch to throw and then a set of locations in or out of the strike zone, and your accuracy is determined by how well you line up the confusing flickering lights. The batting is mostly determined by timing, though you can choose to swing for the fences or play it more conservatively and go for contact. You can choose a batting mode that will allow you to try to aim the direction of the ball after it's struck, but timing will still play a factor, as it should. It's easy to make contact with the ball, and the game's instruction book even says, "Almost every pitch can be hit," which maybe suggests that the difficulty in making contact should at least be adjustable.

In addition to the arcade-style games, Loaded includes a fairly robust franchise mode, so you can manage a franchise for a number of seasons, accumulating statistics and grooming future talent. You'll start with a fantasy draft, select players within a budget measured in credits, and develop a batting order and pitching rotation. You'll assign some players to the minor leagues, but you won't really manage their progress so much as keep track of what they're doing and call them up when they're needed.

One unique feature of the franchise mode is the daily headlines that you can look through. After each day's games, there will be a couple of headlines and short stories generated about some of the games played, so you can see some write-ups about your games – which is a nice touch. Overall, the franchise mode does add depth to an arcade-style game, but it doesn't stack up to those of traditional baseball sims from EA or Sega.

Finally, there are a couple of minor, though irritating, problems. For one, on replays, there is no umpire behind home plate. When you look at a replay of a pitch, you see the batter and catcher, but no umpire, who would seem to be an integral part of the game. Second, and more irritating, when the batter walks into the box, you'll see a bar with his name, batting average, and which hand he bats with and throws with. It would have made much more sense to have included the traditional average-, home-runs-, runs-batted-in-box seen in television broadcasts, let alone including the numbers for how that batter is doing in that day's game (e.g., 1 for 3, 4 for 6, etc.).

On the whole, MLB SlugFest: Loaded is a decent game, though the sim aspects aren't as well fleshed out as those in other baseball games available. And the over-the-top elements don't add enough to overcome those shortcomings. You could find more depth in another baseball game. But if the idea of breaking out a flaming bat and busting some heads with beanballs appeals to you, then you can't go wrong checking out Loaded – just be prepared for the excitement over those aspects to wane.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 11, 2004 9:54 AM.

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