|Theres a kind of baseball fan who wakes up every morning
and, before trundling off to work, checks how his or her team has done. This kind of fan
watches ESPN highlights, attends the occasional minor league game, and probably coaches
some little league. These are good and decent people who generally lead happy and
Then there are the rest of us.
Baseball freaks. The kind of fans who chart pitches at rookie league games, who run three fantasy league teams, whose idea of a good time is getting together with several friends over a couple of beers and the Baseball Encyclopedia and placing bets on who can guess how many career triples Dave Kingman hit (25). For this kind of hardcore fan, it had been a long time between action baseball games with acceptable statistical depthsome would say since Earl Weaver 2. Then last year 3DO and Team .366 came out with High Heat Baseball 1999, and there was much rejoicing. This years model of High Heat, however, is even better than last yearsthe graphics are 3D-accelerated and much improved, the game has a MLB license, and the gameplay and options are more varied and deeper.
Dont get me wrong; High Heat Baseball is not just for Bill James addicts. Casual fans can have a load of fun playing the game as well. But it would almost be a shame to see this game wasted on someone who wasnt going to take advantage of all its features. Like, for instance, the great season and career modes that give you the chance not only to make trades and pick up free agents, but to direct an entire minor-league system as well. Dont like your hometown teams lineup?well, you can redraft the entire league if you like. As a season progresses, some players will get injured and older players will begin to tire; youll have to make decisions about possible trades and late-season call-ups. And if, for all your managerial genius, you team falls short of the World Series, the career mode allows you to make a run the next year. Since theres not a salary cap or financial model involved, you can actually (given time) build a dynasty in Milwaukee.
Thats about the only thing thats not realistic in High Heat baseball, but I can live with it. You can tell the folks at Team .366 have a reverential feeling for the game, and the lack of an economic structure that allows Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch to buy every halfway decent Expo may be fanciful, but it sure is cool.
The somewhat old-timey feeling of the game extends to the games graphics, which are serviceable if a bit sub-par. They seem somehow of a different era. Unlike the flashy, ultra-modern graphics of Triple Play 2000 or Microsoft Baseball 2000, HHBs graphics seen somehow more stately and subdued; though even the modern stadiums are well-modeled, the graphics evoke an atmosphere that seems to belong more to the 40s or 50s than the 90s. Frankly, it took me a while to get used to this, but its grown on me.
On-field gameplay is superb. High Heats pitcher/batter interface is a bit more difficult to master than other games, but it is also more realistic. The game does an excellent job of capturing the essence of what its like to face a pitcher with a 100 mph fastball and a nasty splitter. As a batter, youll have to guess whether that pitch that looks just off the plate is a wasted fastball or a backdoor slider; as pitcher, youll have to decide if you can strike a guy out for the second time with a weak changeup, or if you should try to blow some heat past him. Fielding and throwing are modeled realistically as well (though far too many balls off the outfield wall merely go for mere singles), and of course you can position your fielders as you like.
There are a few problems with the gametheres a bug that will mess with your pitching rotation, and different pitchers seem to recover their fatigue faster than others, but overall this is a very clean game.
Last years High Heat Baseball was a deep and promising effort. This years version fulfills that promise. In its two years of existence, the High Heat franchise has gone from nowhere to the World Series. Right now, its the best baseball game out there, sure to please both casual and hardcore fans, and at a price of around $30 a bargain as well.