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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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Ups: Fun, fast-playing, and good-looking. Near-perfect mainstream blend of playability and realism. Only costs $20.
Downs: No multiplayer options other than hotseat; may be too mainstream for STATS addicts. 
System Reqs:
Pentium-133, 32MB RAM

msbb2k1.jpg (8518 bytes)For all the abuse it has taken, one of these days people are going to view Deer Hunter as an important phenomenon in PC gaming history. Not, of course, for its gameplay or graphics, which were even more retro than retro—but for its $20 price tag, blanket-the-world (or at least Wal-mart) marketing, and keen understanding of mass-market appeal. The wild and to some incomprehensible success of this strategy was not lost on the folks at Microsoft and Wizbang, it seems. After all, if someone can sell, oh, about a zillion pretty bad $20 games about deer hunting—not exactly a sport every red-blooded American grows up playing in their backyard—then what might the sales figures be for a pretty decent $20 game about The National Pastime that allows you to replay one of its most fabulous years? Ah, Microsoft; how can anyone have anything but a love/hate relationship with you?

msbb2k2.jpg (6572 bytes)Microsoft Baseball 2000 is pitched like a fastball down the middle at the PC-owning American family unit. It doesn’t require 3D support (though you’ll need a high-end machine to run it without acceleration), it’s fast, highly playable, and enjoyable, and it never hesitates to sacrifice complexity for playability. And it costs $20. And, you know, for what it is—a mass-market arcade baseball sim—it’s a very good game.

msbb2k4.jpg (5971 bytes)At the heart of the game is its batter/pitcher interface, which exemplifies the game’s philosophy. To pitch, you choose one of the up to four pitches available to each pitcher (not as many as a "realistic" sim would demand, but a good amount), and then choose the pitch’s location with a controller-guided targeting circle. So far, so good; however, while you’re doing this, the batter is also choosing his swing type (power, normal, or contact) and trying to place his controller-guided swing marker on your pitch location circle, which you are free to move around the strike zone (or outside it) until the pitch is released. In two-player hotseat games, this often results in arcadish games of chase-the-circle, as the pitcher crazily guides the pitch location about the strike zone until the last possible second, with the batter’s swing marker desperately chasing after it. Good clean arcade fun? Sure. Acceptable modeling of pitcher/batter duel? Well . . . doubtful. To the game’s credit, just enough player characteristics are added to the model to ensure a degree of realism and keep it from being a total mockery. Greg Maddux still coaxes many more ground balls out of hitters than you’d expect, and Sammy Sosa will hit more homers than Mark Grace. This is Microsoft’s successful mainstream formula—fun enough to appeal to a wide audience, just realistic enough to make it palatable to the more sophisticated fan.

Of course, you can also take control of your team’s fielding, baserunning, and defensive positioning. This is easy enough to do, and the controls are very nicely done and responsive, especially when using the Sidewinder gamepad. However, you can also opt to let the computer run them for you. And while the AI tends to be pretty passive—rarely will base runners take advantage of bonehead plays like they do in High Heat Baseball—it’s very competent, and will give you a tough game, especially at the highest of the three difficulty levels.

msbb2k5.jpg (5750 bytes)The game’s graphics are very good indeed. Microsoft does an especially nice job of rendering each player’s face. Randy Johnson looks like Randy Johnson, by god, not just some generic white guy with a goatee. And though player animations are not exceptionally varied (with the exception of very accurate rendering of individual batting stances) they are smooth and appropriate. The best thing about the graphics, however, is the stadiums. They look terrific. I’m playing in all of them, one-by-one, and I have to admit that even such godawful stadiums as the Astrodome convey a certain charm in this game. Well done, Wizbang. And thanks, by the way, for including the gorgeous new Safeco stadium for my son’s beloved Mariners, rather than the funereal Kingdome.

Sound is excellent as well, with Thom Brennaman doing an unobtrusive (that means good) job of announcing.

Oddly, the game does not support LAN, modem, or internet multiplayer games. If you want to play against your buddies, hot seat is the only way to do it.

msbb2k3.jpg (8515 bytes)The game also includes many features that will appeal to the casual gamer—you can create and edit your own players, which will of course allow thousands of young fans to bat cleanup for their favorite teams. And a general manager feature allows you to trade and aquire free agents--so if you want McGwire on your team, you can have him. However, some of the features that the more demanding baseball fan might expect—such as career mode or a draft—are noticeably lacking. In fact, most of the statistical and gameplay depth and options that the hardcore ex-Strat-o-matic junkie might crave, including a viable manage-only game, are missing here.

But that’s not the point of this game. If you want depth, go for High Heat Baseball 2000. It seems clear that Microsoft Baseball 2000’s design team set out to make a fun, playable, pretty, and reasonably realistic game of baseball—and they’ve succeeded admirably. Let me put it this way—I play a lot of this game with my 5 and 9 year-old little leaguer sons; they aren’t intimidated by complexity, and I’m not offended by lack of realism. We all think it looks great, and we all have a really good time playing it. And you can’t ask for much more than that, even from baseball.

--Rick Fehrenbacher