|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 retrobut 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 huntingnot exactly a sport every
red-blooded American grows up playing in their backyardthen 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?
Microsoft Baseball 2000 is pitched like a fastball down the middle at the PC-owning American family unit. It doesnt require 3D support (though youll need a high-end machine to run it without acceleration), its fast, highly playable, and enjoyable, and it never hesitates to sacrifice complexity for playability. And it costs $20. And, you know, for what it isa mass-market arcade baseball simits a very good game.
At the heart of the game is its batter/pitcher interface, which exemplifies the games 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 pitchs location with a controller-guided targeting circle. So far, so good; however, while youre 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 batters swing marker desperately chasing after it. Good clean arcade fun? Sure. Acceptable modeling of pitcher/batter duel? Well . . . doubtful. To the games 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 youd expect, and Sammy Sosa will hit more homers than Mark Grace. This is Microsofts successful mainstream formulafun 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 teams 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 passiverarely will base runners take advantage of bonehead plays like they do in High Heat Baseballits very competent, and will give you a tough game, especially at the highest of the three difficulty levels.
The games graphics are very good indeed. Microsoft does an especially nice job of rendering each players 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. Im 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 sons 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.
The game also includes many features that will appeal to the casual gameryou 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 expectsuch as career mode or a draftare 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 thats not the point of this game. If you want depth, go for High Heat Baseball 2000. It seems clear that Microsoft Baseball 2000s design team set out to make a fun, playable, pretty, and reasonably realistic game of baseballand theyve succeeded admirably. Let me put it this wayI play a lot of this game with my 5 and 9 year-old little leaguer sons; they arent intimidated by complexity, and Im not offended by lack of realism. We all think it looks great, and we all have a really good time playing it. And you cant ask for much more than that, even from baseball.