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by EA Sports

Ah, the rituals of Spring--pitchers and catchers reporting back early to training camps, new rookie phenoms, the crack of wood on horsehide, EA Sports releasing yet another half-assed baseball game in the Triple Play series. Nevertheless, Triple Play seems to America's video baseball game, and no matter what I write here thousands of fans will plunk down thirty bucks to play this thinly-disguised softball simulation.  It's a puzzler, especially when a game as good as High Heat is out there.

My biggest objection to Triple Play is that the game being simulated isn't baseball, or at least the professional baseball that I as a red-blooded American male have wasted a considerable part of my life watching. Here's a partial list of goofy things that will happen all the time in Triple Play's actual gameplay:

Home Runs. Lots of them. The boys at EA realize that most Americans would much rather see Mark McGwire mash a few dozen homers than witness Steve Trachsel pitch a squeaker 3-2 win, so the balls fly out of the stadiums in Triple Play. Especially at the lower complexity settings, it's not unusual to see two or three home runs per inning per side. Softball, yes. Baseball, no. On the other hand, there's a marked lack of doubles or triples, so most games consist of strings of singles punctuated by home runs. 

Bad ball hitting. Though the pitcher/batter interface is nicely designed, at all but the highest complexity setting it doesn't seem to make much difference where you throw a pitch, 'cause it's gonna get hit. Everybody's Yogi Berra in this game. Of course, this means that there's none of the subtle batter/pitcher duel that's so important to real baseball, since nobody seems to get fooled by a changeup, and pitches on the corners seem to be hit as easily as pitches grooved down the middle. The game seems to experience each pitch as a discreet event, rather than a moment in a series of events--unless you crank the realism way up. I've got to admit that playing the game on all-pro setting seemed to do a lot for the pitching game's realism--I could suddenly set up batters and play 2-0 pitcher's duels. This leads me to believe that somewhere under all the flash there might be a decent baseball game in here. But it's overwhelmed by stuff like:

Arcade Rewards. That's right, EA Sports has apparently decided that the thrill of lacing a grounder through the right side on a hit-and-run (a thing that really doesn't exist in this game) isn't enough for today's gamers, who must be given secret codes and big heads as well. There's nothing to spoil the mood of a game at Wrigley like the announcer hollering "YOU'VE WON A REWARD!!"

Wacky Fielding. All  outfielders have laser cannons for arms, which prohibits runners from advancing. The computer often switches fielding control to a player not nearest the ball, which is disorienting and allows a large number of infield singles. First basemen oftentimes do not cover first base, so it's possible to make a terrific play in the hole, only to fire the ball to a first baseman who's hanging around on the infield grass, blissfully oblivious to the game. I haven't seen this since T-ball.

There's other stuff not to like as well--as usual, the EA Sports manual sucks, and the in-game interface is unintuitive, making it more difficult than it should be to substitute.

The graphics are OK, though it's interesting that the PS2 version looks much better, and the sound and announcing are actually quite good. And there are plenty of options. You can play single games, seasons, franchise and homerun derby.You can play online, though EA's servers seem to be filled with thirteen-year-olds whose idea of baseball is to try to strech every single into a home run, engage in frantic rundowns, and then quit the game if you tag them out. You can also draft and create players and free agents, and map your own head on a player model.

But you still can't play a decent game of baseball. If you like a button-mashing version of home run derby, by all means buy this game and knock yourself out--most folks who are casual fans will probably like this game a lot, in the way casual boxing fans like Knockout Kings. But if you're a baseball nerd, this game will make you crazy, and not in a good way.   

Rick Fehrenbacher


Ups: Stable, ultra-aradey baseball game with lots of options.

So arcadey it's not really baseball.

System Reqs:
P200, 32 MB RAM


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