STAFF REVIEW of All-Star Baseball 2003 (Xbox)

Wednesday, March 27, 2002.
by Queasy Buddy

All-Star Baseball 2003 Box art By far ASB's best feature and the one that makes it stand out this year above the others is Franchise Mode. Franchise mode tracks stats accurately over twenty seasons. It's one thing to survive a single season, but handling minor league players, making trades, and balancing your franchise budget is a whole other ball game. This is the best baseball Franchise Mode on any console to date. But there are much more different modes to pick from like quick play where two randomly selected teams duke it out in an exhibition game, Exhibition - Play against the computer or a friend in a single game to decide the fate of the world. There is even an All-Star Game mode where you play either as the NL or AL all-stars in an all-or-nothing game, season - play a season (with customizable length) as your favourite team. Make trades, deal with injuries, and pull rising stars up from the minor leagues or you can screw the season and start in the playoffs with your favourite team in series mode. There is also a practice mode where you can get your groove on in the batting cage so you can sock the ball in your next game. my personal favorite the home run derby mode where you smack the cover off the ball in a battle for the most dingers. There is also a fair amount of special features like the trivia Game where you can enter one of three setups Classic Baseball, Home Run Derby, or Speed Game. ASB features trading cards. Earn points by performing certain tasks on the field and trade them in after the game for packs of cards. Players, stadiums, Hall of Famers, and the Development Team are featured on the cards. Collecting different combinations of developer cards unlock new stadiums and teams. In my opinion, this game is just plain sweet, with lots of "oooh" moments.

The controls are very simple and will be second nature by the end of your first game. Face buttons throw to the different bases. The batting cursor represents both a contact zone and a sweet spot. Putting good wood on the ball will give it more pop and greatly increases the changes of hitting a home run. You can easily switch from a contact swing to a power swing. The power swing removes the contact zone, meaning you must hit the ball in the sweet spot to make contact. Many major leaguers guess at the pitch and location in hopes of getting a better swing on the ball. In ASB, you can be just like your favourite big leaguer. Guessing the pitch type correctly increases the contact zone, guessing the correct location of a pitch increases the power zone. The batting interface is easy to use and offers a lot of player control to allow for fly balls, grounders, pulling balls, or hitting to the opposite field. In addition, the game allows you to do bunts, so you can outsmart you opponent. Base running is controlled primarily with the left and right trigger. Left sends runners to the next base when the ball is in play, and right returns them to their previous base. By using the D-pad, you can control specific runners. Steeling a base is performed with the D-pad and the Y button. As is standard with most baseball games, a fielding cursor appears when a ball is put into play, showing where it will land. It can be a bit confusing at first since this is not an indicator of where you should stand, but where the ball will actually hit the ground. After a few hits, it's easy enough to know that you need to be a little in front of the circle to actually catch the ball.

ASB is one nice-looking baseball game. There are wrinkles in the uniforms and plenty of accessories. Barry Bonds is outfitted with his elbow armor and Shinjo has his armbands. Acclaim paid attention to the little details other games may neglect. While the animation for ASB are not silky smooth, they get the job done. Sometimes players won't set their bodies correctly when they throw the ball, forcing them to make odd-looking arm motions. For the most part, the game looks good, with speed appropriate to baseball. Players adjust their gloves, check their bats, and tap their toes in the batters box. You'll even catch pitchers wiping their brow from time to time. All of this helps add to the overall feel of the game. There's a bit of flicker when you're in the batters box, but it's not enough to distract you from the game. There are nice touches aplenty here. Umpires signal safe and out calls as well as foul and fair balls. They actually stand in their correct positions and kneel to judge a close play at a base. The first and third base coaches are also fully animated, motioning for base runners to slide, hold up, and head for home. Pitchers point up at fly balls and outfielders wave each other off. And, of course, mascots dance on top of the visitor dugout between innings. My biggest gripe with the graphics are with collision detection. There isn't any, really. Players pass through each other like ghosts and you can even slide through the catcher (but will still be called out) gamers demand player collisions, and haven't we had them in other games? Yes. And so there's no excuse to leave it out here. It really looks silly to have a player walk through another player to catch a pop up.

ASB is meant to be more like watching baseball on TV than down on the field, so many of the ambient sounds are toned down. The crowd is a sea of similar voices for the most part. However, they are somewhat intelligent. They will clap in unison when the home team starts to rally and boo calls by the umpire. Individual voices will stand out from time to time, which is nice. Crowds chant for their home team and even for individual stars. Hits sound real, though broken bat hits sound more like someone breaking some toothpicks in a sound booth than a player actually breaking a bat. There are no umpire sounds, which leaves a bit of a void, especially when it comes to balls and strikes. You have to love hearing an umpire shout "Sttrrrrike three!" Maybe we'll get that next year. The play-by-play is handled by Thom Brennamen and Steve "Psycho" Lyons. Brennamen does a good job with the play-by-play and the calls are almost always correct. Sometimes you get some funky call that doesn't match the gameplay. Lyons offers color commentary and gets old fast. Do I really need to know Eric Chavez has improved his stats each of the past three years every time he's at the plate? It's nice to have comments for a lot of players, but man, you hear about your team so many times it starts to grate on your nerves. Bob Brenly isn't in the regular games. He comments on the stadiums during the Home Run Derby. Seriously, this is pretty much useless filler and an unfortunate waste of Brenly's talents.

Anyone who purchases this game won't be disappointed. I can't beam enough over the Franchise Mode and the great off season menu. But midway should add some collisions and have the umpire talk.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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