STAFF REVIEW of MLB Slugfest 2003 (Xbox)

Thursday, October 3, 2002.
by Queasy Buddy

MLB Slugfest 2003 Box art So here it is... after a substandard of a baseball game on the Xbox, Midway finally releases MLB Slugfest 20-03 for the big green box and most definitely, the very best baseball game to date. There has been a ton of hype for this game which forced Midway to deliver the very best action, and trust me this game does just that. Exactly like Midway delivers in every other sport they have improved to the extreme. Now, let's bear in mind that while I'm totally able to review an Xbox video game, I'm not the most apt student went it comes to baseball. I understand how the game is played and totally respect the historic tradition of baseball, but I'm not the smart baseball student of statistics nor can I recite the entire lineup of the 1989 World Champion Oakland Athletics. In fact, if it wasn't for one of the greatest baseball games ever made, I probably would give baseball a half-second glance on television... that game being the one and only Slugfest. When I first popped this game into my Xbox I had to force myself to play. After a few innings I had learned pretty much all the controls and I was instantly hooked. I ended up playing the rest of that they and I?m spent a good 20+ hours after that, playing this baseball game and still counting. The first thing that instantly caught my attention was the great batting interface, nice visuals, and overall solid gameplay not the mention the great physical collisions and fights sequences that Midway delivers so well.

When it comes to gameplay, Slugfest delivers a great hit, but not necessarily a home run. There are some issues that make Slugfest play too much like a video game rather than a baseball video game. In the game of baseball, there will always be the human judgment that will lead to errors, badly thrown balls, and pitches that hit the pitcher. Some of these are intentional and some due to human error. Occasionally, an outfielder will drop a fly ball, or a shortstop will try to field a grounder that hits his toe, but the one thing I hate the most is when it actually comes to throwing to bases, I have a hard time picking which base I want to throw it to (with the somewhat awkward controls). You have to pick which base you want to throw it to with the left thumbstick which some times you will accidentally push in the wrong direction causing the ball to go to the wrong base. It is really annoying at first but after a while I got used to it, and hopefully you will to. Additionally, the computer doesn't make too many errors, especially when it comes to base running; whether it's tagging up from a pop-fly that's caught or stealing second, the computer makes few base running mistakes. I suppose that's good for experts but first timers like myself better get used to getting your !&%$@#* handed to you the first few games 20 to 0. A good point of this game is the way the base running controls are setup. White to keep running or black to run back. Simple, especially if you have more than one man on base. If you want all base runners to advance, you simply press the white button, but to get an individual base runner to run, you use the thumb stick (up, down, left, right being second base, home plate, third base, and first base respectively) and press the white button to get a specific player to run. So, there are still a few gameplay issues to work out but for me, it doesn't take away from the many great points Slugfest smacks home. Although the pitching/batting mechanic of this game wasn't bad, Midway has decided to make it a bit easier to handle while making it even more tactical. When it comes to pitching, each pitcher has an array of different pitches that he can select from by pressing the one of the 4 buttons X,Y,A,B to the available pitch in his arsenal and selecting that pitch. Once selected, you will not have a baseball cursor that will appear inside a strike zone box. Just like past baseball games on the Xbox. This enables you to not being able to "disguise" where your pitch goes but Midway has added something better ?turbo? this comes in real handy when playing two player games. The speed of your pitch is also dependent on what type of pitch you throw and what level difficulty your playing. Turbo will enhance the pitch you are throwing but you will have to use it wisely because you only have a certain amount of turbo. One thing that I have learned from this game is that even though there's something very impressive about throwing a 118 mph fastball, there's nothing quite like making the batter look like a fool by swinging early on the sneaky changeup pitch.

To lead off, Slugfest has great overall visuals. Player models are some of the best in any baseball game and while the faces aren't modeled exactly, there are some really nice animations as batters blink, pitchers shakes their heads from a pitching call, and many more. My favorite is when a flustered batter gets a called third strike flips his bat in the air and walks away in annoyance. Most of the big name players have their well-known stances and animations. However, batting stances and pitching animations are about where the individual characteristics end - you won't be seeing Sammy Sosa doing his little hop after a homer. But you'll get some pretty cool diving animations as fielders dive for fly balls, outfielders making high leaps to steal homers, and even have base runners ram into catchers hoping to dislodge the ball and score. Stadiums look really darn nice as everyone of the MLB parks are authentically represented in this game. The texture of the grass looks very good and there are some weather effects; I haven't had a game rained out yet though. To nag, there are a few slowdown issues that are totally apparent when you see a runner get forced out at first base. Also, there are some limits to the animation of players; there are about only three or four homerun victory animations. By the way, when you see your outfield jogging back to the dugout after the third out of an inning, it's weird to see them trotting in synchronization. But overall, the game looks very good. It is presented in a clear fashion, and the interface will keep casual and hardcore baseball fans very engrossed.

Audibly, Slugfest is a pretty much a mixed bag, doing some things better than other titles offer, while being inferior in other areas. On the plus side, Slugfest features some quality play by play announcing. While there are some problems with some comments being a bit off from what just happened in the game, it is still a quality effort on the whole. Bantering back and forth like a pair of squabbling siblings, the dynamic duo of Tim Kitzrow and make-believe color man Jimmy Shorts is one for the ages, it kept me laughing for hours. Another point in Slugfest?s favor is the game's excellence use of musical pieces from popular tunes, which generally play at fitting points during the game. The music does an excellent job of increasing the excitement at certain key points in the game, such as when the bases are loaded, and helps the game's overall presentation. Other in game sounds, such as the various cracks of the bat when contact is made with the ball are extremely well done. There are distinct differences between the sound of a well hit or poorly hit ball off the bat and it helps greatly in bringing the game to life. On the downer, aside from the excellent timing of the boos, cheers and other crowd effects, the overall enthusiasm of the crowd in this particular title from Midway isn't quite up to snuff when compared to Hitz. On the whole, the crowd reactions in Hitz's game seemed to give off a greater sense of excitement

In the end, I have to give the edge to Midway for delivering the first amazing grand slam, on the Xbox with Slugfest?s over the top superiority. Great job guys!!!

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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