Review by kloffolk
"While it's Far from Perfect, it's Still a Great Baseball Game."
Presentation: 7 - ASB2K3's presentation is not overly impressive. The box and manual are pretty standard here as well. There is an opening movie, but it's really just a Derek Jeter highlight reel. They don't show anyone else except Derek Jeter (unless Jeter is making a highlight play on them). I understand Jeter is the cover boy and I have no problem with Jeter, but you have to show some respect to the other players. As for the menus, while they're nothing spectacular they are better looking than HH's. They're also easier to understand and navigate around (except for loading saved games. Why Acclaim decided to make you go through like 3 sub menus just to load your game is beyond me).
Graphics: 9 - The ASB baseball series has always had good graphics, even back on the N64. This year, Acclaim really outdid themselves. Thanks to the 3-D Cyberscan technology, Acclaim has the best, most realistic looking faces. While the face doesn't always match the body perfectly, you can easily tell who's who just by looks alone. The animations for the players are astounding. The players move with slick, super realistic motion and the transitions between animations are very well done. The stadiums are all very well done as well, although I can't help but feel that the outfield is too small. I don't know if it's because the players move too fast, throw the ball too fast and accurate (they never throw up the line or pull the fielder off the base), or the fact that the outfield is just plain small, but it is very noticeable. There is also some slow down when the baserunning windows open up (which is not in the XBOX and Gamecube version). If it weren't for these two flaws, I'd give the graphics a 10.
SoundMusic: 10 - What can I say... the sound in ASB is fantastic. I know a 10 might be surprising, but ASB's sound department deserves it. The menu music isn't the greatest (in fact, it sounds A LOT like the NBC Olympic music), but it doesn't make you grind your teeth. The in-game sound is where ASB gets a 10. The crack of the bat is very distinct and you'll know right away whether you hit the ball on the sweet spot or not. Also, when a bat breaks you can tell INSTANTLY by the sound. The commentary is great as well. Tom Brennaman does a nice job as the play-by-play man and Steve Lyons is excellent as the color commentator. He provides so much information for you that you'd think he's actually there. Bob Brenly doesn't really say much. He actually just comments on the stadium or players at the start of the game, and then doesn't say much afterwards. I just love the detail that Acclaim put into the sound. One of the best details I noticed is that if the home team is winning and it's the bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, and the pitcher on the mound has 2 strikes on the batter, the fans start cheering loudly for the strikeout to end the game. How cool is that? Living in NJ and watching a lot of Yankee baseball on MSG (the cable network), I've seen the crowd do this numerous times especially when Mariano Rivera is trying for the save. It's stuff like this that justifies why I gave ASB a 10 in this department.
Gameplay: 6 - The biggest problem that people have with ASB games is the fact that they are HR happy. This means that you could take pretty much any player and smack 40-50 HRs with them. I'm happy to announce that is no longer true in ASB2K3. Through 6 games in my Expansion Franchise mode (as the New Jersey Admirals), I have hit only 2 HRs (Russel Branyan has 1 and Robin Ventura has 1) on All-Star difficulty (the highest difficulty level). The pitcherbatter interface is fine, and the cursors aren't as annoying as you might think. Pitchers do have a lot more control with the cursor, but they can get wild as they tire. The hits produced by the game are also very realistic. I've gotten plenty of ground ball hits and there aren't so many bloop singles like in HH. So why a 6 you ask? Well, it's because ASB still has its share of gameplay problems. The main problem I have with ASB is the fielding aspect. If a ball is hit on the ground, it moves so fast that you practically have no time to react with your infielders. The game has the CPU assist you a little, nudging your fielder in the initial direction that he needs to go to get to the ball, but this takes away from the feeling of you playing. Sometimes, the play happens so fast that the CPU does most of the work, leaving you with the simple job of tossing the ball to the correct base. This really does take away from the gameplay. Also, as I mentioned in the graphics section, the outfield seems too small. Often times you'll smack a ball straight into the gap that looks like it'll be a double at least, and the CPU outfielder will get on his magical horse and track it down easily. The baserunning in the game also has problems simply because sometimes the baserunners won't react to your instructions. Lord knows this has cost me at least 10 runs in my season and was often the difference between me winning and losing. Also, the pitchers don't walk you very often and they seem to run out of stamina WAAAAY too quickly. No matter who's pitching, 5 or 6 innings seems to be the limit. I was playing against the Red Sox and Pedro was on the mound. He got tired by the 4th inning enabling me to ''light him up'' for 5 runs and knock him out of the game. That's just unacceptable. Still, despite these faults, this years version of ASB is a big step up from last years. While it still has a ways to go compared to HH's gameplay, this year's installment is actually fun and playable once you get past the few quirks it has.
Gameplay Modes: 9 - If various gameplay modes is what you're after, then ASB is what you've been waiting for. Of course ASB has the standard Quick Play, Exhibition, Season, All-Star, Batting Practice and HR Derby modes but it also has Franchise, Expansion, and Trivia Game modes. The Franchise mode is like any other where you guide your team through up to 20 consecutive seasons. Players retire, get inducted into the hall-of-fame, and fresh meat find their way into the majors. Franchise also includes a farm system where you can send players who are struggling or need time to develop down to the minors or call someone who is ready up to the majors. Expansion mode takes the Franchise idea one step further. In this mode, you're able to create an entirely new team, place them in the location of your choice (there's 36 locations to choose from, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico), pick the name of your franchise (there's 31 different choices), pick a stadium for them to play in (there are 7 different stadiums, including domes, each with unique dimensions), and then draft your team from a pool of players that other teams left unprotected. You can then guide your expansion team through 20 consecutive seasons. The Trivia Game mode is nothing special, but a nice little feature if you want to just mess around. Essentially, you're playing a virtual game, and each trivia question you answer correctly leads to a base hit. Answer enough questions right and you collect enough base hits to drive home runs. Each wrong answer is an out. Simple but fun.
Customization: 3 - Ya know, you'd think that a game with as many modes as ASB would also include a lot of customizable options. For one, there aren't any tuning sliders in this game. That's a shame because ASB is a game that definitely needs them. You can't adjust the speed of the fielders (namely the outfielders who seem to move too fast), the ball speed (some people might have trouble batting with the realistically fast speed of the ball when it's pitched), or any of that good stuff like in HH. There's also only 1 camera angle and it's not a great one. If the camera angle were a bit more isometric, I'd be fine with it, but the one they use is too parallel to the ground, often leading you to misjudge line drives hit to the outfield. Also, the main problem I have is that you cannot change the number of innings per game. This sucks because some of the games in ASB can take over an hour to complete and Lord knows that not everyone has an hour to devote for one game. The pace of the game is essentially like real baseball (slow) with a lot of time wasted waiting for the batter to settle in the batter's box (which you can't skip like in HH) or waiting for the pitcher to come to set (which you also can't skip). I understand that Acclaim was trying to achieve a realistic look by doing this, but by the time you play like your 5th game of your 162 game season, you'll be mashing buttons in vain trying to skip these time-wasting animations and speed the game up. All of this adds up to a game that won't appeal to people who don't have a whole lot of free time. It's a shame too because those are the people who would probably enjoy this game more than anyone.
Replay Value: 7 - Despite the fact that ASB has a zillion modes to choose from, some people won't be able to get past some of the gameplay problems, lack of customization, and the ridiculous amount of time it takes to play a single game. Those that do get past it will find ASB to be very addicting, especially the expansion feature.
Overall: 8 - This game won't appeal to some people, particularly those people who don't have a lot of free time, want more customization, or are easily annoyed by some of ASB's minor gameplay problems. However, despite those problems the game IS quite fun. Plus, with all the different modes, it's a game that will hook you in if you let it. If you own a an XBOX or Gamecube as well as a PS2, might I suggest picking up those versions (particularly the XBOX version) before the PS2's. The overall look, polish, and speed of the game are better.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/02/02, Updated 03/02/02
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