Ah, springtime. The time of year that people eagerly await all year long, pining for the smell of freshly cut grass, hotdogs and popcorn. Yes, ladies and gentleman, spring is here, and that means baseball season is upon us once again. It also means that this year’s lineup of virtual baseball games is here as well, and first at bat is All-Star Baseball 2005, brought to you by Acclaim.
All-Star Baseball 2005 gives you myriad options to customize your gaming experience, starting with the four possible batting interfaces, each of which is suited to a different skill level. The options are timing, zone, 2D cursor and 3D cursor, the latter of which allows you the most control over your swings. When you select the 3D cursor interface, an icon appears above the plate. Using a combination of both thumbsticks, you can move the cursor up, down, left and right to adjust for the pitch. This is true for the 2D cursor as well, although mastering the 3D icon lets you control the angle of the bat to direct the ball to right or left field. It also lets you determine the height you want the hit to travel. For example, if you want to hit a sacrifice fly to left field, you would angle the cursor left and up.
Another interesting feature of the batting system is the Pitch/Location Guess used in conjunction with both the 2D and 3D batting interfaces. As your player steps up to the plate, you have the choice to guess which type of pitch you think will be thrown, as well as its location in the strike zone. If you think that the pitcher is going to throw a curve high and outside, you press the corresponding buttons. A correct guess increases the size of your batting icon, while a wrong one decreases your icon. This scenario works best if you are either ahead in the count, or if the pitcher only has two or three different pitches he can throw.
The pitching system also works well, allowing a pitcher up to five different pitches. As is standard with baseball games, you start by choosing your pitch, then must decide to either pick off any leading runners or pitch out before you actually throw your pitch. You can move your cursor around to where you want to place the pitch, but if you get too far outside the strike zone, the controller will shake uncontrollably.
In a single-player game and in Xbox Live multiplayer games this isn’t much of an issue. But the minute you play with someone else in the room, you might as well give up ever trying to bait someone into a pitch. If your controller’s a-rocking, their swing will definitely not come a-knocking.
A new addition to this year’s version of ASB is the Fielder Cam. This allows you to see the action from the fielder’s perspective, so when the ball is hit, you can actually swing the camera around to face the infield, making it easier to make the player face the ball and make the play.
There are plenty of different modes to keep you occupied for quite some time, including an in-depth franchise mode and an expansion mode that allows you start your own team. When you start an expansion team, you can choose your city, stadium, mascot and jerseys, and you can also participate in an expansion draft. Other interesting bonus features are the trivia game, homerun derby and the “This Week In Baseball Challenge.” This Challenge puts players in the middle of one of baseball’s pivotal moments from last season to either relive the glory or change history. We’ve seen this type of feature in previous baseball games, but we never get tired of it and are happy to see it implemented in All-Star Baseball 2005.
Another interesting aspect of the game is the inclusion of more than 200 player trading cards, which you can unlock by accruing points and “buying.” You earn points by achieving certain in-game goals, such as hitting a specific number of homeruns or stealing a certain number of bases. If you opt to spend points on the trading cards, your cards are stored in a binder and sorted into their appropriate pages, allowing you to view or sell them at any time. You can also open your binder to use a card before the game, which can be quite handy, since some of the packs include special cheats that allow you to do things like use an aluminum bat.
The character models are lacking in detail and realism, but it doesn’t detract that much, since you never really get a good look at them. What you do notice are the great animations, with every movement being quite smooth, from jumping the wall to steal a homerun to sliding into home for the score.
You’ll also notice the outstanding stadiums, all of which look fantastic and as realistic as can be expected from a videogame. All of the details that make each stadium unique in real life are included in the game, such as the little train that goes around the track at Minute Maid Park in Houston. ASB knows it’s got a good thing going, too, because the game even provides tours of the stadiums, including interesting facts about each one, and its tours let you see parts of the field you may not notice while playing an actual game. Our only complaint with the tour is the omission of a “free roam” camera, which would’ve really opened up the exploration of these great-looking stadiums.
The stadiums do a good job at coming alive aurally as well, with the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd complemented by an occasional shout for “Peanuts!” from the vendors walking the stands. If only the commentary were as alive as the environmental sounds. Thom Brennaman and Steve Lyons provide decent, but somewhat dry play-by-play, and the option for Spanish commentary by Oscar Soria is a great addition, if not really reason enough to crank up the volume. Some of the music is rather poor, but thankfully, the Xbox version features custom soundtracks. To make up for these audio shortcomings with a decent laugh, leave the game for a few minutes without pausing, and the announcers will start up an amusing conversation.
All-Star Baseball 2005 is a decent ball game, but it’s nothing so spectacular that you’ll skip a Saturday afternoon in the park for a seat on your sofa just to play the game. There are some nice features that add to the experience, such as the fielder-cam, there are plenty of extras to hold your interest, and the inclusion of online play for both the Xbox and the PS2 is a good way to extend the replay value. Still, the smell of freshly mowed grass and popcorn just isn’t going to be outdone by a game that can’t quite capture the passion of hardball fans nationwide. All-Star Baseball 2005 may get the job done, but in a season as long as baseball’s, you’ve got to have that special something to keep you motivated, and unfortunately, this game just doesn’t have it.
- Gameplay: XX
- Graphics: 7.5
- Sound: 7
- Replay: 7.5
- Overall: 7.8
- Not quite a homerun, but a solid double.
— J. Paradise