World Series Baseball Review (Xbox)
Mike and Jim “Double Take”
- Great Graphics
- Deep Franchise Mode
- Intuitive Controls
- Poor CPU running AI
- Too easy to steal
- Large Strike Zone
I would add great hitting interface to Mike’s Pros and not sure if it is too large of a strike zone or that the CPU is around the strike zone all the time and only those with patience and a great eye will draw walks.
From the interviews I read with the developers of WSB, they seem to stress that this would be a fun and exciting game. In that respect, they delivered. However, if you are looking for realistic sim like depiction of baseball, than WSB is not for you. When you were growing up and playing baseball, everyone loved to hit. Hitting has never been more enjoyable in baseball video game than in WSB. At first I had my doubts about WSB but the more I play the more realistic my games are and it is undeniably fun.
Two years ago every sports gamer in America was high with anticipation for what was to be the biggest baseball game released since WSB ’98 on the Sega Saturn. After all, WSB 2K1 for the Dreamcast was supposed to set the new standard in baseball games. Did it set the benchmark for which all other baseball games would be measured? Yeah right! Sega released what was arguably the biggest disappointment in sports gaming history and gamers couldn’t get WSB 2K1 back to stores fast enough. Sega promptly turned to Visual Concepts to take over the WSB project and take control of WSB 2K2. Primed to hit the Dreamcast with online play, 2K2 also turned out to be a big disappointment. As Sega steps up to the plate faced with a 0-2 count would WSB for the XBOX be the third and final strike or would it step up and hit that elusive homerun? Well I’m here to say that it sure isn’t strike three, but it’s not really a grand slam either.
World Series Baseball comes packed full of nice features to include highly detailed player models, The Hall of Fame Legends Team, Old School Uniforms, all-new commentary featuring Ted Robinson, over 500 new animations and realistic gameplay. Game modes include Quick Start, Exhibition, Playoffs, Season, Franchise, and Home Run Derby. There is also a Quick Start mode that will immediately get you into an exhibition game with the current options settings and teams selected at random.
Nothing to add here.
Let me say this right off the bat (no pun intended). The franchise mode in WSB is what makes the game really shine. While it does have some problems, such as not being able to release players, it really is well done. You are placed at the team’s General Manager, giving you complete control over all of the front office issues as you play thru an unlimited amount of seasons. As the GM you can trade and sign players, demote players to the minors, and bring players up to the big show. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as you must sign a minor league director, hitting and pitching coaches, and a bench coach. While you have total control over all of these things, you must manage your money wisely. We have seen the future of franchise modes in gaming, and the future looks good!
World Series Baseball plays host to some pretty solid gameplay, but at the same time it does have some faults. For instance, you will find that the computer controlled running AI will play a little too conservative. There are several instances where a lead runner should continue on to another base, or even score, yet will hold up. In all honesty this can be quite bothersome for the diehard sim fan because overtime it adds up to quite a few runs that your opponent should have scored, but didn’t. Another big problem in my opinion is that you have absolutely no control over the size of your lead. The XBOX controller comes equipped with the black and white buttons. I’m just baffled as to why Sega didn’t utilize them any better.
Even with those flaws Sega has vastly improved World Series Baseball from what shocked the sports gaming world just two short years ago. Since I’ve covered some of the problems with the gameplay I think it’s only fair that I cover the pluses as well. First and foremost this game is just plain fun to play. Also, while the running AI could be beefed up a little bit WSB does play a pretty realistic game of baseball. The controls are great as each button corresponds to a base and the left analog stick is used to move your player. The left and right triggers are used to change player closest to the ball and to dive. The pitching interface is simple yet effective. To select your pitch you move the left analog stick towards the pitch you want to throw and then press the A button to make the selection. You will also have the option to have a baseball icon to move with the left analog stick for pin point accuracy for pitch location if you so desire. However, for the sim fan the game will play much more realistically if you turn that option off. Adjusting your defense is a breeze as the left trigger will cycle you through infield alignments and the right trigger will cycle thru the outfield alignments. No hassle of pausing the game and then going to a team option screen here. Just pull the corresponding trigger until you have the setup you want and then continue on with the pitch.
The batting engine has been redone to include a batting cursor style of gameplay. You can adjust the size of the curser from small, medium, and large to suite your hitting ability. Once on base, the base running controls are what one would expect from a baseball game. X to continue to the next base and A will cause you to retreat back to the previous base. If you have more than one runner on base and you only want to advance the lead runner, press the left analog stick in the direction of the base you want to run to and then the X button.
If you’re more into two player gaming rather than playing thru entire season, let alone a franchise, then WSB may just be the best game for your money. Those problems that I mentioned earlier are nonexistent in two player mode which really makes this game a blast to play. I can’t remember a time where I had more fun playing against my friends in an exhibition game of baseball. It really is a blast to play!
Control is a strong point of this game. I dislike hitting cursors but in WSB the hitter responds so quickly and the hitting cursor moves so smoothly that I enjoy the hitting interface more than any other game. I think what Sega did correctly was allow for a margin of error, you don’t have to line up the cursor dead center on the ball to make contact, if you time it right but are a little off you still make contact. It is unlikely that you will get many solid hits this way but it beats striking out 16 times a game.
Sticking on the offensive side of the ball base running is also done quite well. Press the directional pad in the direction of the base and hit X to advance your runner, hit B to call them back to the base. The only problem I have run in to here is on occasion when I rip the ball into the gap with a man on base my timing seems to be off on getting the hitter to go to second. Maybe I am hitting the X too early maybe too late, I am not sure.
Pitching also controls very easily. The types of pitches are presented on a grid and you simply move the directional button in the direction of the pitch you want to select and hit A. Then you locate the pitch in the same manner and hit A when you are ready to throw. You can pitch with the pitch cursor on or off. With it on it is far too easy to hit your spots and especially with good pitchers the CPU will not score off of you much. Pitching with the cursor off as Mike said, makes pitching seem more intuitive and realistic.
One of the early questions people had on WSB was whether there was manual fielding and or auto fielding. There is only manual fielding, but it is so well done that it may actually be a little too easy. For fly balls, just head toward the red circle and when you get to the right spot your player stops. So you really won’t miss any catchable ball by standing a little too far or behind the cursor. In the infield they have a little bit of an assist so that if there is a shot down the third base line your fielder is generally headed in the right direction. Unlike other games where balls hit to your 1st or 3rd basemen are pretty much uncatchable unless they are hit right at them, you can make all the plays you should make. You can also dive by hitting the right cursor. To throw the 4 main buttons each represent a base, it is all pretty straight forward. I think what clinches it is the camera angles other than foul pop flys you always have a great view of the play and enough time to react.
There is a lot of good stuff and some bad. The most glaring problem is the CPU base running. It is questionable and sometimes down right bad. The CPU runners are just not aggressive enough. Primarily in scenarios where they have a man on base, either first or second and the CPU gets a single, rarely will you see the man go from first to third and rarely will you see the man on second score. Sometimes you can make excuses for them and say that it was a hard hit ball or it was liner that looked like it may be caught, but other times there is no logical excuse. This also happens when there are two outs and the runners should be on the move as soon as the ball is hit. I think what is even more confusing is that sometimes they run the bases fine and take third on a single or score from second, which just makes you wonder more about why they didn’t advance other times.
The good news with the base running is that most balls that should be doubles and triples are that, and that the runners on base seem to be a little more aggressive on doubles than they are on singles. I also did notice that on a 3-2 count with men on, that the runners were off with the pitch. So it’s obvious thought was put into this aspect of the game but the execution is suspect.
More good news is that your user controlled runners can advance bases normally, you might run into a few outs, but for the most part what looks like a double is a double and runners can advance from first to third if you play aggressively. Stealing is a little easy except for the guys with slow reflexes like myself.
On the plus side hitting in WSB is pure joy. Nothing finer than ripping one into the gap of the beautifully modeled fields and going for a double or triple. After some 40 + games I can hit but not too well, I still get fooled by breaking pitches and changeups and if I look for those pitches I am late on the fastball. A nice feature is that you have 4 pitch speeds, Slow, Medium, Fast and Very Fast. At this point Medium on the All-Star level is plenty challenging.
Breaking pitches are tough to pick up but not impossible, I have more trouble with the lower breaking pitches than the pitches that stay up in the strike zone. The CPU mixes up it’s pitches pretty well, I don’t think it is actually learning tendencies or anything that advanced. Yet it does work up and down, in and out and tries to hit your cold zones more often than not.
When each hitter comes to the plate a box appears that represents the strike zone and it is split into 9 sections, the sections will be either red or dark red to represent hot zones and blue and dark blue to represent cold zones. The zones only increase your success or lack thereof and you can get hits on balls thrown in your cold zones and also may get hit when you pitch to the hitters cold zones.
At times, I think pitching is too easy but then I get lit up. Some games it seems like your pitcher is in a groove and can do no wrong, but it also can feel like you might not have a lot to do with your pitchers success. Not sure if this is true or not, it’s just a feeling I get. In any case, working the corners and mixing up your pitches is recommended. One thing I really enjoy is that you can leave a ball over the plate and it is not automatically a home run or a hard hit ball somewhere. The default setting is to have the pitch cursor on but after a few games even with the variable pitching set to on, it is apparent that you have pinpoint control and the CPU can’t hit you very well. Turning off the pitch cursor make for a more rewarding and challenging pitching experience and it will increase the CPU’s offense some. The biggest thing that seems to increase the CPU hitting is playing through your schedule and using your 4th and 5th starters. You might dominate at times with your top notch starters but will be challenged with everyone else. Not mentioned in the manual is that the harder you press the throw button you will get added velocity on your pitches.
As mentioned above, fielding is very well done and borders on be too easy, but the effect of that on the game play is that you make the plays you should make, given the placement of the ball. Some other baseball titles in recent years will leave you frustrated trying to get your cursor in just the right spot. Outfielders arms are a little too accurate and the animations at times are pretty funky when you decide to throw to third and your outfielder is pointed toward second the ball will take off on an un-natural arc. Most throws end up on the money and seem to compensate for the improper use of cut-off men. You will rarely see a cutoff man in the outfield that is useful to you, however for better or worse with the bad CPU base running you won’t notice this much.
Infield play is smooth and there are some really nice and realistic animations, the only problem I have is the non-chalant shortstop animation, where he fields the ball and takes his sweet time to throw the ball to first, it looks great but has cost me a hit or two along the way. The third base fielding animations are superb feel like I am watching Brooks Robinson in his prime. Turning Double Plays on anything but a hard hit ball at one of your guys can be difficult, partly because of the lack of a true pivot at second base type animation. I will add that some gamers have come up with some tricks to turn the DP faster, personally given the CPU base running problems I haven’t tried any tricks.
Not sure if the CPU base running is an AI problem or a game physics problems the CPU might be making the right decision given where the outfielder fields the ball in relation to where the base runner is.
Depending on your style of pitching you might encounter some problems with pitcher fatigue, in that they don’t fatigue soon enough. I pitch more like I would if I were on the mound and tend to have fairly realistic pitch counts my pitchers tend to fatigue at a pretty realistic rate. Also the relief pitchers stamina will carry over from game to game.
Another issue as Mike mentioned is the strike zone seems huge and the CPU will throw a disproportionate amount of strikes versus balls. Part of this problem can be attributed to my over anxiousness to hit, but I think it was a decision made by Sega to increase the pace of the game. You can draw walks and you can walk someone but it is nowhere near what you would see in a MLB game.
The CPU may stick with it’s starters a little longer than you might guess but if the pitcher is truly fatigued or if you slapped him around the CPU will make a change. In NL games the CPU will make more changes and will make liberal use of pinch hitters. They might not always be the moves you would make but I haven’t seen it effect game play. Just last night the Pirates used 6 pitchers against me.
If you are expecting World Series Baseball and the power of the XBOX to deliver some of the best graphics found in a baseball game you won’t be disappointed. The stadiums alone are startling to look at. I can honestly say that I have not seen Coors Field better represented in a video game. Many of the player stances are in there, as well as pitching styles. If you’re by chance a Rockies fan then you know that Todd Zeile has one of the most jacked up batting stances in the league (if you can call it a batting stance). He just walks up to the plate with the bat on his should and looks at the pitcher. Well, his batting stance is just one example of how well they are done in the game because cyber Todd looks very much like the real thing at the plate. Lighting effect is also very well done in WSB. There’s really not much I can say other than this is the best-looking baseball game around.
It may sound like I am picking out a lot of stuff to criticize but this is really a fun game. The ball physics are superb, almost every ball you hit looks like a hit from a real baseball game. The ball will take a high hop if it hits the mound and will ricochet off the walls. I have had a couple balls that hit the wall in the well at Wrigley and I end up chasing the ball along the wall. Line drives, ground ball, pop ups all look very real, it just adds to the great feel of this game. I have even seen pop ups into the stands directly behind home plate, that look great and I have never seen in any game before.
One of the reasons hitting is so fun is because when you pull the ball it really feels like you should have pulled that pitch and the ball responds realistically. Also when you go with a pitch and line one the other way, you feel rewarded with a beautiful line drive animation for your efforts.
There are a myriad of animations in the field and all are pulled off very smoothly, the stadiums look great and are far superior to any game to date. This is the first game where the Ivy in Wrigley looks like Ivy and the baskets look like baskets.
Overall the colors are bright and crisp the player model are good but don’t represent the various shapes and sizes of the real players all that well.
The instant replays are incredible and what’s even nicer is that you can skip all the between play animation and replays, so you can take your time and enjoy the presentation and play a game in an hour or you can move quickly and play a game in roughly 35 minutes.
World Series Baseball is not only the best looking game on the market; it’s also the best sounding. While Ted Robinson, for the most part, sounds lifeless (even when he’s trying to get fired up) the game really sounds amazing. You will hear hecklers say things such as “Hey Bagwell, you look like you’re sitting on a throne!” to “Hey Gonzales, try keeping your foot in the box!” There have been times when I’ve actually had to pause the game while I chuckled out loud over what was just yelled out by a fan. There are also sayings that are stadium specific such as “Hey Todd, hit it out to Blake Street” and “Put it in the Rockpile!” It’s things like this that really add to the enjoyment of the game. The crowd also sounds great as they act according to the situation. Step up to the plate with the bases juiced at home and the crowd will get loud. If you make a bad play or pop up in a big situation you can expect to get booed. All of the nuances of the ballpark are here. You have your organ music, batter walk-up music, and the umpire yelling out balls and strikes and so forth. To think, all of this is wrapped in beautiful sounding Dolby Digital at that!
As much as I hate some of the organ music I have to admit it is infectious and I end up humming along with the “Chicken Dance”. All of the things Mike mentioned are dead on and really add to the overall enjoyment of WSB. The crack of the ball on bat really sounds great, what is even cooler is that in replay mode you can slow down your swing and you still get the sound of the ball meeting bat.
I was probably 12 when Mike Krukow broke in with the Cubs, so I might be a little biased but he does a great job of sounding natural and sounding like he is talking about the game you are playing, other developers should take note. Another nice thing is that he doesn’t talk too much so he doesn’t become redundant as quickly as analysts in some other games and lets face it, real life.
Given the Depth of the Franchise Mode, we made the decision to do this part of the review separately so that we can spend an appropriate amount of time exploring all the features. So look for it next week.
While WSB isn’t without its faults I think it’s fair to say that Sega has this franchise headed back in the right direction. In my opinion it is the best game of baseball found on the XBOX this year. Many people will disagree and say that title goes to ASB. Of course it’s an opinionated statement, but one I honestly feel that many will agree with. World Series Baseball is one of those games that get better with time. WSB combines great graphics and great sound with solid gameplay topped with some fine presentation to give us an enjoyable game of baseball.
On fun factor alone, I would score this game over 90, but it is a baseball game and base running is an important aspect of the game. If you are a stickler for detail and any flaws send you running back to your local video game store with game in hand, then you should stay away from WSB. On the other hand, even with the flaws, this looks and feels like baseball and I look forward to playing it, and for me that is the mark of a good game.