High Heat 2004 Review (Xbox)
No baseball game captures the mind game between pitchers and hitters as well as High Heat. No baseball game has the synchronization of a hit ball, base runners and fielders down like High Heat. No baseball game allows you as much flexibility in combining your gaming skills with the skill of the major league players. High Heat has taken major criticism in the past for poor graphics and jumpy animations, some of the criticism was warranted and this year 3DO responded with a huge graphical jump.
GAMEPLAY AND AI
I have contemplated for a while now, what it is that I like about HH’s hitting and pitching interface that others don’t seem to get. The first thing, is that I can actually see the pitcher, he takes up a much larger part of my screen than he does in any other game. Since I can see the pitcher I actually have a chance at seeing the ball coming out of his hand. Being able to see the pitcher and the ball, gives me a chance to try to get a read on the pitch type, speed and location in the same manner that I would if I was actually hitting against a real pitcher. Now the beautiful thing about this is that I may think that I have picked up the CPU pitchers fastball, but then his slider comes out of his hand the same and looks the same until I commit myself to swing at a fastball and suddenly the ball breaks and I am fooled.
Even though the default speed of the pitches may seem slow to many, the point at which you commit to a pitch is timed so perfectly that it really doesn’t matter at what speed you set the pitches, you will be fooled often at the higher difficulty levels. Just in case you really like to see fast pitches, HH has sliders for that; they also added a slider for foul ball frequency, which was a much needed and great addition.
Probably the biggest addition to the pitcher/hitter interface is the movement on fastballs. You now have a variety of fastballs to deal with, the most common is the moving fastball, but you will also see tailing, rising, 4-seam, 2-seam fastballs and cutters. In total there are 27 pitches, most pitchers will be equipped with 4 to 6. A guy like Orlando Hernandez has 7 with one of them being the “El Droppo”, which in 110 pitch outing against me he used exactly once and got a crucial strikeout. This is one more thing that I think HH does better than other games, there seems to be some realistic logic behind the pitchers choice of pitches.
As a human pitcher against a CPU hitter the biggest change this year from last is that you will be able to get more strikeouts. If you are not satisfied there are sliders for the CPU hitting ability. The movement on fastballs seems to effect the CPU’s hitting just as much as it does the human hitter. Mixing up your pitches, changing pace and location are very important. You may have games where your pitcher just seems on and it doesn’t seem to matter where your throw the ball but you keep getting people out. Other times even with the best of pitchers, you just don’t seem to have your stuff, or command of your arsenal of pitches. This can be very frustrating but the realism of it is astounding. Kerry Wood is a perfect example, I have seen him in real life where he totally dominates and then have games where he just gets blasted. This also happens in HH, some games he just can’t seem to get his fastball over and his breaking pitches have no bite, I really get the impression that I am on the mound trying to make do, with sub-standard stuff.
Hitting is the hardest it has been in HH since I have started playing this series 5 years ago. In previous years I have gone right to the MVP level after just a few games, this year I am pretty content on the All Star level. Not sure what makes it harder this year, the graphics are better so I am not fooled as easily. I think the movement on the pitches is part of the increased difficulty, it seems the location of your swing has to be more accurate to get solid contact. Also in previous years it was pretty easy to bloop the ball over the infielders heads, those types of hits are down considerably.
Drawing walks has long been one element lacking from other baseball titles, but not HH and this year is no different. I am somewhat obsessed with pitch counts and sometimes I probably take too many pitches in an effort to make the pitcher work. I get as much joy out of drawing 4 walks in a game as I do from hitting a couple of dingers. But as in real baseball there is a fine line between being patient and not being aggressive enough.
No cursor again, but timing and pushing the analog stick in the direction of the pitch are crucial to hitting well. You will see a greater variety of hits this year, and just about every game you will see a ball hit somewhere that you haven’t before, however you still get a few too many balls hit in the same spots.
The other games are catching up, but HH still creates the most intuitive and realistic fielding environment, the timing seems just about right. Whereas in WSB your fielders seem to be a little too fast in order to catch up to the ball and in ASB, the ball stays up in the air a little too long in order to have your fielder make the play. In HH when the ball leaves the bat I usually have a pretty good idea whether it is a ball I should make a play on and where I will make the play. This is the same feeling I get when watching a real game, you get a sense of where the play will be made as soon as the ball leaves the bat. There are also a wider variety of throw types this year, you will see more bad throws or throws that will make the first basemen stretch. You can also increase the error frequency slider if you have the desire to see more misplays.
CPU base running is darn near perfect, rarely will you see a ball hit to the gap that should be a double, end up only being a single. Just often enough you will see a CPU base runner stretch that same ball into a triple, and the coolest thing is that sometimes the CPU will make mistakes and you will be able to throw them out trying to stretch a single into a double. Also there have been occasions where the CPU gets thrown out on balls it believes will drop but you come up with the catch and easy DP.
The PS2 version has some bugs, one of which I never encountered and the other were on a check swing strike with an 0-0 count when the appeal goes to the umpire, the count will go to 0-2, cool if you are the pitcher but not so cool when hitting. Both of these bugs do not seem to be in the X-box version.
STRATEGY AND AI
HH is a very worthy opponent when it comes to the strategic elements of the game. Is it perfect? Well no, but you will find yourself second guessing the CPU’s moves about as frequently as you would a good manager and a lot less than a bad manager. I have noticed a few times where the CPU seems to pull the starting pitcher a little early and then others where it seems to stick with a reliever longer than it should. Also in games where it removes the starter early, it can at times run through the whole bullpen pretty quick. Leaving itself shorthanded should the game become close or go into extra innings. The CPU also tends to try and pickoff runners in situations that just don’t seem realistic.
There have also been times where I have been caught napping when the CPU pulled off a suicide or safety squeeze. The great thing is it doesn’t suicide squeeze every time the situations presents itself, but only when it truly hurts the most and it is quite shocking to be out thought by the CPU.
The CPU will also work the lefty/righty advantage when pinch hitting, to the point of pinch hitting for a pinch hitter if you make a pitching change. The CPU will also use intentional walks as well as pitching around certain hitters, although that is kind of hard to prove, but it sure seems like that is what happens.
On the flipside there are times when the CPU lets a pitcher hit and then removes him from the game, when he takes the mound. Now, I know I saw this on the PS2 version, don’t know if it has happened on the X-box version. In previous years the CPU would sometimes make wholesale lineup changes in the 6th inning when up or down by a lot, which would cause problems if the game became tied. This year they only make a couple of changes in the 7th or later and sometimes some defensive replacements.
GRAPHICS AND ANIMATION
HH made huge strides in this area, but lacks the crispness of a WSB or the fluidity of MVP. However one thing it does better than the others at least on the X-box version, is to create the illusion that you are in a ballpark. Playing the ball of a wall can be a real treat; I get the feeling I am in the game and not merely playing a video game.
There are many more animations this year, most notably improved double play animations, last years version was marred by looping throws by the pivot man. The animations are more seamless this year, there is room for improvement but they look realistic and are smooth. More importantly the players respond to your commands and you never get the feeling that an animation cost you a play. One cool thing I saw in all the games that I have played is when with base running set to auto, I had a guy on second he rounded third on the infield hit that I just got, the first basemen made a throw over to third, he got back in time, but he overran the base and got tagged out. Again as in other things I enjoy about this game, I have only seen this once. Other games tend to want to show off certain unique animations and use them too much.
Player modes are pretty good, and vary in shapes and sizes, but Mo Vaughn and David Wells are not as fat as they should be and David Eckstein is not as scrawny as he is in real life. There are some realism to players various stances but they are by no means 100% accurate. The player faces are also kind of generic, a few guys look pretty good. One thing I noticed that surprised me was Ichiro’s swing; sometimes it is just as awkward and weak looking as it is in real life, when he is just trying to slap the ball to the opposite field.
HH made huge improvements in the front end menus, they are a bit confusing at first glance but once you try them a couple of times, I think you will like them. They also improved all the statistical menus; they are much easier to read. Gameplay overlays are crisper and are more stylish than they have been in the past.
However, if you are the kind of person who complains a lot about programmers not utilizing the hardware, then HH might not be for you, but the graphics work for me, although even my girlfriend thinks the fielding and the ball cursor look kind of goofy.
The sound is decent if you can ignore the choppiness of the crowd noises; various crowd noises just jump out of nowhere and then mysteriously end. The sound is improved in the X-box version but still suffers from some of the same problems as the PS2 Version. The X-box version also has some more commentary from the analyst and a few more comments from hecklers.
Dave O’ Brien as the play-by-play guy is decent; the only problem is the usual repetitiveness and some sub-par editing in of players names. Overall, the ballpark atmosphere is recreated, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
Unlimited years and a monetary concept are two interesting features of HH’s career franchise mode. HH also has 3 levels of minor league lineups, complete with the ability to choose the starting lineups and pitching rotations. The minor leaguers are fictional players but they can be edited, so you could truly recreate your favorite teams minor league system. One cool thing about the minor leaguers is not only do you see their ratings, but the cpu generates stats for each player as the season progresses.
The franchise mode is a good step in the right direction but it is not without flaws, one of them being that the CPU stuck Hee Soep Choi in center field for the Cubs. He made 18 errors but managed to get over 400 putouts. HH also has an off-season mode in which you can re-sign your own players and then attempt to sign free agents. The biggest weakness here is that there is no real bargaining going on. You make an offer and then the CPU just tells you who signed where, although there are two rounds. You can use the second round to focus on positions you may have missed in the first. The user interface is a bit on the unwieldy side. It’s not easy to find out who signed where and for what. There is also a rookie draft, which consists of 25 rounds. I was able to draft a 19 year old pitcher and throw him in my rotation the first year and in a shorten season, he struck out 40 men in 22 innings. Possibly this would have evened out if I played a full 162 game season, or I just had Dwight Gooden on my hands.
As you work through a season you have full control over your rotations and lineups and can bring people up from the minors and put guys on the DL. You can make trade offers, but the CPU is tough. The trades the CPU offers at times border on the ridiculous, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Stat simulation is pretty good, although Alfonso Soriano had 59 HR’s and 51 SB’s in one season, which is unlikely, but in the realm of possibility. The Red Sox won 117 games in the first season I simmed. The stats seem to be pretty accurate but the CPU can do some strange things to the lineups and rotations through out the league.
Once again HH nails the important elements of baseball unlike any other game. Baseball is about the battle between the pitcher and hitter and HH does this extremely well. Also with the wealth of sliders on key areas of gameplay, HH makes for an extremely customizable gaming experience. The sound and graphics could use some tweaking but the gameplay reins supreme.