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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: May 3, 2000
3DO and Team .366 return this season with another offering of their very popular baseball simulation, adding one of the most popular players for endorsement now dubbed Sammy Sosa’s High Heat Baseball 2001. And while the addition of Sosa may add credibility to the series amongst the marketing department, the fact remains that the High Heat series is and has always been about great gameplay. Many fans and critics fell in love with the 2000 version, but a number of biting bugs found in the initial release kept that installment from reaching true stardom. HH2001 bursts onto the stage claiming to be nothing less than the greatest baseball game of all time, and a sticker on the box offers a money back guarantee to back it up. So the question bears asking, is this the most realistic simulation of baseball ever created? The answer is somewhat complex, but nonetheless there’s no denying the term “greatness” definitely has a place in Sammy Sosa’s High Heat Baseball 2001′s book of definitions.
Players familiar with the gameplay, stats management and overall feel of the High Heat series should rest easy knowing the core elements that have made the 3DO marquee title so popular are here in spades. Team .366 is using an enhanced version of last season’s engine, so there are definite similarities users can draw such as with player models, stadiums and crowds. That’s not to say however, that things look exactly the same, they don’t. Overall the animations are cleaner and have a higher number of polys in them to create a smoother look and feel. And while the folks at Team .366 have added a lot more player models, so players also look a lot more like their real life counterparts, though they’re still not on par with the likes of EA Sports’ Triple Play 2001 or Microsoft’s Baseball 2001.
So what are the big differences between the 2000 and the 2001 versions? A lot actually. Digital baseball fans have long cried out for a title that combines the features of a great statistics simulation with the feel and gameplay of the arcade classics. In response to those requests, Team .366 has made the major leaguers far more responsive to commands, which was a noticeable deficiency in previous editions. There are also a number of minor tweaks to default gameplay options, such as the ability to choose which cut-off man will be used.
I also like the virtual ton of new animations used in the field of play, such as shortstops diving for balls hit up the gap or center fielders climbing the wall to snag certain homeruns. The use of multiple cameras and the TV-style presentation of the action in High Heat 2001 is perhaps the best I’ve seen in a sports simulation on the TV. The developers must have watched a lot of ESPN Thursday Night Baseball, as their transitions from batters to pitchers and the multitude of variables used in vantage points mimic television highlights. This is one of the first and best sports PC products that actually possesses a working, beneficial up-close action mode. There’s also been a big effort placed around improving the game’s presentation. Player portraits are included in stat boxes, giving long-time card collectors a digital version of their lucrative hobby.
Conveying the style of presentation that High Heat 2001 offers is of major league importance, as this is probably the closest thing you’ll find to sitting down and watching the real thing. And while the visual results of the presentation are spot on, the execution of things aren’t quite at the same level, but they’re still very good. Gameplay in High Heat 2001 by default is very fast. From delivery of pitches to the speed of the ball off of the bat, no one’s going to get bored. There is a feature to control the speed of gameplay, and I found playing one notch slower than normal suits my style a lot more than the speedy default. But even on the slower modes, I found the action to be too erratic in execution, with players often not moving at all when a ball was hit in their direction, and then at the last second diving over to make the play. It almost seems like the design team has tried to create miraculous events on purpose, and if that’s the case they’ve succeeded. It’s just not as realistic as it should be.
One of the most welcome additions to the series are the newly enhanced league options. Included in this version are the options for complete custom leagues that allow for unlimited amounts of options and setups. Players, general managers and coaches can form leagues based around custom drafts, and can name division and conference alignments. The statistics elements of the High Heat series have always been good and this time there’s more data to evaluate than ever. The game tracks every stat imaginable, including individual players and teams, even by position. You can even create your own players, and based upon results in the field, they adjust accordingly. Slumps, hot streaks and even the “zone” are real factors in High Heat 2001, further enhancing the big league feel of the game.
Another big win for this edition are the improved physics. The ball itself seems to have been spit shined, as the manner in which it cascades off bats, walls and even a player’s shin are amazing. Watching the ball in pop flys, crazy hop grounders and warning track flyouts caught over the outer fence is very realistic. Because High Heat 2001 actually models things like ball rotation, the sense of realism and accuracy are heightened, and the positive enhancements this sort of feature gives to the battery interface are invaluable. About the only thing I’ve found really disappointing other than the speed issues I mentioned earlier are a few bugs that have crept into the final release. Last year’s version was riddled with them, and I am glad to report that this edition is not nearly as debilitated, but some statistics errors and an occasional graphical anomaly are not unheard of, but in the end I’ve not found anything show stopping.
In truth there’s not a whole lot missing from Sammy Sosa’s High Heat Baseball 2001, except for a sophisticated financial system that factors in salary caps and detailed trading. Chalk it up for them needing something to put into High Heat 2002. There’s certainly enough digital baseball here to please both the gameplay and statistics oriented players, and those like me looking for a balance of the two, well we couldn’t be happier.
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