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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

   
As the latest in the long-running series, World Series Baseball from Sega and Visual Concepts is a showcase for the Xbox. Itís beautiful graphics redefine the state of the art in sports gaming while the deep gameplay, intuitive controls and brilliant overall design make this one a definite keeper. Players looking for the essential baseball sim have been wandering from in the wilderness for quite some time, but this one seems to be where the company has found perfection.

Itís no secret among sports fans that Segaís last few installments of the World Series Baseball franchise for the Dreamcast have left a lot to be desired in the gameplay department. This has been doubly disappointing since the series was so superb on the Saturn. Unfortunately, a series of misguided design decisions seriously undercut the series, significantly tarnishing itís reputation. Few will probably be able to forget the disastrous use of auto-fielding in WSB2K on the Dreamcast. Itís a bad memory, but one thatís destined to be forgotten given the excellence of the current installment which almost single-handedly restores the series to itís former glistening shine. While Segaís taken a lot of heat for their multi-platform approach with this yearís baseball title, focusing on a single platform seems to have worked. This is because the seriesí exclusive appearance this year for the Xbox finds most of the problems that plagued earlier games have been fixed up nicely while the game itself seems to take full advantage of the technical abilities of the Microsoft platform. While other titles have come close, none has achieved the nearly flawless balance that WSB has finally achieved. The feel and implementation of the gameplay is much smoother this time around, making this title a much more solid and enjoyable experience. Most of the elements that didnít quite work have now been tweaked and polished enough to stand on itís own as one of the best all-around baseball titles ever created.

While it must be said that last yearís WSB 2K1 was better, the controls in the Xbox edition are the biggest area of improvement on the Xbox. Most noticeably he pitcher/batter interface is exceptional and smartly designed, making the game feel and play as smoothly as one could reasonably expect. This makes pitching much simpler and has been streamlined to make it easier to understand the onscreen icons. This interface lets players select the spot and is intuitive to understand and in practice makes both ends of battle incredibly easy and fun to play. WSB allows the pitcher plenty of different pitches to choose from and implementation only requires a few moves on the controller. The first move selects the style of pitch while the second is used to aim inside or out of the strike zone. Aiming your throws is made much easier thanks to the onscreen radar and hot/cold zone indicator which allows you to place the perfect pitch. The outstanding interface allows the strategic depth of pitching to come into play. The defensive mode is also well-put together and makes fielding and throwing equally easy to learn and master. Using the fielders is simple thanks to the onscreen indicators. Once youíve gotten the hang of it, these assists can be turned off to increase the challenge. Batting follows the same easy to use interface, since the contact zone is much more clearly defined, allowing you to hit the ball much easier. This also shows the batting players their battersí hot and cold zones, meaning you can anticipate the pitch thrown and choose not to swing at a sure fly ball or ground out. Additionally, the game allows you to play manager and change positions and players on the fly. You can also manage the teamís strategy and change your fielding positions with relative ease. Overall, this makes the actual gameplay flow incredibly easy and lends the games plenty of realism with plenty of strategy and depth, though there is more to the game than its already exceptional action packed gameplay.

World Series Baseball has always had plenty of depth and realism to it, but this has been sabotaged in recent installments due to the poor play mechanics. The good news this time out is that the gameplay is good enough to allow the extensive stats to really shine. The gameís biggest draw for the hardcore baseball fan has to be its extensive Franchise mode, where you can manage a team from end to end. You can control the drafting, salary and trading of players and can also create a customized player using the extensive editing modes. Whatís most impressive is that you can recruit or change your managers, coaches and batting instructors if they arenít doing the job. This makes for an incredibly deep experience which is only enhanced by the voluminous statistics that allow you to track each playerís progress through dozens of minute numbers. This should more than satisfy players looking for depth and makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Itís quite satisfying to watch your playersí progression through the season, as the numbers are updated after each game. This allows you to make decisions on trading or signing free-agents with a clear view of what that player can accomplish for your team. Building a well-balanced team with complimentary abilities while covering up problem areas can make a huge difference between winning the pennant and being out of the race before the All-Star break so players should definitely not neglect this area of the game.

In addition to the extensive Franchise mode and its deep stats, WSB has several modes of play, these run the gamut from exhibition matches to a full season of games. Players can also start in the playoffs or the championship game itself. There is also a pretty good Home Run Derby mode included as well. The game is fully licensed with all 24 MLB teams and thousands of players included. Additionally, WSB also allows you to play with classic team uniforms and you can also hall of fame players. You can set the number of innings in each game, and can either play the game yourself or run a simulated match. The sheer number of options and variables that players can change in the game is mind-boggling, though the gameís simple menus and approach never makes it overwhelming. All of the gameplay mechanics are in place, but the game doesnít neglect aesthetics, either.

Segaís always been at the forefront of console sports gaming and World Series Baseball is no exception. The title is an absolute showcase for the Xbox, with a highly polished look and feel that rivals that of broadcast sports. Player animations are stunningly realistic with excellent facial scanning and emotions that are as close to photo-realism as you can expect. The game allows multiple viewpoints as well, and the overall look of the game is smooth and uncluttered. Incredibly realistic models have been used to faithfully recreate all 30 MLB ballparks, so whether youíre playing in Yankee Stadium in New York or Mile High Stadium in Denver, you wonít miss on the authentic atmosphere of the game. The exceptional visuals all come together to form a highly polished, almost flawless presentation. The only problems come in the crowds, which suffer from a somewhat below average appearance and look distinctly out of proportion and flat from certain angles. This is very minor and doesnít detract significantly from the overall feel of the game. WSBís production values are further enhanced by the excellent commentary, which in a switch from console sports convention, features a duo of announcers, one who does the play by play and another who provides color commentary. Itís a small thing but goes a long way towards giving the game an authentic and convincingly realistic feel. In summation, the production values on this title are amazing and WSB definitely sets the bar a few notches higher for next-generation sports titles and blows the competition right out of the water.

The game is so good because it offers players a complete package. While some titles may best it in some areas, no other game has come close to matching WSBís overall package. The refined design offers smooth gameplay and depth that is simply unmatched. Sega and long-time sports collaborator Visual Concepts have also achieved a state of near perfection from a technical perspective with the Xbox edition featuring some of the best visuals and production values seen in a simulation to date. While many titles have focused on either the simulation or arcade aspects of the sport, WSB takes a more even handed approach. This works brilliantly because WSBís balanced approach is exceptionally well-implemented. This means that far from pleasing neither camp, the game should appeal to both arcade fans and the franchise and classic player modes make for plenty of depth. This well-balanced and intelligently designed simulation is highly-polished, allowing for some quite challenging gameplay that accurately reproduces the strategic management and bursts of fury that makes real-life baseball so much fun to watch. Thereís no doubt that the series is finally firing on all cylinders once again. With its release on the Xbox, the famous World Series Baseball legend has been reborn, Sega has rejuvenated the series and has moved back up from the minors and once again joins the major leagues. This is highly recommended and Xbox owners shouldnít even consider buying another baseball game. Itís just too bad that owners of the other 2 major consoles will only be able to look on with envy at this brilliant game.

- Michael Palisano

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