Question: What has nine innings, curve balls, changeups and hangups, baseslides, pitchers and lots of silly hats? No, not a press conference. It's Accolade's latest sports conversion. Hardball 11 is an attempt to recreate America's national sport on the Amiga. And it certainly does what it sets out to do, in as much as it captures all of the complexity of the sport, whilst still giving a good fast arcade game.
What put me off this sport in the past on computers was the absolutely ridiculous amount of jargon and complication that always seemed to accompany the game. After all, one imagines the sport being a fast paced, all action bash; where as the other versions of baseball or hardball were more concerned with the strategy elements. Hardball II maintains a fair balance between the two without making either seem lightweight or unconvincing.
To get into the game you'll have to use Accolade's favorite method of protection - the anti-piracy code wheel. This doesn't take long, and you'll soon be into the main menu. There is a bewildering list of options, none of which will feel like your native language. Don't despair! These things take time to understand. After all, it is the American national sport and we all know how strange they are.
Luckily. Accolade have given a nice easy way to get into the game in their handbook. Providing you can read, you can get straight into the action. First you have to select a team. There is a nice simple uncomplicated little novice team so you can learn what to do wrong without being able to. Then you can choose a stadium from a selection of seven stadia. All have their own characteristics, good and bad.
There are printed command charts so you can look up the controls quickly whilst playing. This saves a lot of plowing through the somewhat comprehensive manual trying to find the control to scratch your bum or spit on the outfield. There is an option to just play the game arcade style but fans (or sadists) will want to learn all of the rules. To do this you're going to have to play more than a passing role as team manager.
The manager has access to the players' individual stats and can select the best team for the day ahead. You'll have to know when to use substitutes, what effect a crosswind will have, and everything that might even have a tiny effect on the team's performance. It will be down to the manager, not the players, if the team loses (just ask Bobby Robson).
When you really get into the game, you can start up a league and go for the glory of World Series. Things get a tad complicated and jargony at this point so I'll leave it up to you to buy the game if you're desperate to find out the technicalities. The arcade section of the game is very nicely done. The computer plays a pretty mean game so don't amble onto the field expecting to win at the first attempt. It will take dedication and practise to reach the level where you're winning games consistently.
Graphically the game is superb. The animation of the figures works very nicely. There are lots of views of the field to choose from and an action replay mode to view all of the more painful moments again. Sound is atmospheric and adds to the feel of the sport.
Not being a great fan of Hardball I can't personally recommend this as one of my favourite games. Having said that, it seems to be the definitive Hardball simulation available and if you know what the critics talk about whilst commentating on Channel 4's coverage then I'm sure you'll love this.
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