Now that sports gamers have had a few years worth of games which try to look as close to telecasts as possible, it's time to stop oohing and aahing over 3D graphics, pretty stadiums and true-to-life commentary. The bar has been raised, and the new standard is the one by which all current and future sports games must be measured.
When it comes to baseball games, I look for realistic action and great gameplay coupled with the ability to manage my team to my heart's content. When I played Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001, it was obvious that Trip Hawkins and his group at 3DO live for the sport. When I was a kid I used to love playing Strat-o-matic Baseball and create my own leagues with their own exciting stories; I even wrote up faux newspaper articles which chronicled my athletes' exploits.
So perhaps I was already biased when I loaded Triple Play 2001 onto my PC, but I felt like Electronic Arts, which I always thought was synonymous with realistic sports games, has lost sight of what constitutes a great baseball game. They're obviously shooting for gamers who want Arcade-style action while the rest of the field has moved well beyond that archaic mold.
I should mention that if you just crave a baseball videogame, then perhaps Triple Play 2001 is for you. Then again, if that's what you're after, chances are you don't own a PC and you're playing your sports games on a Nintendo 64 or Sony PlayStation, which means that you're probably not reading this review anyway. Hopefully I am speaking to like-minded folks here.
If you're like me, it probably bugs you that you can't call for intentional walks or put on a hit and run in this game. I want a game rich with managerial options. I want to have to plan out my pitching changes in advance by warming up my relievers in the bullpen before inserting them. I want to be able to visit the mound and see how my starter is doing and get the stats I need, such as pitch count and numbers of balls and strikes thrown, to make decisions. It's funny that a much older game like Tony LaRussa Baseball has those options but a state-of-the-art title like this one doesn't.
And if you want to see an at-bat-by-at-bat account of the game after it's over (like in Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001), forget about it. You can see the player of the game and the teams' stats, but you can't even sort them by different categories like you can when viewing season or play-off numbers. During the season there's a news section, but it doesn't pay attention to cool stuff such as Cal Ripken's 3000th hit (like a certain other game), which is obviously because the game isn't set up for long-term career play. I wanted to feel like I was in control of my own little baseball world, but this game just didn't deliver it for me.
It also bugs me that, even if I just want some mindless Arcade-style fun, Triple Play 2001 can't do that very well either. The graphics aren't very sharp and will make you keep adjusting the controls on your monitor. The crowds are blurs of pixels with a few 2D stand-ups in the front rows. The pitch speed meter moves quickly sometimes and crawls at other times.
The CPU hits at least 75 or 80 home runs in a five-inning home run challenge, which means you'll never win unless you can discover a trick to knocking them out of the ballpark on almost every pitch. This bug is a major disappointment, especially when you consider that the addition of all-time greats like Babe Ruth and Mike Schmidt is one of the selling points of this game. If you can figure that one out, please let me know because I was never able to do it, even after I got the hang of batting.
And if you want to see an instant replay, be prepared for some frustration. I love the way the Madden NFL series allows you pinpoint accuracy as you move around the players and play back the action at various speeds, but this game has none of that. There are a lot of cameras to view the replay from, but if none of them are right then you're stuck. The controls are also touchy, which makes it difficult to speed up and slow down the action the way you want to.
I was also annoyed by the fact that the CPU never showed replays on its own during the game; if I wanted to see one, I had to do it myself. The only time you get to see a play over again is during home runs, and even then it's limited to seeing the ball leave the bat from a few angles and then a long shot of it flying into the stands. How about a close-up of the outfielders watching it go over the fence or a shot of the pitcher dejectedly watching its trajectory?
One aspect of Triple Play 2001 which I have to admit is nice is its player modeling. Randy Johnson is tall and lanky with hair streaming from the bottom of his cap while Kenny Lofton is little and quick. The players' faces look good, and the animations are fluid, with no hitches in the action. My only gripe in this area is the fact that the players' names don't fit across the backs of their jerseys if they're too long. How hard would it have been to scale the type?
The sound is also pedestrian. Jim Hughson and Buck Martinez don't always call the action correctly, and there's an obnoxious bug which hands out errors on obvious base hits. I played one game where the National League All Stars had six errors; almost all of them were on base hits where the computer inexplicably gave an error to an outfielder as he threw the ball back to the infield.
Hughson and Martinez have a bunch of little anecdotes about the teams and players to relate, but often it has nothing to do with the game you're currently playing. For example, during one game they discussed a 1999 contest between the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds which decided a play-off spot despite the fact that neither of those teams was playing at the moment. And while they relate these stories, one of your players could hit a towering home run and they won't even mention it because the sound file is too long and can't be interrupted.
The only highlight of the audio is the use of fake ads during the game; one of them will say that the seventh inning stretch is brought to you by a company which makes salsa toothpaste or the fictitious Ski Council of Nebrasks.
It's obvious that EA's developers wanted to have a little fun with touches like that and the use of hidden stuff. You can unlock rewards which make the players bigger or littler or even give them pencil heads, for example. They're fun, but they're also superfluous and don't make up for the mediocre gameplay and lack of attention paid to all the little details which make baseball such a great sport.
Overall, you'll want to steer clear of this game if you're a hardcore baseball gamer. Even if you just want some fun and don't care about realistic action, you're still better off picking up Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001, which delivers great graphics as well as great gameplay.
Graphics: Very fuzzy. Even the circles around the button options in the pop-up windows aren't clear and distinct.
Sound: The sound of a fielder diving for the ball doesn't sound right, and the announcers aren't very good at keeping up with the action at hand.
Enjoyment: There are too many glaring bugs and not nearly enough depth on the managerial side.
Replay Value: The king of long-term baseball action is Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001. This game isn't even a prince next to it; it's more like a pauper.
People who downloaded Triple Play 2001 have also downloaded:
Triple Play 2000, MVP Baseball 2005, Triple Play 97, High Heat Major League Baseball 2003, Microsoft Baseball 2001, MVP Baseball 2004, Hardball V Enhanced (a.k.a. Hardball 5 Enhanced), Madden NFL 07
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