Video games are by definition fast-paced and exciting, perfect for those with short attention spans.
America's pastime, baseball, is intrinsically slow and methodical. Pitcher throws the ball, batter swings, fielder throws back to the pitcher.
Major League Baseball All-Star game, we decided to put the recent crop of baseball titles under the microscope.
Rock 'em, sock 'em
The makers of MLB Slugfest: Loaded figured out the easy way to appeal to the gamer nation: Spice up grandpa's baseball with fighting, sass and flames.
On this diamond, the laws of physics — and the game — get skewered slightly. Here, when a batter runs near a fielder trying to tag him out, he can start throwing a flurry of fists and elbows to knock the ball free. Unlike actual baseball, these scrums don't come with bench-clearing brawls. Even though we saw what the makers were doing — simply adding run-of-the-mill violence — it was still fun to smack Nomar Garciaparra of the Red Sox in the mouth as he trotted back to the dugout.
When each batter came to the plate, he brought with him a little of that "Fox Attitude," which seemed woefully out of place for a guy like the very vanilla Dodger Shawn Green. (Taunting the pitcher sure doesn't seem like any Shawn Green we know, but going down swinging on three consecutive pitches appears accurate enough.)
Then there are the flames. Make enough cool plays or pop a big home run, and flames appear around the player who is now literally "on fire." Let's see you try that in real life, Sammy Sosa.
The controls are the easiest of the games we tried, but that might not necessarily be good for those seeking a true simulator. The graphics looked decent, but Dodger Stadium at night was a little dark. All of the players looked about like they do in real life, except for those personality transplants. The commentary by a couple of made-up characters was horribly, horribly bad.
Still, the arcade-type action is what made "Slugfest" one of the better titles we tried.
MVP Baseball 2004 is from the same company that puts out the Madden NFL Football series. Like its pigskin brethren, MVP is easily the best baseball simulator around. It's also too serious for its own good.
Sure, the simplicity of the controls makes it easy. For instance, pitching requires a combination of logical button hits, much like a golf game. Besides all the usual major league teams, two minor league clubs for each team are available to play or use to stock the major league roster. Gamers can also unlock old stadiums and older players.
Problem is, with all the effort that went into making it as honest to baseball as it could be, the makers forgot to make it exciting for the average controller hound. With the exception of a couple of mini games such as the home run showdown (in which two batters square off simultaneously, hitting enough home runs to meet a chosen cumulative distance), the rest of the play was ho-hum.
The players aren't modeled very well. However, the makers did manage to give Dodger Stadium a cool, retro feel by leaving the old-school scoreboard and simple blue walls.
Don't get us wrong: If you are a rabid baseball fan, this one is for you. The rest of us will have to look elsewhere.
Just like on TV
Here's a question: Do the guys who create those cool ESPN graphics get paid double when their work is copied into the video games?
ESPN Baseball, like its football counterpart, looks and sounds exactly like watching a tilt on ESPN. The voices of commentator Jon Miller and studio host Karl Ravech are there. The screen looks the same as watching it on TV, and there's even that annoying little chime telling you a score update will now distract you.
VIDEO GAME REVIEWS
And the play is at the plate
On deck? More like 'just deck him.' But there's still no crying in baseball.
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