Replay Value: 8.5
3DO is back with the latest installment in the High Heat franchise and it appears they have set out to provide the best baseball experience possible. With All-Star Baseball 2003 and Triple Play 2002 nipping at their heels, HH2003 has been able to take that extra step in providing baseball fans what they want. Last year's version of High Heat Major League Baseball was plagued with poor graphics and below average sound qualities that really hampered the overall feel of HH2002. 3DO has been able to shape up the visuals and allow for a rather pleasing looking videogame.
The graphics in High Heat 2003 are a mixed bag. While the facial detail and stadium quality is rather well done, the player models themselves are left a little unrealistic. The player's bodies seem somewhat disproportional at times and slightly take away from what should be expected. While batting, there is a plethora of batting styles that helps keep the game fresh and unique, however, it is easily noticeable that many of the players have the exact same model development. The stadium and crowd detail is rather above average in my eyes and gives a very good representation of what its actual counterpart would look like. You will appreciate the distinct characteristics given to such stadiums as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, and automatically decipher them from generic environments seen in older baseball titles. The balance of player detail with the environments they play in is well executed in HH2003.
The main reason visuals suffer in HH2003 is due to player animations. As you play the game more and more, you will see identical features of plays and characteristics in players. Especially in running, players seem to exhibit uninspired motions, as the visuals appear somewhat choppy. 3DO could really look into making the base-running aspect of High Heat Baseball much more fluent and lifelike. All big leaguers seem to slide the exact same way and their running styles are completely identical. This is a very minute part of the game and therefore poses little distraction from the game's true shining points.
For two years straight now, 3DO has showcased true-to-life baseball gameplay and absolutely superb game physics that optimize a baseball videogame. Hitting the ball is most realistic in 3DO's representation and the overall atmosphere is best epitomized in HH2003. In terms of hitting the baseball, no longer do you have the annoying cursor that must be perfectly lined up to make contact with the ball. For those of you who have grown up timing your hit by simply pressing the swing button, HH2003 brilliantly displays this. As the ball is being pitched, merely decide by the ball's location whether or not this your desired pitch. Also, to maximize your hit performance, if a pitch is say on the outside corner, hold the D-pad in that direction as you time your swing. This will allow the ball to get more of the bat's sweet spot, and therefore produce a better hit. This aspect is also important when it comes to bunting. In terms of other offensive elements, such as stealing and running the bases, HH2003 showcases realism in each area. For instance, if the ball is hit in the gap and it looks to be a sure double, it will be. You don't have to be worried about the center fielder gunning you out at 2nd just because the player has a strong arm. 3DO has paid close attention to small details like this, which makes baseball the sport it is.
For defensive gameplay, 3DO has delivered with solid results. The timing and physics in this portion of the game are wonderfully executed and make each out exciting to maneuver. I think sometimes the most annoying aspect of a baseball game is how the company decides to make players catch fly balls. It's absolutely frustrating to drop a routine fly ball simply because the game doesn't accommodate you with an acceptable setup feature. However, when fielding a pop fly in HH2003, there will be a highlighted ring where the baseball will land. It is your task to run into the middle of this circle, allowing for your player to record an out. If you want to be lazy, you can always just set the defense to Automatic, but this really takes away from the feel of the game and is not recommended. By and large, HH2003's defensive gameplay is one of the best possible in a baseball title.
Sound elements in sports titles have proven extremely vital over the past few years. In many cases, it can either excel or crush a potential game from its anticipated result. High Heat 2003 provides realistic game sounds with average announcing from both commentators. The crack of the bat on the baseball is very sharp and is aided nicely with the ball hitting the glove and careening across the ground. The announcing seems very well done the first times you play the games, however, as many sports games do, it becomes very repetitive and at times tiresome. Be aware, though, that HH2003's commentary doesn't hurt the game in any way. Occasionally a little remark may annoy you, but overall 3DO has featured a polished sound scheme.
The control setup of HH2003 is very easy to get used to and extremely user friendly. The players respond very nicely to each command and there is no lag in movement. A little different compared to many baseball titles, throwing to a base is no longer pressing the D-pad in accordance with X. 3DO has made it so Circle is for first, Triangle for second, Square for third, and X for home. After playing a few innings, this became a more preferable way of throwing compared to older titles. Also, pitching is a little different than normally seen in baseball games. It is your task to choose what pitch you want (fastball, curve, slider, etc.) and then determine if it should be a strike or ball. Once again, there is no cursor for you to pinpoint the ball, just direct the pitch with the D-Pad or joystick. Pressure sensitivity plays a factor in HH2003, especially in the hitting department. Many times I was saved from a pitch that was out of the strike zone because I lightly tapped the swing button. This results in a check swing and is kind of a safety feature. The entire button scheme of HH2003 is simple and easy to use, making for a very enjoyable baseball simulation.
High Heat 2003 offers a good amount of replay value as well. Although lacking a few game features, such as a franchise mode, the overall pleasure of just playing a season is enough to keep me happy. Also, the 2-on-2 Showdown mode and All-Star Game mode are very fun to play, especially when I just want to sit down and play for an hour. The 2-on-2 Showdown has you faced up against the computer or a friend with only the pitcher and batter. After hitting the ball, the computer decides if it was a hit or not and gives you points accordingly. Surprisingly, this can be just as much fun as playing an actual game. With these promising game features, included with everyone's favorite Home Run Derby, 3DO has given me a baseball game that I don't want to take out of my PS2.
Well, what else would you like to know? High Heat Major League Baseball 2003 is arguably the best baseball game for the PS2 right now. It is surely my favorite and deserves at least a rental from anyone who enjoys baseball games. If you are looking to purchase a baseball title, HH2003 would be my strong choice. The gameplay and control easily set this game apart from its competition.
Arnold: Allow me to pop in here. Before Matt had gotten a chance to play either ASB 2003 or High Heat 2003, we'd have regular discussions with one another on which game would be better. I claimed HH, while the red-head over there claimed ASB. In the end, I came out the winner. And my prize, you ask? A lock of Matt's sweet sweet red hair....mmmmm, so soft...