Replay Value: 8.5
Baseball season is back in full force and those who are fans of America's pastime eagerly await the best baseball videogame possible. Last year, Acclaim presented gamers with a very buggy and unpredictable title in All-Star Baseball 2002. Their efforts fell short of High Heat 2002, however, still had a very competitive product. The 2003 set of games have rolled in and Acclaim hopes to undercut 3DO's High Heat series and take the crown of the best baseball sim on the market. The issue is very debatable, and this review alone may not be the determining factor. Both ASB2003 and HH2003 have qualities that will appeal to different people, and only you can decide what is best.
First off, All-Star Baseball 2003 offers some of the most realistic player models seen in a baseball title thus far. While batting, you will truly appreciate what Acclaim Studios has done with the player detail. The body sizes and stances are true to life and provide a very familiar feel to Major League Baseball. Although the facial detail isn't the best when players make their way to the plate, it is still quite above average. The only real problem that occurs with ASB2003's graphics is the poor player animations, both on offense and defense. In many cases, sliding into bases is purely horrendous. Offensive players will slide right through the tag, and usually the actual player, as well. Not only that, when stealing bags, many times the ball will get there far before the player and the player is just automatically called out. The second baseman or whoever will already have walked away from the bag and then finally you will actually slide into the bag with no official tag. This isn't a huge deal with the game, since you would have obviously been out anyway, but it does certainly take away from the credibility of the game.
As for the environments and stadium detail, be prepared to be stunned. This is far and away the most detailed portrayal of MLB ballparks available, and even the littlest of attributes are covered. Advertisements and stadium memorials are all in tact, with field dimensions and seating characteristics portrayed perfectly. The detail of the actual grass of Astroturf is slightly lackluster, but then again that can somewhat be attributed to the camera angle. My only gripe with the stadium features was the very fake looking crowd models. From far away, fans appear to be quite realistic and take nothing away from the game. However, after closer examination when the camera zooms in at the end of an inning, you can clearly see how poor a job Acclaim did in this category. The color and detail really looks different than the actual game and definitely needs to be looked into. Just generic models scattered around the park would be a much better choice, and definitely wouldn't stand out in such a ghastly display.
The gameplay of ASB2003, in my opinion, is where Acclaim loses ground to 3DO's High Heat series. The batting cursor is an absolute turnoff for me, as it is less realistic than HH2003's swing and aim technique. Granted, you are allowed to turn off the batting cursor in ASB2003, but it still harbors a very difficult setup where the pitches become even troublesome to see. You will eventually become acquainted with the setup, and if the whole batting cursor system is your forte, then by all means, ASB2003 may be the outstanding choice in your search for pre-eminence. For me, however, even when I do turn off the batting cursor, HH2003 still easily stands out in my mind. It is a much more enjoyable batting scheme, and batting animations is more fluent and awe-inspiring.
Another key note that slightly brings ASB2003 down a bit occurs after the ball is hit. Fielding can lag at times and is somewhat a chore to maneuver. When the ball is hit to you, for some reason it takes the player awhile to get the ball out of his glove. You will have pressed to go to first but there is often time just wasted while the player stands there. This wouldn't be a problem if it was accurate with the person running to first, but far too many times a player will be safe that easily could have been out. Also, fly balls that are hit foul will sometimes drop because the camera angle does not allow you to see your outfielders. They simply give you an arrow to gauge where you are located and this does not prove sufficient. Although these slight downfalls do stick out in my mind, ASB2003 is still a very enjoyable game to play. There have been times where I'll feel like playing a baseball title on my PS2 and I'll choose All-Star Baseball over High Heat, just because I like the change in feel. Acclaim seems to offer a more simulated effect that really makes it appear like you are watching a game on television.
The sound in ASB2003 is about as stellar as the next baseball game. It does standout, however, with excellent commentary provided by Thom Brennamen and Steve Lyons. The tenacious duo provides avid statistics that are very interesting to listen to and add that sense of realism that should be standard with all sports titles. The crack of the bat is very effective, along with the ball hitting both dirt and grass of the stadium. The one thing that would have been nice to hear, though, is the thunderous calls of the umpire. When I strike out a batter I want to hear some enthusiasm from behind the plate, however, Acclaim has decided to leave this feature out for some reason. At any rate, ASB2003 is very impressive with its sound characteristics and is certainly far above average.
Possibly the reason ASB suffers so much in the gameplay department is credited to the control aspect of the game. For some reason, when controlling players it becomes slightly difficult to maneuver them in the specific way you would like. They move somewhat slow and, as stated before, provide a slight lag that can get quite annoying. Also, advancing runners is different compared to almost every baseball title I've played. Instead of pressing one of the face buttons and the direction of the base you would like to move to, Acclaim has you press Triangle and press the D-pad where the player already is. I know this seems like a very technical issue, but why would I want to point to first if I'm trying to advance my runner to second; it just becomes ridiculous in the mechanics of the game. The rest of the control scheme is very functional, and is basically standard to other baseball titles.
When it comes to the most feature-packed baseball simulation, ASB2002 takes the cake. With an incredibly deep franchise mode, create-a-player, and trading cards, Acclaim really found an aspect that would appeal to statistic driven, hardcore baseball fans. Anyone who wants to send their favorite team through a 20-year period with changing attributes and draft options will absolutely love this game. The several modes include Quick Play, Exhibition, All-Star Game, Season, Playoff Series, Expansion, Batting Practice, Home Run Derby, and even a Trivia Game that is very addicting. Overall, Acclaim has given players almost everything they could think of for a baseball game.
Well, for those of you who simply skip to the closing comments to find my lasting thoughts, here you have it. All-Star Baseball 2003 is a very well done game. It has numerous features that will keep gamers playing for months. As for the gameplay, it is rather solid with slight downfalls attributed to player lag and control issues. If you are trying to decide between ASB2003 and HH2003, I would recommend renting both and deciding for yourself. Both offer very enjoyable baseball simulations and are quite entertaining to play.