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'High Heat 2001' hits a grand slam



April 25, 2000
Web posted at: 3:13 PM EDT (1913 GMT)

(CNN) -- Last year's "High Heat Baseball 2000" was a critical success, yet a modestly popular one. The game is known for its appeal to hard-core baseball fans, excelling in the statistics and minutiae of the game. Not as glaring, however, is that almost indescribable baseball "feel" that exists and is so important to the overall enjoyment.

With "Sammy Sosa's High Heat Baseball 2001," publisher 3DO hopes to use a bit of star power to increase its appeal. As any seasoned consumer knows, an endorsement does not a great game make. But it certainly doesn't hurt in this case, where an already wonderful game only gets better.

HH2001's bread and butter is stats. It keeps all kinds, from slugging percentage, strikeouts and on-base percentage to those results you'd be hard-pressed to find in "The Sporting News." The game gives the stats out liberally, in all forms and whenever you want. Everything is printer-friendly, and an entire detailed summary is spit out in ASCII at the end of every game. Box scores, batting and pitching results, even inning-by-inning details -- it's all there.

Along with all these statistics came some anomalies, though. Overall, one season I played looked fairly close to real life possibilities. Randy Johnson dominated pitching, just like he's really doing now. The Reds faced the Yankees in the series, which was plausible. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had only average seasons, with the former dealing with a mid-season injury.

And then there were the weird things. Andres Gallaraga, currently making a triumphant return after a bout with cancer, is much worse off in HH2001 -- the Braves cut him in late April. Shawon Dunston also got his walking papers from his computer manager, without even a trade. And as I was playing the Reds in the playoffs, I lost five players, including Barry Larkin and three other starters, to major injuries within the span of six game days. There's also an odd prevalence of bottom-of-the-ninth errors. There's bad luck, and then there's the "catch-up logic" that computer games frequently use to make sure there isn't a blowout. 3DO says HH2001 doesn't cheat, but one has to wonder. Still, signing out-of-work free agents Gallaraga and Dunston kept the Reds' series dreams alive.

With such a rich statistical model, it's only logical that league play is a breeze. Each franchise has A, AA and AAA farm teams, and you can shuffle players throughout. There are free agents, and you can cut players at will. The computer also offers good trades, although unfortunately you can't place a single player "on the block" and see what other teams will offer for him. Instead, you have to attempt individual trades. With that addition, and a financial model, there's little more of the nuts and bolts to ask for in a sequel.

So is HH2001 a simulation game, or an action game? In fact, it's both. The pitcher-batter interface is the best available and results in some good battles at the plate. Fielding control is equally good, although you may find yourself fiddling with the camera in order to correct for the absolute control scheme. For example, if a player dives for a ball, the camera zooms and tilts into him -- and it looks great if you catch it. If you don't, however, you've got to deal with the same awkward angle and you're likely to see your outfielder run right past the ball.

The game looks very good, with stadium models as a high point. All of them are present, along with day and night lighting effects. It's so realistic, in fact, that at Shea Stadium you'll hear planes flying from nearby LaGuardia. The player models are functional, though the player faces aren't as detailed and as close to real life as in EA Sports or Microsoft's baseball titles. Similarly, the play-by-play announcer is adequate and doesn't become as annoying as in many other sports titles.

And now the ugly part: bugs. There are a fair amount of strange ones, like when the announcer calls the wrong name or starts cheating in substitutions. There are also some really bad ones. Don't press the "replay at-bat" button to see the pitch sequence of the last batter, or your current batter may disappear. Even if you somehow get him back, he refuses to run if he makes a hit. And if you're playing a national league team, don't even think about trying a double-switch. More often than not, it crashes the game.

It's too bad that there are so many niggling -- and some very serious -- bugs, because they besmirch a truly exceptional game. Nonetheless, they shouldn't at all discourage a baseball fan from picking this title, which towers over its competition. If you're looking for a deep but fun baseball sim, nothing else is even in the ballpark.

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The 3DO Company
   •Sammy Sosa High Heat Baseball 2001

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