Acclaim takes on the American Pastime, but bloops this one foul ...
Having just come from attending one of the most amazing years of Seattle Mariners baseball ever, and learning that the All-Start Safeco Field would be included in the game, it was great anticipation that greeted the arrival of Acclaim’s All-Star Baseball 2002 (ASB2002).
As soon as the disc hit the machine, the first bit of bad news hit. ASB2002 requires MORE than just a completely empty memory card in order to give fans the full experience the game has to offer. Saving Season Data alone eats up 49 of the 59 blocks on a memory card. Series Data accounts for another 33 blocks, while saving your settings is only one block. It’s easy to blame the small size of the Nintendo memory cards for this flaw, but when you consider that the game will not look at the second card slot … it’s inexcuseable. If the game needs two cards, it should look at both slots. Worse yet, you’ll get the warning that your memory card can’t hold all the data EVERY time you start the game. It’s an absolutely ridiculous flaw.
Once you overcome this hurdle, you’re greeted with the “Press Start” screen. No animation, no FMV (full-motion video) clips of great baseball games from last season. All you get Derek Jeter holding a bat and the “Press Start” message. And it just sits there. No demo mode, no music, nothing. This same lack of excitement unfortunately permeates the entire game, and it’s quite disappointing. Only once you press the Start button do you get some clips (a mix of real video and clips from the game) and the lackluster menu system.
That menu system reveals one of the biggest chinks in the rusted armor of this title. The menus are entirely nondescript, and confusing to navigate. There is a “Help” feature accessed with the Y-Button, but it’s no help at all. For example, when you access the “Batting Practice” mode, you will have several options. The first-time player is very likely to get caught in the “Pitch Options” until they figure out what’s going on. Most games from veteran developers have shortcuts to quicken menu access, like hitting start to avoid changing options and get right into the play. In this example, the words “Pitch Options” are a different color, and you don’t realize that’s because it’s highlighted as the current item, and not a page heading. You need to hit Down three times and hit A on “Play Ball” (which doesn’t look like a menu option) in order to start playing. Batting Practice shouldn’t be this confusing, but it is, as are all of the other menu options.
The Quick Play option is incredibly limited, and needlessly so. If you want to start a Quick Play game, you’re stuck with the two teams that the game randomly matches up for you. You can’t even see what FIELD you’re playing at until the game starts. It’s TOO quick, and a huge disappointment. Getting a Quick Play game with two teams you want means pressing A, then B repeatedly and hoping luck of the draw pays off.
Once you can get into some form of gameplay, things only get worse. For instance, in Batting Practice (where you’d think you’d learn how to bat, like a training mode of sorts), it’s you and the pitcher, and you trying to figure out how to hit the ball. There’s an “Easy Batting” mode you can turn on, if you can find it, but you can’t access it from the Batting Practice mode of play. If you can manage to make contact with the ball, the crowd is lifeless … even if you knock it out of the park. There’s only general crowd murmurs. The same goes in Home Run Derby mode (where the players are randomly chosen unless you manually change it, something you might not even realize you can do) … you hit a home run and the crowd doesn’t even seem to care.
So you’re in a gameplay mode (like Batting Practice) and want to quit to find something else. Good luck, since hitting start and being able to leave is very much luck of the draw. Only if the computer thinks it should be expecting your input will the menu allowing you to quit a mode come up when you hit Start. All other times, you get the “PAUSED” screen. It’s downright annoying to feel trapped in a game when you want to simply change an option. A somewhat nice touch is when you DO get into a menu, the batter will call for time and move out of the batter’s box.
There are some nice features in the gameplay … players dive for the ball, bats can be broken, stances are great. But just about everything about the game, even those great features lack any real attention to detail. The parks are beautifully modeled and faithfully recreated. But look just barely below the surface and you’ll see that the crowd is a three-frame clapping animation repeated over and over, the advertisements in your favorite stadium are all fake, it doesn’t doesn’t ring true. Player animations look great at first, but then you see the replay, and everything falls apart, as the animations are short and stilted. All the players have their own stance, and it feels authentic, but they are all generic as they walk up to the plate. Ichiro doesn’t even do his trademark backwards stretch and pulling up his sleeve.
The announcers are pretty decent, with good variety and player specific commentary. But again, once you’ve played longer than a few minutes, you start to get some repetition and notice that they just don’t seem IN to the game like they should be. The sound effects are pretty much limited to the crack of the bat, a ball hitting a mitt, and one generic crowd sound pitched up or down for how excited they should be (which is never excited enough).
The player models are good, but all of the textures seem low-res and colors washed out … likely because this is a port from the PS2 version. The animations of the players fielding is rough, transitions are just plain bad with odd pauses between what should be a smooth play. It’s baffling, as other parts of the game have so much detail, with the coaches urging runners on, the umpire calling the baserunner. It’s so hard to understand how a game with so much potential can “drop the ball” under any sort of cursory examination.
For anyone that can excuse all of these flaws, and find the game enjoyable, there’s plenty to keep you playing. Trades, full player stats, season simulations, Playoffs … it’s all in here.
It’s simply not enough. All-Star Baseball 2002 is a game that SHOULD have been so much more, and instead is nothing less than a complete disappointment. Hardcore console baseball fans may find some fun in the game, but even television baseball fans are going to be turned off. Casual fans should turn on ESPN, as pressing the buttons on your remote control is going to be more exciting than this.