|Playstation > Whats New > PlayStation Reviews > Staff Review|
|A.P.I Review:||VR BASEBALL 99|
No.1 No.2 No.3
|Distributor:||VR Sports||1-2 Player|
|Game Type:||Sports Sim||Memory Card|
|Review Date:||August 1998||Standard Joypad|
Setting the Scene
Before I begin this review I have to get something out of the way. I am a fan of Baseball and my favourite team is the Cleveland Indians (even back when they were a really bad team). The problem is I live in Australia and we're lucky to get five minutes of news about the World Series when it is on, so I have seen very little of the game being actually played. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I have probably played more virtual baseball than I have seen actually played. So I am coming at this review from the point of view of a baseball fan (not fanatic) that has very little experience with the actual game but likes watching (when I can) and playing the odd virtual game. Now that we have that out of the way, let's get on with the details. Let's face it, baseball is a pretty simple game. Someone throws a ball and a guy with a chunk of wood in his hands tries to strike it. Should this prove successful, he must then run around a diamond shaped playing field before a member of the opposition throws the ball to a fielder situated at each of the four bases. Baseball games have been around as long as home computers. I remember Hardball, the first one I ever played. It had 16 colour sprites, representing the players on the screen and it was good fun to play. In Hardball you had a set of keys allowing you to pitch, hit and field. You could throw a fastball, a curve, do a powerhit or a bunt - the usual sort of baseball moves. Nothing much has changed really. Sure the modern breed of baseball games have significantly improved graphics, great sound effects and music, but the underlying game has not changed one little but. That's fair enough really since Baseball hasn't changed in all those years either. If we forget about the graphics and sound, what is it that will make us pick up a modern baseball title over the older ones, since they are essentially exactly the same? In a word (or two), it's Artificial Intelligence. All of the modern games are claiming improved and more accurate AI. The ability to play against a virtual team and have them react exactly as a real team would is the big attraction. VR Sports Baseball 99 is using this accuracy and realism as the main selling point. So the big questions are - has it succeeded, is this like the real thing and what's in it for people who don't care if Kenny Loften should score from 2nd on a gapper to the wall?
A simulation of the popular sport of baseball.
The game opens up with a neat cut scene of a game in progress. Darin Erstad takes the plate and awaits the pitch. The runner at 1st base makes a break for 2nd just as the ball leaves the pitchers hand. Erstad strikes the ball sweetly and it flies over the pitchers' head towards an outfielder. Erstad makes it to first and keeps up his momentum to arrive at 2nd just as the baseman takes the ball. The call is 'SAFE'. The cries ring out 'home, send it home'. The second baseman launched the ball towards home forcing the short-stop to leave the plate and stand in the path of the runner to receive the ball. Going flat out the runner slams into the short-stop knocking them both to the ground and the ball falls from the short-stops' hand. The runner is 'SAFE' too. A very exciting and graphically impressive intro, which sets the scene and really gives the player an preview of what is about to come. The graphics on VR Baseball are Grade A. Very impressive. If that's all you needed to know then you can now skip to the next section of the review. If you want more details, read on. The menu system is usually the second visual element you see in a game. The quality of the graphics and navigation of the menu system is top quality in VR Baseball 99. They are easy to read, simple to navigate, cleanly laid out and intuitive. The two most prominent graphical ingredients within most team base games will be the stadiums and the players. In VR Baseball '99 both are incredibly accurate and realistic. The players are HUGE. In fact, when batting your player takes up half the screen. You can actually see the ripples in his uniform and the smile on his face (if he's a happy player). You can even see his body heave as he breaths in and out. According to the developers, each player is accurately modelled of their real-life counterpart for height and weight. It also seem like each one is represented accurately right down to the details of which stance they would take when batting or whether they are left or right handers. The stadiums, likewise, are very impressive. 30 Major League stadiums have been accurately represented in the game. Since I definitely haven't seen all thirty I'll just have to take VR's word for that, but since each stadium has a different look and feel it seems like a reasonable claim. In most of the stadiums you can even see the buildings and surrounding outside of the stadium. The only area where I think could use a little improvement is the movement of the players. While they move with a reasonable amount of realism, they can be a little jerky at times and as usual they could always use a few more polygons to smooth out the sharp edges. Another missing element is some kind of graphical fanfare for the winner of a game. As it is, all you get is a little menu asking if you want to play again. A little disappointing but only a nit-pick.
Sounds and Effects
Most people tend to notice when the developers make an effort to deliver more than is expected from a game. For me that is usually represented by the small, but significant, endeavour required to add Dolby Surround to the package. Nothing beats being surrounded by the sound effects and baseball is probably one of the finest examples of this bonus feature. While realism is a big selling point of games like this, it is important to have all the fundamentals present that make up a 'real' game. VR Baseball 99 has all of those elements. It could be the National Anthem at the beginning, the heckling crowds throughout, the announcer calling out the player names or the short-stop giving friendly advice to the pitcher, it's all here and very well done. The other sounds that make baseball are of course the noise as the pitch screams past the batter and the whoosh of the bat flying through the air. Finally, of course, the satisfying 'crack' as the bat connects with the ball is all there and all very realistic. If you ever played Triple Play 99 you will miss the brilliant commentary which complemented that game as VR Baseball's calls are restricted to player name and number. This doesn't really detract from the game, I just noticed it missing. The in-game music is all brilliant. The mid-innings organ music is a little annoying at time but it wouldn't be baseball without it. The between innings rendition of Queen's "We Will Rock You' is excellent and the other music used throughout the game is never annoying or overbearing.
While exploring the menu system in VR Baseball 99, I stumbled across a plethora of options, customisations, and amazing range of things can be changed and tweaked in this game. This provides an unlimited playing environment and an infinitely changing game. From the main menu you can choose to play a single exhibition game, a full season of up to 152 games or a Homerun Derby. In an exhibition mode you simply select which team you want to play for and against then jump right into a single game. Season play let's you progress through a full season of between 20 and 152 games. Here you can select which individual games you wish to take part in (even ones your team is not involved in), play out the entire season or simulate any number of games and play the rest. The Homerun Derby is an opportunity for you to show off your big hit prowess by competing against a selection of other big hitters in a competition to strike the most home runs. Even the most inept gamers (like me) can compete in VR Baseball since there are three difficulty settings, Rookie, Pro and All-Star. The difficulty setting effects the levels of fielding assistance, pitch speed and hitting type. Obviously the lower the difficulty the more assistance you get from the AI but the less control you tend to have over what is going on. In the 'useless but cool' category is the 'Shell' options. These allow you to customise settings such as the fade rate while others really add nothing to game play but give you the ability to customise the menu system. Other miscellaneous options allow you to change the number of innings in a game, whether fielders make errors, turn injuries on and off and alter the time of day games take place on (Day, Night, Overcast, Dusk or Random). "What about the gameplay!" I hear you cry. OK, enough with the fiddly details. The game itself also includes enough to keep anybody busy for a long time. As mentioned earlier, the biggest selling point of this game is the AI and accuracy of the gameplay. Just about everything you can do during a real game of baseball can be done here. Starting with the pitching side. As the pitcher you can customise your fielders, decide whether it's time for a fast slider, a slow curve, medium change up or any other number of pitch type. Using the direction pad you can even direct the pitch at any angle to try and put the batter off and cause a strike. After the ball is in the air, fielding is a snap. Depending on the difficulty setting you either have sit back and watch the fielders do their job or you are responsible for every element of fielding from picking the ball up to throwing it to the relevant baseman. During play you have the chance to visit your bullpen at any time and substitute players in and out of the field. This is particularly important for pitchers since the risk of injury is increased the longer your pitcher in the game without a break. As the batting team you also need to take control and make decisions on actions you player must do. The batter can do a power hit, regular hit or bunt, you can also force your people on bases to attempt a steal during the pitch. At any time during the game you can call a time out and inspect your roster, check out your stats so far, substitute players, check out the oppositions line-up and a number of other options which allow you to soak yourself in facts and figures. VR Baseball has a lot to offer the stats lovers. Just about very aspect of a teams performance is represented in the game, before the game you can check out the batting and pitching stats of previous games and after the event you can check out the stats on the performance of your team during the match. Overall, it appears like this game is aimed more at gamers looking for an accurate simulation of baseball than a good time hitting balls around. There's nothing wrong with that since there are ample alternatives for the rest of us and VR goes part of the way by offering the different difficulty levels. With only a few exceptions, the AI in the game is as brilliant as it is claimed to be. The players all seem to have intelligence and tend to act more like a real player would than a preprogrammed drone would.
Value for Money
It is always hard to gauge the value of a sports game. If you don't like baseball you won't get much play-time from this game, that's pretty obvious I suppose. If you are really keen and love baseball to death you will get maximum value from the game. As usual, your mileage may vary, you will either play this game forever (or at least until the next version arrives) or you won't play it at all, it all depends on you.
reviewed VR Sports Powerboat racing earlier in the year and wasn't very
impressed. I now know why Powerboat racing was so bad, those sneaky
people at VR Sports have been spending all their time polishing and
preening VR Baseball 99, and what a good job they have done.
The only other next-gen Baseball game I have played recently was Triple Play 99. To be quite honest as a non-fanatic, non-statistics obsessed baseball nut, I enjoyed Triple Play more than VR Baseball 99, it's just more fun to play and not as bogged down in stats and accuracy. Don't get me wrong, VR wins on accuracy and realism but that's not what really makes me play most games. On the other hand, VR is a little easier to play and definitely lends itself more to a tactical game than Triple Play.
If I had to make a choice between VR 99 and Triple Play 99, I would chose Triple Play, but that's just my opinion, you should make up your own mind based on the rest of the review, or hire both and make up your own mind.