All-Star Baseball 2005 Review

All-Star Baseball 2005 (ASB) is Acclaim’s entry in this year’s batch of console baseball games. In addition to the standard fare served up by all baseball games, ASB has a few unique features. Some of these work while others don’t, but overall ASB is not a bad choice when you’re looking to hit the bases.

Central to any baseball game is the pitcher-batter interface, so we’ll take a look at that first. When pitching the camera is placed at an angle behind the pitcher and you are shown a pitcher’s pitch selections on the screen. To select a pitch you press the corresponding button and select the pitch’s location by moving a cursor with the thumbstick. In a nice touch the controller will begin to rumble as you move the cursor outside the strike zone, with the rumbling growing stronger the further outside the zone that you move.

Batting control depends on the mode you’ve selected. For those seeking a simple arcade experience, batting can be set to a simple timing-based affair where you simply need to push the swing button when the ball crosses the plate. At higher difficulty settings you’ll also need to use the stick to select your swing location, and even your bat angle at the highest setting. The game also gives you the chance to guess the type of pitch you’ll get by pressing a button corresponding to your expected pitch. Guess right and you get some bonus pop in your bat. The different settings allow players to adjust the game’s feel from arcade baseball to a more sim-like experience which helps broaden the game’s appeal. On the lowest setting it’s pretty easy to connect with most pitches, making the game accessible to the casual sports gamer. Higher settings ratchet up the game’s difficulty which generates realistic scores and statistics, although the highest level which includes the ability to set you bat angle is a bit much and will probably only appeal to the most hardcore of sports gamers.

Fielding is a mix of good and bad. On the good side of things you can press the button for the base you want to throw to before you pick up the ball which allows you to get the ball where you want it faster. Another nice touch is that vertically stacked rings appear above the location where the ball is headed. As the ball gets closer the rings disappear one by one, with none remaining as the ball lands. It’s a great way to judge balls from the field, making it easy to tell the difference between liners, lazy fly balls, and pop-ups. A feel for the height and velocity of fly balls has always been missing from baseball video games, and ASB comes the closest to finally incorporating this into a video game.

On the down side the game employs a low-angle, third person camera view known as the fielder cam when the ball is in play. This view takes some getting used to as it feels backwards from all the baseball games that you’re used to playing and you may find yourself throwing to first instead of third from the outfield far too often. Even after you adjust to the camera angle and throw to the right bases the view will occasionally give you trouble. This primarily happens on sharply hit balls as it can be very difficult to judge your cut-off angle and you’ll often find yourself undercutting the ball’s path and watching it scoot out to the wall.