High Heat 2003 Review (PC)
Mike and John "Double Take"
Over the past few years, 3DO’s High Heat Major League Baseball franchise has become the die-hard fan’s game of choice. High Heat has become known for its deep statistical tracking engine and its very deep franchise mode. However, it has also become known for being shipped with a lot bugs as well. One very big bug last year was the fact that the game would just randomly crash back to desktop with what seemed to be no rhyme or reason. I’ve seen some people with some great system specs have problems and some with not-so-great system specs have the game run without a hitch. The people who were able to play High Heat 2002 loved every minute of it, but those who couldn’t were left with nothing but one big frustration after another. Other bugs include the sound skipping or just looping over and over. Vendors and Hecklers anyone? Yeah, you know exactly what I mean don’t ya?! So, here’s the question. Did 3DO address these issues for the 2003 installment or are we left with these same frustrations? Well, to be honest, some have been addressed and some have not. The game is definitely more stable than last year, without a doubt. However, the same exact sound problems are there as if they were meant to be. I just don’t get it! Anyway, with that aside, I want to stress the fact that I am reviewing High Heat Major League Baseball 2003 on its own merits. I am not going to review this game from the angle of what it could or should have been, just simply what it is.
I've reviewed a lot of games in my time, but the one that gives me the most headaches - every year - is High Heat on the PC. This year's version is the worst one of all, by far. Just like all of you, I hate to see games ship with buggy code. Small graphical glitches or incompatibilities with obscure hardware I can understand, but some of the doozies that High Heat sports each year are just amazing.
Last year's Wrigley Field bug (where the ball would disappear on certain infield grounders) effectively killed the game for Cub fans right from the start. It also ruined the fun for anyone else whose team had an early season trip to play on the north side of Chicago. Yes, a patch was eventually released but it took months, great customer service, right?
Even with problems this glaring, I'm still forced to give the game a good score every year, because if you're a baseball fan there's no other game in town that come close to High Heat's gameplay. This year that rings more true than ever since High Heat 2003 is literally the only game to buy, as EA Sports decided to temporarily bench the horrendous Triple Play series for the PC. And you know what? I have the same damn dilemma this time as I do every year - and I'm forced to recommend a game that's riddled with problems.
Very few people will argue that High Heat is the most realistic baseball game on the market. Ok, if you’re a reader of our forums then you know that’s a flat out lie. Honestly though, High Heat is about as real as it gets when it comes to simulating the way the game of baseball is played. The computer AI is very tough and will act realistically in certain situations. If it’s late in the game and your computer opponent is down by a run or two you can expect a pinch hitter to step up to the plate that will force a lefty to righty match-up or vice versa. You can also expect the computer to bunt in certain situations to advance runners into scoring situations. The computer AI for High Heat really is one of the best in the business. You have several modes of play to choose from such as Exhibition, Season, Playoffs, Franchise, and Home Run Derby. As stated above, the Franchise Mode in this game is very deep. You have the ability to manage not just your Major League ball club, but also the minor leagues as well. Your second basemen not living up to standards? Go ahead, send him down and call the young kid who’s tearing up the minor leagues. Trade him if you want to! It’s all up to you, because after all, you are the manager. Oh, and talk about stats! High Heat keeps very accurate stats for just about every category under the sun. Season totals, career stats, league leaders in every category, and so much more. I won’t sit here and make the statement that High Heat will deliver dead on accurate stats, but I will go out on a limb and say that they are the most accurate you will find in a videogame.
The control is very responsive and intuitive in as well. You can select to use one of two configurations. You can choose from having a certain button correlating to a base (ie. If you’re using the Gravis Gamepad Pro, the yellow button would throw home, green to first, blue to second, and red to third) or set it up so that you press the d-pad towards the base you wish to throw to and press the throw button.. I prefer the second of the two, but I also know a lot of people who prefer the first method I mentioned. That is what’s good about this game; it actually gives you the choice based on your personal preference. I will admit, though, that I have messed up more than one double play due to the game reading my action on the d-pad wrong. I have several times thrown to first instead of second resulting in a blown double play, because the gamepad is a little too sensitive. Still, I just cannot get used to the other control scheme as much as I try. I guess some old habits never die.
Another great thing about the gameplay in High Heat is that it is fully customizable. By utilizing the tune menu you can customize this game to play as realistic or as arcade like as you wish. You can change everything from arm strength of the fielders to the speed of the runners and everything in between. If you’re a fan of the High Heat franchise then you already know how great the mod community is for this game. If you don’t know, you really should search around the internet. You will be amazed by what you can find to help make your High Heat experience the best it can be. Many people in the High Heat community spend a countless amount of hours testing out tune files making the game play as realistically as possible, and for the most part, they have been doing an outstanding job.
High Heat is still the best playing baseball game out there. The gameplay has not changed from the previous versions and that is how it should be. The 3DO team has made a few degrations though. Turning double plays is almost impossible. For some reason, your players make these girlish throws and you will never turn one unless the batter is just slower than Ventura. The strike zone is huge. If you think you are going to get walked more than a couple of times a game you are wrong. The strike zone is evidently the one I use when I umpire nine year old baseball games. While some might argue that this isn’t a bad thing, you start swing very early in the count and thus pitch counts stay low for the starters. Diving catches have also decreased which I think is a good thing for this series. Last year, a dive almost guaranteed a catch. This year, the game has been tuned for a more realistic percentage of “SportsCenter” catches.
Just as most will agree that High Heat is the most realistic playing baseball game, they will also agree that it is the worst looking of the bunch. One thing that this franchise doesn’t receive praise for is its graphics engine. Personally, I don’t think they’re as bad as most people make them out to be, but I do agree that they could be, and should be, much better. Many of the animations in High Heat skip frames making them look choppy and unfinished. There is help though! Remember me talking about the mod community for High Heat? Well, you should see what they do with the stadiums, player models, and textures in this game. It’s unbelievable what some people with a little bit of programming experience can accomplish. Many of the stadiums have updates that will replace all of the generic billboards with the actual billboards that are in the real life stadium. They will also make facepak’s for download that will make the players look more like their real life counterpart as they walk up to the plate, giving it an overall much better appearance. I don’t want to give the false impression that these mods put the game on the same level as other baseball titles on the market for the home consoles, but they do add a much better look and feel to the game. Also available for download are team alternate uniforms, fantasy uniforms, fantasy stadiums, batting gloves, shoes with realistic looking cleats, and much, much more.
The graphics are the same as last year, the year before that, and even the year before that. The animations are completely the same with the addition of the players throwing the ball around the horn after an out and a player watching his homerun leave the park in the hurry. Crowds are still blurry and undefined and player models look a little blocky. Ballparks are nicely rendered and look very accurate. Fielding motions look realistic and correspond nicely to the action being made. Pretty much if you are playing or have played High Heat 2002, you know what the graphics will look like in this game.
Sound has to be the biggest downfall of High Heat. I swear, I just wonder how some of the bugs found (for the second year in a row) could have made it through the QC process. Also, if you’re running a Sound Blaster Audigy card in your system, FORGET ABOUT IT!!! At least until there is a patch released. I have heard so many complaints from gamers using this card that I’m amazed a patch hasn’t been released already to correct this incompatibility. Once again, leave it to the mod community to freshen things up a little bit. One of my favorite things to do is download music to add into High Heat that really brings about the true life sounds you’d experience at the ballpark. You can replace the generic batter walk-up music with real life music intro’s that you hear in real life. Nothing motivates me more than to hear “Crazy Train” kick in as Larry Walker steps up to the plate. This combined with adding double play music, homerun music, tie game music, mound visit music, and lead off double or triple music really add to the overall experience of this game.
Number one on my list of offenses with High Heat 2003 is the sound. Sound has always been a major headache with this game. In fact, I don't remember a time when the announcer didn't repeat himself on occasion or the hissing and static were ever missing. In High Heat 2000, there was even a bug where if you interrupted a sound effect in the game, it would crash to the desktop! So, you would think that somewhere along the line, the development team would sit down and solve this once and for all. Oh, how wrong you would be, at least if you thought it would be this year. After nearly every sentence, the last word is repeated over and over again, the crowd gets caught in a sound loop quite a bit, and the ever-present hiss is still ever-present. And get this - the people having the worst time of it are those who own the super-popular Creative Labs Live and Audigy cards!
What can I say? With a little work High Heat Major League Baseball is about as good as it gets. Without the extra work, it’s “above average” at best. High Heat comes packaged with some bugs again, unfortunately, but with some patience and research a large majority of them can be fixed in a matter of minutes. Does that make it ok? No, and that is why I cannot give this game a rating that would put it into the Operation Sports Hall of Fame. As much as I would like to, I just cannot justifiably do it.
If you’re looking for a PC baseball game, you choice is simple as this is all there is available this year. There is no competition for High Heat because no other company, including EA, has developed a PC baseball game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. High Heat is a great game, albeit a little rough around the edges. If you’re looking for a realistic simulation of America’s Pastime I highly recommend High Heat 2003. I even feel confident in recommending this game over all of the console games on the market to date. With its great mod community and minimal work on your part, you can make High Heat Major League Baseball 2003 one of the most rewarding baseball gaming experiences you could ever ask for.
High Heat 2003 is an okay game. I’m sure someone will come up with the perfect tune file to put into the game to make the double play and strike zone situation go away, but still 3DO should know better. For those who have Windows XP, you have to buy this game as it’s the only one that works with XP. If you have any of the other operating systems, I say that you just stick with 2002. 3DO needs to do some major things to this game if it wants to keep its loyal following next year.
- Realistic Gameplay
- Deep Stat Engine
- Franchise mode to include Minor Leagues
- Strong Mod Community
- Sound Bugs
- Poor Graphics