Inside Pitch 2003 Review (Xbox)
With all of the recent success game developers have discovered in online sports-gaming it came as a shock to most that not one of the initial baseball titles released would include online head-to-head play. Recently Microsoft changed all that with the release of their first baseball title for the XBOX, Inside Pitch 2003. Granted it’s late to the party, but it comes packed with one feature that none of the other games have. Online Play! Complete with full XBOX Live! (XBL) support, Inside Pitch 2003 features online head-to-head gaming as well as stat tracking to include your win/loss ratio, your online ERA, online batting average, average strike outs per nine innings and more. With so many quality baseball titles already available is online play enough to turn gamers’ heads and give Inside Pitch 2003 a look? I think so. Read on to find out why!
GRAHPICS / ANIMATION
Let me just come right out and say it! Inside Pitch 2003 features some of the most accurate and best looking ballparks I have ever seen in a baseball game. I am a Colorado Rockies fan and attend nearly 30 games at Coors Field each season. I have never seen a game recreate that ballpark as accurately as Microsoft’s Inside Pitch 2003. Everything seems to be in perfect detail; whether it is the water fountains at straight away center, the bullpens just outside of the wall at right center, the 23x32 ft. Jumbotron in left field, or even the Ranch Club located in the right field corner of the ballpark. I truly am amazed at the amount of detail put into these ballparks each time I play the game. Not only do the ballparks look great, but they also feature animated scoreboards. If you were to take your eye off the pitcher you’d notice that scoreboards are flashing animations similar to what you might actually see at the ballpark. The one at Yankee Stadium has taken my attention of the pitcher on more than one occasion.
Unfortunately though, along with the good comes the bad. Once you are done drooling over the stadiums you will come to realize that the rest of the game just didn’t seem to receive the same attention to detail. From the drab looking overlays to the so-so looking player models, most of which are generic unless the player is a super star in the MLB. Even then I’m not all that impressed with them. Yes, there are player specific batting stances and pitching styles, but sometimes I catch myself asking the question; “how did they not get him right?” Players like Bonds, Counsel and Nomo are definitely easy to pick out by their signature batting stance or pitching style, but then you will also notice that pitchers such as Randy Johnson look the same as 98 percent of the other pitchers on the mound.
Once the ball is in play, IP features a variety of different animations. Some that look rather nice and some that need a little work in the off-season. You’ll see infielders dive for balls and throw to first from their knees as well as outfielders stopping to plant their feet as they turn to throw to the cutoff man. You are also treated to some nice fireworks when the home team cranks one out of the park. They could be a little better, but it’s definitely nice to see that some thought was put into the homerun animation to make it feel like something big just happened rather than a routine single. These animations work nicely and look good, but where IP really starts to get into trouble is with the double play and player showoff animations. The double play animations are just downright slow and choppy, making it a chore to turn one at times. There are also some times when the animations will interfere with the gameplay. For instance if the batter hits a shot to the left or right of the shortstop you will see him automatically start to shift toward the ball. This isn’t a bad thing when the ball is hit hard, but on dribblers that take awhile to get there, this animation makes it difficult to charge the ball in time to make the play at first. Then there are the cut scenes after plays. These cut scene animations of players waving to the crowd after catching a routine pop fly or showing off after making a spectacular diving catch are just shy of cheesy and get repetitive.
Overall IP is an average looking XBOX baseball title. It could use some work and definitely needs 480p support next year for the HDTV gamers out there, but it’s not really ugly by any means either. If everything looked as detailed and accurate as the ballparks Microsoft would have, without a doubt, the best-looking baseball game on the market. The parks really are THAT good. Hopefully MS realizes this and is working diligently to bring the rest of the stuff up to that same level of detail. I’m really looking forward to IP 2004 to see if they pull it off because if they do, look out!
When I first heard that Inside Pitch featured the announcing team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver I was scared that they may sound dull and repetitive like most big name announcers in videogames. Well, that fear was immediately washed away the first moment I heard the two in action. The two sound just fine as they call out the play-by-play, tell their stories and provide insight to situations going on in the game. As a matter of fact, the commentary in this game is better than most other sports games on the market as they really do a remarkable job.
One really nice audio feature available in Inside Pitch 2003 is custom soundtracks. You can burn up to 50 of your favorite songs to the XBOX hard drive and use them in the game. Not only will they play throughout all the menus, but also as batter walk-up music. The custom soundtrack is a really nice feature that adds to the whole experience of being at the ballpark. You can probably bet that more baseball games will be incorporating this into their games next year, at least they should.
The sounds on the field are also fine. There are different sounds of the bat depending on how well you connect and such. When you really get a good hit on one you get this deep sound that let’s you know you really hit it well. It doesn’t mean that ball is gone, but you can just tell that you got good wood on it. I wish the crowds were louder as they cheer because they just never seem to get really fired up. Just your basic boo’s and yay’s depending on what’s happening. If you listen closely you can hear some fans cheering on or hecklers giving players a hard time. It just would have been better if you could hear them more easily.
GAMEPLAY / FEATURES
Inside Pitch features several game play modes to include Single Game, Season, Playoffs, Network Play, Home Run Derby, Championship Challenges, Create/Train Player and Team Manager Modes. For the most part these are all self explanatory but I would like to cover a couple quickly before moving on to the main attraction. Championship Challenges lets you replay classic moments from the 2002 season and Create/Train Player allows you to build your own prospect and then groom him using Training Tracks. These modes are fun offline for a little while, but they’re nothing that will keep you coming back after you’ve played them a few times. As I’m sure you noticed there is no franchise mode in the game. I know this is a huge letdown for many sports gamers, especially in this day and age where a franchise mode is pretty much standard in every sports game under the sun.
Fielders for the most part act as they should as better outfielders will have the range and ability to get to balls that average players can’t get to. Also each of the stadiums seems to represent its true to life characteristics. Hit one into the ponderosa at Coors Field and you’ve pretty much got yourself a triple. That is unless you are playing a team with a fast outfield and strong arms. You’ll see more runs scored at Coors while fewer players cross the plate at Pac Bell Park.
For those of you who enjoy playing multiplayer games against another human opponent, whether it is online of offline, this game has plenty to offer you. First of all the pitcher/batter interface is perfect for multiplayer gaming. The strike zone is broken down into nine smaller zones and then there are an additional eight zones outside of the strike zone. The pitcher first selects his pitch and then the area (or zone) he wants to pitch. Once he has selected these you then will press either A to throw a strike, B to throw a ball, or X to throw a pitchout. Factors such as your pitcher’s rating and fatigue will effect how accurate your pitch is.
Batting is pretty simple. You swing the bat through the part of the strike zone while getting the perfect timing to make good contact. In other words, if the pitch is down and in you will need to pull left and down (diagonally) on the left analog stick and press the a button to get good contact. If you just try to time the pitch without swinging through the proper zone you won’t hit it well, if at all. When you break it down the pitcher/batter interface really is quite simple, but it just works so well and feels so intuitive. Think back to the days of how simple Super Tecmo Bowl was but how insanely fun that game was. Well this is a lot of fun in that very same way. When playing another player it’s all about strategy and that’s what makes it so fun. There’s nothing better than setting up the batter working inside and then once you get two strikes on them throwing a sinker on the outside corner totally catching them off guard. Also, you can’t become too predictable because you may just find yourself losing game 7 of a series by some outlandish score of 20-6 (sorry, a little inside joke there). Not all games are like that; actually you’ll find just the opposite for the most part. It’s the fact that games like that can happen every once in awhile that makes the multi-player game so great. Not every game is the same and you never really know what to expect. You can get streaky or you can find yourself in a major slump. Do you have the patience to work yourself out of it?
While all of this sounds fun, and believe me it is, I must warn you of one thing. There seems to be (for some people) a problem with having a high disconnect or connection error rate. I personally have only experienced it a few times, but it has been a big enough problem that Microsoft is aware of it and is working on resolving the issue for those who are having a problem with it.
As fun as online/multi-player is I’m sad to say that it’s not the same for the offline single player. First, like stated earlier there is no franchise mode so that will turn a lot of people off immediately. Also there are some computer AI issues that will make you want to rip your hair out (but not too often). Things such as base runners getting back to the bag on a close line drive that ends up making it through the infield and then getting forced out at 2nd. AI quirks like this don’t happen all the time, but enough to frustrate you more than once. There are also a couple of control issues that will hopefully be fixed for next year. Sometimes the computer will select a player for you once the ball is hit that really isn’t the best player to make the play. That wouldn’t be too much of a problem if it was easy to switch players, but that’s just it. It’s not possible to change players quickly at all. Say for example you want to change to your shortstop to try and make the play on a hard grounder up the middle, you won’t be able to in time to make the play. This doesn’t come into play all the time, but there surely are some times when you wish that you could have changed players faster. Small AI quirks and control issues like these will surely dampen the experience for some.
I must admit that if I were rating this game based on its online play and fun factor alone it would receive a higher score. The lack of any sort of franchise mode, choppy animations and some minor control issues bring it down. If you are hooked up on XBL and a true fan of baseball you should at least rent this game and give it a try. In my opinion Microsoft has delivered this year’s surprise in online sports gaming. Just having online gameplay wouldn’t have gotten it done. Believe me, had it been just slapped together as if to be some sort of afterthought I wouldn’t be praising it this way. It is clear that the online aspect of Inside Pitch was the primary focus and they nailed it.