MLB Dugout Heroes Review (PC)
Taking an enjoyable step backwards…
Somewhere along the way I got jaded. I began to expect more from a baseball game. I can clearly remember being as happy as a pig in muck while playing Hardball Baseball on my Commodore 64. I would delight in playing single game after single game with no accumulated statistics or updated standings. Well, in fact I did accumulate my own players’ statistics, which was nothing more than a damning indictment of the geek in me. Regardless, the game was fun. When Earl Weaver Baseball made its way to my PC, I was relatively certain that sports gaming, and perhaps my life, had reached its pinnacle.
Things have changed significantly in the interim. We are blessed with fantastic representations of America’s pastime. MLB 09: The Show is unparalleled in authenticity and drama. The Out of The Park Baseball series continues to evolve in ways that would have fried the microprocessor in my old Commodore 64. We are quite simply in a golden age of baseball gaming.
So how does a "free to play" baseball game fit itself into the landscape of modern and glitzy gaming? Well, it fits in by not trying to be more than it has to be.
MLB Dugout Heroes is an online experience. When the game initially boots up, the player is prompted to create a user name and password. After doing that, I selected my hometown Blue Jays as my club of choice. I was very pleased to see every Major League Baseball team represented by their actual players. After the initial setup stages, I was asked if I would like to proceed to the tutorials. Never too proud to accept advice, I jumped right into the batting cage.
Batting practice is key to get the cursor hitting down.
The hitting experience in MLB Dugout Heroes is very reminiscent of the MLB Power Pros series. The batter has a reticule that must be somewhat centered on the pitch in order to make contact. The user may choose to take a power swing or a contact swing. The reticule is obviously much smaller if you are going to choose to swing for the fences. It is ever so tempting to swing for the downs on every pitch, but I ultimately had more success when I stuck with the contact swing.
The mechanics of hitting the baseball could not be easier. The mouse moves the reticule to the point of contact, and the left mouse button swings the bat. You will be very comfortable with this system in no time. Do not, however, misinterpret this to mean that hitting is easy. It falls under the old adage of being simple to learn but hard to master. As such, I found myself striking out at an almost Adam Dunn-like rate. Batted balls are reasonably realistic, and when a ball was hit down either foul line, I was happy to see it hook accordingly.
Fielding is out of the player’s hands. The artificial intelligence (AI) does a reasonable job of running down batted balls, though, it can still be agonizing to see balls land just in front or behind your fielders. I found myself desperately wishing that I could jump in and dive for sinking line drives. If a ball drops in for a hit, I would like to be the one responsible for it. Blaming myself is much less frustrating than blaming my nine AI friends on the field.
The player is responsible for throwing the ball to the proper base. These controls are mapped to the keyboard. This setup does not work perfectly because the vast majority of the game is mouse-operated. So, I found myself having to fumble for the correct key during these situations. The game does include a throwing meter, so you can max it out in order to stop that tying run from scoring in the ninth on a single to the outfield. However, maxing out your throws is a dicey proposition as often times those throws are prone to sailing off line. I found that it was much safer to use about half power on most throws.
Pitching is equally straightforward. All one must do is click on the desired pitch from the hurler’s arsenal, aim the reticule where you would like the ball to be placed and click the left mouse button. No fuss, no muss. A pitcher’s repertoire is representative of his real-life counterpart’s pitches, though, the accuracy is somewhat wanting. Roy Halladay should come equipped with a devastating cutter and Johan Santana an almost untouchable changeup. These are minor details that few will notice -- or care about -- but they do warrant mentioning.
MLB Dugout Heroes takes on an almost cartoonish appearance. It is not without its charm and suits the game’s philosophy very well. You are not going to witness immaculately turned double plays or players slamming into walls, but the game still has very clean presentation. The game runs very smoothly, and I encountered no lag whatsoever while playing online matches.
Interestingly enough, there only appears to be two body types on display in MLB Dugout Heroes: thin and athletic looking or, ahem, "big boned." This mean Prince Fielder has the same body type as Scott Rolen. In other words, a little more variety would have been nice.
Fenway is well represented in Dugout Heroes.
The ballparks themselves are well depicted. Unfortunately, you will only be playing in three of them. On the plus side, the three that are on display are good calls. Venerable Fenway Park, lovely Safeco Field and quirky AT&T Park make for varied and enjoyable environments. Still, it is difficult not to wish for additions like the bandbox that is New Yankee Stadium.
I think gamers are either going to love or hate the commentary provided by the play-by-play tandem in the booth. The commentary is way over the top and provides for many humorous moments -- intentional or not. I enjoyed it for 10 games or so, then decided that I had had enough and muted the sound.
The sound of the ball off of the bat is very satisfying. If you really smack a fastball, the sound will immediately tell you that the baseball is taking a one-way trip to the deep reaches of the bleachers. Similarly, if you are jammed or hit the ball off of the end of the bat, you will know right away that your batter is likely going to make a U-turn back to the dugout. The crowd noise is a nice touch -- even if it does sound as if you are attending a soccer game at times. The fans in the crowd chant and are generally boisterous throughout the game.
There appears to be a solid community backing MLB Dugout Heroes. I say that because there is rarely much of a wait before a match is proposed to you. The community also appears to be polite and willing to help. As an added bonus, the game runs very smoothly on my mid-range system, to the point of being essentially lag free.
Beyond the gameplay, MLB Dugout Heroes includes an in-game transaction system. Within this system, gamers can earn or buy buffs or additional players for their teams. Some of these perks appear to be quite interesting. With enough credits (referred to as "nuts") one might choose to purchase a player who played in the 2000 season or purchase the ability to see where the pitcher’s next pitch will be located. These are nice, if sometimes expensive, options to have.
You have probably surmised by now that is not a game that was designed to eat up days of your life. Yet there is something appealing about dropping in for a quick game and then moving on with life’s more serious matters. Admittedly, there are portions of MLB Dugout Heroes that are likely to leave you wanting more. It would be nice to have more options, more stadiums and more diversity in general. Those negatives aside, the game is charming. Who knows, it might just take you back to a time when games were simpler yet still fun. There is a lot of enjoyment to be had here, especially for the bargain price of zero dollars.
Check your preconceived notions of what a free game should be at the door and enjoy this title for what it is: a fun game of baseball that never takes itself too seriously.
On the Field: MLB Dugout Heroes is a smooth experience. The game is very stable. There are not a lot of modes and mini-games to try. What you have is baseball converted to its simplest form.
Graphics: There is nothing really eye-popping here, but MLB Dugout Heroes is not hard on the eyes. Nevertheless, the player models are certainly not the prettiest to look at, but the stadiums are nicely rendered.
Sound: You will likely be muting the commentators in short order. The in-game sound, especially the crack of the bat, is authentic.
Entertainment Value: This is a title that is best enjoyed in small doses. It is the perfect answer when you want to take fifteen minutes out of your day to relax. There is no deep dynasty mode that will threaten your marriage, occupation or sleep patterns.
Learning Curve: Less than 15 minutes. This one is pretty much "pick up and play".
Online: Smooth sailing. No lag and an abundance of players for you and your favorite team to take to the woodshed for a good old-fashioned baseball whooping.
Score: 7.0 (Good)