||World Series Baseball 2K2
Visual Concepts shows us how baseball is done, sort of... - Review By Josh Hiscock - Page 1/2
"He's got hiiiiigh hopes, he's got hiiiiiigh hopes, he's got high apple pie in the skyyyyy hopes..." Many of you are no doubt familiar with, if not the whole song, at least that particular line. In a way, that one line summed up the feelings of many a baseball fan upon learning that renowned development studio Visual Concepts had gotten the go-ahead from Sega to develop World Series Baseball 2k2, the sequel to the soundly panned World Series Baseball 2k1.
Indeed, there was reason for such optimism. Visual Concepts had, after all, done an absolutely superlative job with the NFL2K and NBA2K franchises, and, while some voiced concerns that they might be putting a tad more on their plate than they could handle, conventional wisdom held that VC was more than up to the task. Perhaps the first cause for concern appeared in recent weeks when it was announced that the game would be delayed a couple of weeks, ostensibly to work out some problems with the online module of the game. That's never a good sign, when a baseball game released in August gets delayed.
Nevertheless, the faithful waited, hoped, and prayed. Surely, they reasoned, it couldn't be worse than World Series 2k1. That's true, to an extent. WSB2k1 has WSB2k2 beat in a couple of areas, and vice versa. As a whole, WSB2k2 is the better product, and by default, the best baseball game on the console. Sadly, that isn't saying much -- "we have met the enemy," as Walt Kelly once said, "and he is us."
A look at the stadium.
Normally, I would list my gripes first, and attempt to finish the review on a high note, if
indeed one exists. In this case, I rather think that would be trying to fill a volcanic crater
with the dirt from a youngster's sandbox -- it ain't gonna cut it. Let's start, then, with
the good stuff.
First of all, as far as the feature set goes, World Series 2k2 does represent a modest
step up from its predecessor. Every feature promised on the packaging is included -- a feat
World Series 2k1 failed to accomplish. Those enamored of VC's previous forays into the
online world will be (perhaps wrongly) encouraged by the presence of online play -- but that's
a paragraph or three unto itself. Rest easy, good citizen; we're getting there. Thirdly, for
those who prefer multiple seasons of play, there's a franchise mode available. It's not nearly
as deep as those found in NFL2K1 and NBA2K1, but at least it exists.
At this point you're probably thinking "That's it?" To which I quote Isaac Newton: "To every
action, there exists an equal and opposite reaction." Likewise, in World Series 2k2,
for every reason to hope, it's as though there's an equal reason to abandon said hope.
For an example, one needs look no further than the aforementioned franchise mode. 'Tis true,
it's a welcome upgrade from the single season play of games past. 'Tis also true, for that
matter, that the rosters appear to be, for the most part, fairly up-to-date. There are a few
exceptions (it doesn't appear that the trade deadline deals made the cut), but otherwise, the
rule stands firm. Unfortunately, however, the lack of a financial model and a true amateur draft
make for a poor representation of franchise play. Although the ability to select a flexible
schedule in leagues with multiple human GMs is a nice addition, (basically, you can play any
game of the season at any time, meaning that you could literally sit down and play the entire
season series with a single human opponent in one sitting) the schedule never changes from season
to season. You play the same teams in the same order on the same days year in and year out;
the only difference is that the home and away teams are swapped each year. This would be a minor
gripe if that were the game's only flaw.
Unfortunately, however, free agency is modeled through a yearly draft. Those with expiring
contracts file for free agency, and those teams with the best draft picks get the best players.
It also bears noting that the rookies are included in the free agent draft, combining what
really should have been two separate drafts into one. While, semantically, that might be a better
idea than letting, say, the Yankees throw megadollars at fellas like Pedro Martinez, it's a poor
substitute for allowing gamers to draft rookies and attempt to balance the economic side of the
game with on-the-field results, rather than forcing them to choose between developing young
talent or going with the proven vets.
Furthermore, the draft itself has some flaws -- it's not possible, for example, to switch to the
top half of the screen to view your roster, even if it's clearly evident that you have players at
a given position that aren't shown. Instead, you'll simply have to draft based on guesswork. In
addition, the game says you can have the computer finish the draft simply by pressing start. If
that's the case, either my start button is seriously broken (here's a hint: it's not) or somebody
forgot to program the command indicated on the help screen.
Statistically, even on the All-Star difficulty level, I'm seeing some paradoxes as well as
obscene stats. For example, during the 2002 season, no fewer than six players stole at least
one hundred bases. In the 2001 season, Manny Ramirez not only became the first man since the
Splendid Splinter to bat .400 (he hit .407), but he also managed to win the Triple Crown, hitting
64 HR and driving in 170 runs. Pedro Martinez finished the 2001 season with 23 wins and
an ERA of -- brace yourselves -- 0.94. I could go on and on. No fewer than two dozen starting
pitchers finished with ERAs under 3.00, despite the fact that probably twice that many hitters
had batting averages over .360. Clearly, the stats engine needs some work.
Graphically, World Series Baseball 2k2 is inferior to its predecessor. While the stadiums
do look like their real-life counterparts, they're often grainy, and fail to inspire the same
sense of awe and wonder found in WSB2k1. They also resemble nothing so much as a
still-life -- often, the only action you'll see is on the field. The pool beyond the right
field wall at the Bank One Ballpark looks like a blue blob of paint on the ground.
Graphical glitches and omissions abound: the dugouts lining first and third base are terminally
empty, leaving one to wonder if the team is playing nine to a side -- no more, no less. The ball
not only leaves an annoying white reflection off the surface of the grass, but it also sports a
"trail" effect that you might see if, perhaps, the ball were moving at a robust 160,000 miles
per second squared (if you could see the ball under those circumstances, anyway).
Player animations are limited and repetitive. Players attempting to catch a fly ball from a
standing position will always stand under the ball, one arm extended in imitation of Lady Liberty
at Ellis Island, waiting for it to drop into the glove. Should the wind happen to play with it,
the fielders will dance comically from foot to foot like a small child anxious to relieve
himself of the stresses of the bladder. Pitchers disgusted at giving up a homerun will generally
react either by leaning on their knees or smacking their gloves, while the hitter will celebrate
by pumping his fist, Kirk Gibson-style. Those who claimed the ball never hit the bat in
All-Star Baseball 2002 for the PlayStation 2 will no doubt be thrilled to know that
when a player hits a foul ball, the bat automatically jerks straight back up, as though it
had never been swung. This is a little disconcerting, naturally.
Gameplay is a mixed bag, as far as that goes. Manual fielding did indeed make the cut this year,
although it's a little difficult to get the hang of at first. Rather than push towards the
base you want and press a button to throw (or even a button for an aggressive or normal throw,
as past Sega Genesis games did), you merely press A, B, X, or Y, with the button layout
corresponding to a base on the field. I threw more than one ball intended for first base to
home plate before I finally got it straight. I mentioned that there's no button for an
aggressive throw, but I ought to amend that by saying that the strength of the throw is
determined by how hard you press the button. It's not the analog control found in the DualShock
controller, by any stretch, but it's a start. However, any progress made in that department
was quickly "cut off," if you'll pardon the pun. The computer automatically switches fielders
for you, depending on who it feels is best suited to make the play. This led to multiple
instances of me running AWAY from the ball, as it would switch to the outfielder while I
attempted to move into the hole from third to short, resulting in the left fielder running
towards center field. THAT caused no end of frustration, let me tell you, especially since
I couldn't find any way to turn the damned thing OFF, short of turning off manual fielding
Next: More Bad and The Final Word