Microsoft and EA step up to the plate

Games: Their offerings favor arcade-style play over stat simulations.

April 24, 2000|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,Sun Staff

Hey slugger, ready to hit the digital diamond?

This year's crop of computer baseball games features two tailored to players who prefer arcade-style swat-a-thons over pure statistical simulations: "Microsoft Baseball 2001" and EA Sports' "Triple Play 2001."

Microsoft is relatively new to the diamond. And "Baseball 2001" is a big improvement over last year's debut: The game is a solid if unflashy effort that offers entertainment at a bargain-bin price.

It's hard to find anything terribly negative about "Baseball 2001." The problem is that it's also hard to find anything to rave about. The graphics are adequate, and mostly accurate. The view from home plate at Camden Yards, for example, includes many of the familiar architectural landmarks, although not always in the right spots.

The computer plays a more intelligent game this year and now includes a complement of player stats from the 1999 season (as rosters change, both Microsoft and EA Sports promise updates on their respective Web sites). Game play was fine, although I found the batting a little clunky, requiring you to line up a series of nested cross-hairs as though the ball were an incoming Scud missile. I prefer to just eyeball it.

One place where Microsoft does shine over its EA rival is in its league play feature, designed for those who prefer the front office to the field.

"Baseball 2001," like EA's "Triple Play," allows you to draft, trade and sign players in an effort to build your baseball dynasty. But as an added twist, "Baseball 2001" also forces you to track your team budget. By limiting how much you can blow on free agents or your farm system, the budget adds a layer of realism not found in other games.

On the downside, play-by-play from Arizona Diamondbacks announcer Thom Brennaman is stiffer than a Louisville Slugger. The canned crowd noise and other sound effects are flat, too. "Baseball 2001" also lacks an online multiplayer option, a feature that has become almost mandatory for games in general.

My advice would be to shell out a few bucks more for "Triple Play," which is better by almost every measure.

The animation is smoother and the batting, fielding and pitching interface more elegant than Microsoft's. The game also offers more flexibility: In addition to playing with keyboard and joystick, you can use a mouse. And as with its other titles, EA Sports offers players the chance to battle over the Internet.

Commentators Jim Hughson and Buck Martinez spice up the action with colorful one-liners. The sound effects also have more zing, from the thwack of the bat to the occasionally amusing announcements over the stadium PA system. The visuals are more cinematic, switching point-of-view when you bang one good so you can tail the ball out of the park.

One new feature in "Triple Play" not found elsewhere is the ability to add baseball legends such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb to your roster.

They've also spiced up the game with more arcade features. In the Big League Challenge, for instance, players earn points by hitting a field of targets placed at the perimeter of the field. And then there's the cool rewards program: Pull off a particularly spectacular play and you may be granted access to hidden legendary players or wacky features, such as the option to play as a squad of Little Leaguers vs. a team wielding giant bats.

EA designers have taken care to add the pitching and batting quirks of some well-known players, such as Randy Johnson's signature wind-up or Babe Ruth's stance. EA Sports boasts that it has imbued its players with lifelike mugs. Reggie Jackson, for instance, sports his flip-shade sunglasses.

But don't expect total realism here. The Babe's electronic alter ego may hold his bat the same, but his muscle-bound body looks nothing like the bottom-heavy boozer that I remember from grainy black-and-whites.

Still, for arcade-style action, "Triple Play 2001" is tough to beat.

"Microsoft Baseball 2001" requires Windows 95/98, a 166 MHz processor and 32 MB RAM. Cost: $30.

EA Sports' "Triple Play 2001" requires Windows 95/98, a 166 MHz processor and 32 MB RAM. Cost: $40.

Own an HDTV?

If so, Plugged In wants to hear from you. For an article on digital television, we'd like to know what you think of your pricey new set. Please respond via e-mail to pluggedin@baltsun.com or call 410-332-6215.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.