Spring training. (PC baseball games)(includes related article) (Evaluation)
by Peter Scisco
Finally, the Super Bowl is over. It's time to think green fields and diamonds in the sun. Think America's pastime. Never mind the snow and cold; think PC baseball games--and hold your own spring training season without leaving your home office.
Bo Knows Baseball
Following the lead of the popular TV Sports titles, Bo Jackson Baseball brings televisionlike graphics and animation to the most American of sports. By blending defense and offense, arcade action and strategic play, this baseball game will be welcomed by computer sports fans of every stripe--including pinstripe.
Stand on the mound and hurl. Stand at the plate and swing. On defense, you've got to field quickly; on offense, you have to know when to hold or run, when to lay down the bunt, when to swing away.
The game's outstanding graphics will keep you riveted to the action. The main perspective--from behind the plate--gives you a clear view of the pitcher and batter. Small windows display base runners, and another small windows shows the ball in relation to the defenders, should the ball be hit. Even in the outfield, where many baseball games switch to small, ill-defined characters, Bo Jackson Baseball maintains excellent animation and clarity. The graphics are enhanced by excellent sound support, with digitized calls from the ump and play-by-play.
You can change the names of teams and individual players--even a player's skill ratings. Up to 26 people can compete in league play. The statistical grounding of the game is very solid (provided, of course, you can hit and pitch well enough to earn your players some good stats).
Bo Jackson Baseball successfully bridges the gap between arcade and strategy, with an emphasis on arcade action. Whether you're a stats freak or an arcade junkie, Bo Jackson Baseball covers all the bases.
Weaver's Complete Makeover
Earl Weaver Baseball II gets a complete graphic makeover in this latest version. The nondescript players in the earlier version are replaced by larger, digitized players. The split screen is gone, replaced by a view of the field that faithfully re-creates the view of major-league baseball as seen on television. And, in order to capture the instant replays and filmed highlights that are popular in today's most advanced computer games, you can set TV angles to anywhere in the park and replay the highlights.
The number of players you can have on your roster has been increased from 25 to 40. One of the most innovative features to be added, however, is the ability to download stats from online sources like Stats Inc. for use in the game. That's a real boon for fantasy players who use Earl Weaver to run their leagues.
Playing iEarl Weaver Baseball II is tougher than playing the other games reviewed here. The interface, like the arcane language of baseball insiders, proves difficult for novice players. Earl Weaver Baseball II offers full support to players who want to edit team rosters and play on the league level. Team editing is part and parcel of the game; the statistical detail and team modification options put Earl Weaver Baseball II at the top.
Other smaller improvements include better playing from the computer opponent, a bigger selection of pitches to choose from, and access to topnotch commissioner options. All of this means a brighter spring training for all PC baseball players.
Easy-to-Like HardBall II
HardBall II brings baseball action to the PC in a skillful blend of performance stats and joystick slugging.
None of the players in HardBall II are based on actual athletes. The stats compiled in the game reflect their performance as you play. None of the teams are named after actual teams, either, but you can create teams with the Team Editor and give them whatever names you want. You can also create players and edit some of their characteristics, though some of their stats will be automatically figured as you play them.
The action on the field is tough to control; it takes practice to learn how to cover plays and to move your base runners effectively. Pitching is the easiest part to learn; fielding a ball takes some time to pick up. Likewise, hitting is very difficult at first, but with plenty of time behind the plate, you can learn.
HardBall II is a treat for the eyes, though it lacks full VGA support. The players on the mound and at the plate are large animated characters that move realistically. Out on the field, the game uses the small, nondetailed players used by other PC baseball games.
You can use the game's Team Editor module to build ball clubs consisting of up to 30 players. The first 9 players you enter are your starting lineup; the remaining 21 sit on the bench as subs. You can also build a league by placing the players you create in a draft pool, from which all league participants can draw.
As you play game after game, you'll enjoy watching the performance of the players change according to their history. You can see players slump and rise, rookies flash and burn, and oldtimers come back for one final moment of glory. HardBall II promises hours of fun. It's hard to imagine not keeping this game around for a long time.
If you think you have what it takes to manage a major-league team and win the pennant, then MicroLeague Baseball: The Manager's Challenge can help take you there. The Manager's Challenge is the third generation of the MicroLeague Baseball series, and it's as rich in stats as its predecessors. In fact, stats make up the heart and soul of the game, as they do with real-life baseball.
Here are some figures you'll uncover playing The Manager's Challenge: all the usual numbers on hits, RBIs, at bats, errors, and the like, plus ratings for stealing bases. Pitchers' performances are rated according to number of games completed, number of saved games, ERAs, walks surrendered, and number of strikeouts. This version even adds right- and left-handed statistical breakdowns for hitters and pitchers, more offensive and defensive ratings, and seasonal factors that affect a player's performance over time.
What makes The Manager's Challenge so realistic is just that--real playing. The actual numbers and the sanction of the Major League Baseball Players Association guarantee that the simulation that you coach is about as real as it can get.
The most glaring sacrifice is the game's one-pitch cycle. If you're playing against a friend, you may elect to go to a full count three times per game, per team. Using this option, the pitch will be called ball or strike. It's only a small improvement over the one-throw-one-hit method employed by MicroLeague Baseball II. The Manager's Challenge also lacks in graphical detail. There isn't any visible difference between stadiums. The animated players are small and used only as stand-ins for the statistical information that drives the game.
The game's realism is enhanced, however, by the inclusion of injuries, arguments, ejections, and rain delays or power outages (in domes). These small details, though randomly placed, add an element to the game beyond the statistics of athletic performance. Add to these qualities an excellent stat compiler, and you have a quick, clean path toward producing the season-long performances that go into making major-league careers.
The A's Have It
Tony LaRussa's Ultimate Baseball has just about everyting you'd get from a real game on the tube--even the commercial messages.
But the real action is on the field and in the dugout. Programming the baseball smarts of the great Oakland Athletics manager into a computer game couldn't have been easy, but SSI (known mainly for dungeon fantasies and war games) has made a pretty fair hit of it.
With three difficulty levels, Tony LaRussa's Ultimate Baseball will appeal to a variety of players at many different skill levels. The pitching, hitting, and fielding are easier in this game than in HardBall II or Bo Jackson Baseball, but not without challenges. On the Rookie level, it's easy to get a hit; when you're playing on the All Star level, everything is up to you. If you're more into strategy than arfcade performance, you can manage a team and let the computer control the players.
The game includes all of the necessary features for managing a league, editing players and teams, and creating a schedule. It also boasts some idiosyncrasies--like having to move the joystick to the right to advance a base runner (who, by definition, is moving to the left). Despite small irregularities like this, Tony LaRussa's Ultimate Baseball is terribly addicting. If you're looking for your first computer baseball game, this one will get you to the bag.
So it's HardBall II, Tony LaRussa's Ultimate Baseball, and Bo Jackson Baseball for the "gotta have the action" fans, and it's Earl Weaver Baseball II and MicroLeague Baseball: The Manager's Challenge for the strategy and statistics hounds. No matter which way you approach it, baseball on the PC has finally come around. What used to be a simple exercise for the joystick jockey or a course in probability for the statistics nut is now full-fledged fun for any PC user. The best of this spring's new lineup draw on the strengths of the past (detailed statistical bookkeeping and great arcade action) and mix in the latest technology (sound cards and VGA graphics) for a whole new look to the old ball game.