Tony LaRussa's Ultimate Baseball. (computer game) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
SSI pops one over the fence with Tony LaRussa's Ultimate Baseball, an impressive rendition of the national pastime that lives up to its lofty billing. The game is the culmination of a 20-year draem for Don Daglow, head designer and cofounder of Beyond Software. In 1971, Daglow created the first full-season major league baseball computer simulation. Thanks to advanced technology and countless refinements, what originally required a mainframe computer can now be experienced on your PC. Backed by some of the best programmers in the league--not to mention Oakland A's manager Tony LaRussa--Daglow's dream has blossomed into one of the most versatile sports games on the market.
Hardball veterans will notice similarities between this, game and Electronic Arts' Earl Weaver Baseball. Daglow, who produced that award-winning title with designer Eddie Dombrower, has expanded many of its innovations in his latest work.
Among the most noticeable improvements are the stunning VGA graphics. The action unfolds in a closeup view from behind home plate, affording both the pitcher and batter a clear view of the strike zone. The pitcher's set, windup, and delivery are perfect examples of the entire team's fluid animation. Almost every detail imaginable is here, including runners sliding into base, infielders jumping or diving for the ball, and outfielders making spectacular over-the-shoulder catches. Kudos go to animator David Bunnett (Typhoon Thompson) for bringing the game to life.
Other terrific features include a split-second delay after a hit, allowing the defense to get its bearings. The designers also fashioned an ingenious 3-D method of tracking fly balls; fielders converge on a circular white shadow, its size a reflection of how high the ball is in the air. Unlike previous efforts in the genre, this game makes the ball's flight path appear to be genuinely random, affected by the angle of the pitch, timing of the swing, and even the wind.
Managers command total control of their teams, including defensive assignments, pitching rotations, batting lineup, and on-field signal calling. In addition, injuries, fatigue, and cold streaks bring substitutions into play. Decisions are made quickly via pop-up menus and bull-pen screens.
The Exhibition mode is a blast, but it's only the icing on a very large cake. In league play, the program's complex statistical database can simulate an entire 162-game season in a matter of hours. For the ultimate in realism, however, players invoke what amounts to major league multitasking. In this mode, you can participate in feature games--or merely view the highlights--while the rest of the teams slug it out in the background. From the day-to-day grind to the race for the World Series, this unique environment gives players a taste of the bigger picture.
Baseball number-crunchers will revel in the game's seemingly endless statistical reports, including 14 categories for fielding, 49 for batting, and 44 for pitching. A mammoth Statistical Leaders database analyzes, sorts, and displays both real-life and simulated player stats in more than a dozen different categories. The program encourages multiplayer leagues by offering drafts, trades, and comprehensive team editing.
Extensively detailed yet instantly accessible, Tony LaRussa's Ultimate Baseball represents a major achievement in sports simulations that no true baseball fan should be without.