Review by MightyMumbler

Reviewed: 09/19/03

A very indepth review.

All-Star Baseball 2004. I almost feel guilty about doing a review for this after I consistently insulted the commercials because the graphics that were shown were pretty crappy. So let me say this to begin with. Crow tastes quite good. Especially when the reward is this game.

Graphics:
The game's graphics are beautiful. Personally, I don't care all that much about graphics, because it's the gameplay that really counts for me. Even then, I have to say that the graphics for ASB 2004 absolutely blew me away. Right from the Entrance Video (which starts off with ''The luckiest man'' speech, goes through a montage of great moments, including Hunter robbing Bonds of a homer) I was speechless. The menu graphics and transitions are nice and relatively creative (although the transitions do take awhile), and once you get in the game itself, there's not a whole lot left to be desired. Players look more or less like themselves (at least the big name stars do), and there aren't very many collision-detection errors (other than when you steal homeruns, because if you get a late jump, it's liable to look like you psychically moved the ball into your mitt). But with the good must come the bad... except for the fact that other than slow load times on some of the menu transitions, I haven't found any really big problems.

Score: 9.5/10

Controls:
This is fair warning. This game can take a while to learn. You can't expect to come into it and be the ultimate master right away (Unless earlier ASB games had the same system, I don't know). Pitching in multiplayer can be a pain until you realize that you can move the pitch once the icon is gone. Batting (at least early on) is really frustrating when you start to make stupid mistakes (such as whiffing on curves over... and over... and over). But like any good game, eventually the controls get easier. Fielding can be a pain, especially if you feel like instinctively pressing () to speed your player up. Believe me, that's not a good thing to do. I've lost 3 or 4 2-player games like that. It's not fun. But eventually you learn not to do that, and you master cutting off throws and all the other things that allow you to have fun in the game.

Score: 9/10

Game modes:

This is where the game shines. There are a multitude of game modes to choose from, which enhances the experience.

Exhibition:
No sports game would be worth anything without an exhibition mode. It's no fun to play your friends in a season (especially if you don't have long), and sometimes you just have the urge to take a team of All-stars and kill the Yankees/Red Sox/Devil Rays/whatever team you hate. This mode normally wouldn't receive a score from me, since it's just a standard thing that nobody really does badly. But with the addition of ''legend'' teams, you start to realize that this isn't your average exhibition mode. 5/0 (not a typo)

Season Mode:
Okay, either I'm an idiot who just canft find it, or it doesn't exist. It's probably the first one, but anyway, I haven't seen a season mode. Think that's bad? Not really, ASB makes up for it with:

FRANCHISE MODE

Franchise Mode:
I'm only going to be talking about franchise mode here. The other great thing will have to wait.

FRONT OFFICE FACTORS:

So, here we go. Franchise mode. What can I say? This is easily the best franchise mode I've seen since Tony LaRussa Baseball (the '96 Version). You've got Rule V drafts (which, despite what the others say is not completely useless. It's worth the 10 seconds it takes to just flip through the positions to see if anybody left a D+ or C-/C player in there. It happens every so often).

You've also got the amateur draft (Finally! It works too, except for that I kind of dislike the gamble that you have to take with scouting reports on the players. Potential and Predicted Place always change when you look again. It gets kind of annoying after a while). And it really allows the bad teams to get a boost up. After a few seasons, you'll see that the top prospects can have A ratings in just about everything. Drafting Subscore: 8/10

And of course there is free agency, which is finally done well in a game. There isn't any salary cap, you just have to work on a budget. I know, it sucks. Get over it! Sorry, I digress. The free agency system prevents you from really building your team around signing great free agents every year. If you want to, you can, but know that unless you're doing really well every year, your draft picks will likely be better. You sign a top player, you lose a first round pick. So picking up somebody like Palmerio isn't the wisest choice for a team with a high draft pick. Believe me, you're more likely to find somebody better in the draft, that will stay around much longer. Of course, it is sometimes worth it, like when you can pick up a 28 year old Zito for 20 points (Points will be explained later), or something like that. Free agent Subscore: 10/10

How well does trading work? The computer isn't really a genius, but it won't let you get away with trading Denny Neagle for Mark Prior. Overall, the trading system works about as well as you would expect it to work in a game with a deep franchise mode. But before you write it off as useless, there is one aspect that I've rarely seen before, but ought to be just about everywhere in sports games. The Trading Block. Why is this so great? It allows you to shop the players you don't really want/need for other players. It's a pretty big help when you've got an incredibly deep outfield (which always seems to happen to me...) Trading Subscore: 9.5/10

And finally the other parts of the front office. First up, NEGOTIATION. Generally it works pretty well, although as the case is in other games, it's pretty easy to work them down from the price they want. Or the really bad part is when your D- players decide that they would like to get paid twice that of the people who start in their position. That's when a few good vengeance firings are in order. Secondly we have BUDGETS. The budget can be really annoying, but it's realistic. If your team isn't the Yankees, don't expect to have tons to spend on coaches, medical staff, training staff and your scouting team. It just doesn't work that way. Then we have the final aspect, PLAYER DEVELOPMENT. Okay, this is pretty standard and sadly, very predictable. Your star prospects will tend to improve. Your old vets will go down. That's about it, besides for some small changes back and forth from season to season with your other players.

Total Front Office Score
9/10. There is some really great stuff, but adjusting the rosters tends to really irritate me when the game won't recognize that I have enough of everybody.

The Seasons Themselves
Okay, if you're playing all 162 games, I'd probably say get a life (then I'd realize how long this review is, and realize that I don't have any more of one than you do and shut up). The fact is it's pretty easy to simulate through the season. There aren't many problems, although things do come up. Such as players coming around on waivers. This is a very welcome feature when your team isn't all that great, and somebody tries to pass a B rated player through. Injuries. How I loathe thee. They really become annoying, but that's the way it is. They are annoying, but sports games aren't sports games without injuries. The only way to over come them is to either buy a perfect medical staff (which still won't stop them all), or to get a deep bench. And if you really want to do the whole thing, you also get the Futures game and the Home Run Derby as well as the All-star game, and Spring Training.

THE STATS
I'm a stat nerd. I love them. This game provides my fix. It tells you the stats you need to know, and even better, it tells you about the ones that you don't need to know. The Who's Hot/Who's Not feature is a great way to waste some time, and it gets detailed enough to talk about the bullpen ERAs and that fun stuff. The awards are also very nice, featuring the standard MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards, as well as All-star voting. Kudos to ASB 2004 for going above and beyond the norm. Why? Because we're provided with the Gold Glove awards, the Golden Hammer and even more obscure, the Reliever of the Year award (They didn't get the license on this one I guess, because in real life it's the Rolaids Relief award). Of course, just like real life, MVP is a misnomer. It's not the most valuable player; it's the best player in the league. (Yes, I'm still PO'd about Garnett getting stiffed in the NBA)

THE SEASON SUBSCORE
8.5/10

Despite the amount of time I spent on the Franchise, it's not the best mode of play in this game. The best mode is by far

THE EXPANSION MODE... OF DOOM
I rarely use the ''OF DOOM'' suffix, but believe me... this deserves it. You get to start off with your choice of cities. Want to see the game hit 3 big countries? Choose Monterey or Mexico City. Canadian fan eh? You've got Calgary and Vancouver as options. Or maybe you'd rather have Brooklyn, New Jersey or even Iowa or North Dakota. Or maybe you think California needs another team. There's always Sacramento. They're in there. Every region of the US has a few places, and San Juan gets one too.

And of course, as the manual says, the key to any great team is a goofy mascot. Every place has a few options, and the team names are nice and out there. The Calgary Glaciers? Or how about the Mexico City Burros. The Las Vegas Outlaws? The list goes on.

But what league will you be in? Guess what! You get to choose! (shocking, I know) And even better, you get to pick what stadium you want to play in. There's a ton of them crafted for expansion teams. The Zentmeyer dome has got to be the worst place on Earth for pitchers, but the short dimensions make it Home Run Heaven. Or perhaps you want a place where your doubles and triples will fall in, but you won't be slugging them out very often? You get the 440 ft deep Whitaker Grounds. You also get all sorts of mixes in between. And don't worry. Jeter tells you who to draft.

Speaking of the draft, it's a beautiful thing. You and another team (always in the AL for some reason) get to go after the players the other teams left for you. They aren't all crap either. The consistently .300 hitting (in the game) Jason Kendall is in there, as is Roger Clemens and Darren Erstad. The only weak position in the draft is closer, and unfortunately, it's hard to find a closer anywhere. All in all, a great system, and you'll have a team better than some of those in the majors by the time you are done, at which point, you begin franchise mode.

DO NOT BUY/RENT THIS GAME AND NOT PLAY EXPANSION!!!

EXPANSION SUBSCORE: Infinite/10

And then the last 2 true modes of play (not counting the Trivia game, the Homerun Derby and Batting Practice). First up is the pickup game.

Tired of the same old exhibition game and wanting something new? Try the pickup game, it really is a nice change of pace. There are 18 players (2 per position) to choose from, and a variety of theme fields (Schoolyard etc). The only issue I have with this style of game is that if the second team picking doesn't pick a pitcher during their first pick, the team who picks first can all but win the game right there. Sure, only 7 people in your lineup will be able to hit, and you'll have at least one person drastically out of position, but the opponent won't have a pitcher to use... and that really sucks. Other than that, this is an entertaining variation of the standard exhibition game.
PICKUP GAME SCORE: 8/10

But the non-franchise ultra-enjoyable part of the game is easily the scenario mode. It starts off easy enough (such as use take the Devil Rays in the 9th inning against a fatigued Derek Lowe and break his no hitter) and then progressively gets harder (win the first Cincy/Seattle game after Griffey left, starting partway through the game, and hit a homer with Griff, and win the game) and harder (Get the consecutive hits streak with Bernie Williams by hitting in two straight atbats, while winning the game, or take Pedro partway through his bid for the first '02 no hitter (that he ended up not only not getting, but losing his shot at it 2 days later, when Lowe got it). It gets harder and harder yet stays an enjoyable challenge (although be prepared to see ''back to the minors, rookie'' fairly often).
SCENARIO SCORE: 10/10 Sure, it's hard, but so is Metal Gear Solid (the PS1 version, not MGS2).

GAMEPLAY MODES TOTAL SCORE: 10/10 Despite the fact that I don't like some of the stuff, it's on the whole excellent stuff, deserving of a 10/10.

OTHER FEATURES
The card system in the game is basically a ripoff of EA's card system, but it's still pretty good, and you can accumulate points quickly. Points allow you to get player cards (which do nothing but sit there and look good), in-game graphic cheats (football helmets, minimum height and so on), retro uniforms (and you don't even have to pay the $150!) and the best part, ''Legend teams'' (think of them as era-long all-star teams... postwar teams, prewar teams and so on.)

The create a player is somehow both overflowing and lacking at the same time. Don't follow? Don't worry. It lacks the key feature of being able to change the CAP's age, and it lacks efficiency as you cycle through the 500+ face/skin models. Of course, it's over flowing not only because of the 500+ face/skin models, but also because of the 70+ batting stances, the 30+ pitching styles and the multitudes of 'entrance music' to choose from. My only real issue with it is that my Create a players only seem to be useful for really-really-really good trade bait when I use them in franchise mode. Of course, it's probably just a result of my ineptitude.

Finally, there is the ''multimedia'' section of the game, which includes Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter and Buck O'Neal (O'Neil? O'Neill? I dunno) talking about great moments of theirs, or about general topics such as video games, Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues. All in all, it's pretty impressive.

OTHER FEATURES SCORE: 9/10 Why? The CAP drags it down a bit... and player cards that have no effect just annoy me for some reason.

REPLAYABILITY
Okay, now with the replayability score. This is the most replayable sports game I know of around... with the possible exception of computer sims such as Front Office Football (I'm a geek... that's the only reason I know about it). Franchise and Expansion can be done over... and over... and over... and over... and you have an almost neverending supply of different teams in the pickup game, and nobody will beat the Scenario mode in just an hour or two. SCORE: 10/10

Okay... so... if anybody has made it far enough to read everything above this, as well as this, I salute you. Unfortunately, I assume that most of the people who read this really don't care enough to bother with something this long. That's okay, seeing as how I don't I don't know why I've wasted my (as of the time I'm typing this... 2 1/2 hours) on it. I'll be nice and summarize for you.

GRAPHICS: 9.5/10
CONTROLS: 9/10
GAME MODES: Overall score: 10/10
Individual scores: Exhibition: 5/0 (again, not a typo)
Franchise: 10/10
Expansion: Infinite/10
Pickup Game: 8/10
Scenario Mode: 10/10
OTHER FEATURES SCORE: 9/10
REPLAYABILITY SCORE: 10.10

Now... for the overall score... (which you could also see by merely looking at this on the review page)

OVERALL SCORE: 9/10

I know, I know what you're all thinking... ''He loves this game. How can he give it something other than 10/10?''

How can I? It's very simple really. I'm convinced that Microsoft had something to do with this game. No, it's not unfairly try to drive Linux out of business. The thing just crashes (take your pick of statements) A) So often that you need a seatbelt to play it or B) Just as much as Windows 98 first edition.

It's an easy problem to solve for the player... just save every ten seconds.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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