Reviewed: April 16, 2004
Released: March 23, 2004
Another year, another season, another installment in the ASB series from Acclaim. All-Star Baseball 2005 is here once again to give next-gen gamers the chance to take the field in America’s favorite pastime, either from a player’s perspective or take your shot at managing your own MLB franchise. There’s no $3 hotdogs or $8 beers here, just a whole lot of quality baseball action in what is easily one of Acclaim’s best and most comprehensive baseball offerings to date.
All-Star Baseball 2005’s features include:
I’ll tell you right up front that ASB 2005 is for serious, dedicated baseball enthusiasts. If you are looking for a more casual or arcade-like experience then move along, this game will simply overwhelm you with all sorts of details and aspects of the sport you probably aren’t prepared to deal with. Sure, there are instant exhibition and pick-up games and you can jump right in and start mashing buttons to throw pitches and smack the ball around, but that’s not what ASB 2005 is about.
Before we talk about what’s new I’ll get the basics out of the way. ASB 2005 offers the standard MLB Franchise and Expansion modes. Don’t like any of the “real” teams – create your own expansion team and put them into the schedule and see how they do against the pros. All of the other modes are conveniently bundled together in the Bonus Play menu where you can choose Pick-Up games, Challenges, and the now-famous ASB Trivia game.
There is a wealth of new features, the most important of which is the long-awaited Xbox Live support. Last year’s edition had support for downloadable content but no gameplay. You can now go online and play in exhibition games against people from all over the world in addition to downloading current rosters. All of the other new aspects of the game are introduced in the wonderful video tutorial presented by Steve Lyons.
Perhaps the biggest improvement to the series is the franchise mode that will have you playing this game long after the real baseball season is over. It is so involved that you might play for an entire evening and not even make it out to the diamond. This mode perfectly recreates the entire baseball season starting with Spring Training where you can build up your club by completing various challenges and earning points to improve your team abilities. You have full managerial abilities to recruit new players or trade off the ones you don’t want anymore. Off-season, you will head to the Winter Meetings and participate in the Rule 5 Draft. Things get very serious and quite complex, bordering on simulation quality. You’ll need to learn the power of the dollar when you enter into arbitrations with players. If you blow your budget on that all-star pitcher you might not have enough left for medical costs, training, or a coaching staff.
One of the most challenging things you can hope to do in a game like this is create your own custom team and make them a contender. ASB 2005 offers a powerful Expansion mode that allows you to pick your city, mascot, stadium then draft your team from custom players, free agents, or anyone available in the regular draft.
ASB 2004 offered a rich historic look into baseball’s past and this year Acclaim puts a fresh spin on the concept with the “This Week in Baseball” challenge, a series of “What if” scenarios that put you on the field at some of baseballs most famous (or infamous) moments. Cubs’ fans will probably be heading to this feature before they even look at the rest of the game.
Controls are just as good as always with a few new additions to support the new features. The new Fielder cam is the much-touted new feature that puts you in direct control over the fielder who is going to try and catch the ball. You control the player from a third person, over-the-shoulder perspective facing the diamond. The in-air ball is represented by a series of rings that not only track the path of the ball but the height and rate of decent. It takes awhile to get used to this new system but once you do it works most of the time with a few notable exceptions. You are also given the option of reversing the diamond/button assignments to more accurately reflect the reverse camera angle (i.e. first and third base buttons are swapped, etc)
Thankfully, Acclaim has brought back the pitching cam. This used to be a standard feature back in the days of Accolade’s Hardball games then for some reason this view mysteriously disappeared in favor of the batting cam regardless of whether you were pitching or batting. With the camera tucked in behind the mound you have a great view of each and every pitch.
Batters will enjoy a nice variety of methods for hitting the ball. You can swing the bat in real-time using the analog stick or opt for the traditional button-tap batting method. You can also bring up a 3D cursor to adjust the angle of deflection for the swing and even attempt to guess the location of the incoming pitch for some extra power.
While I’m not a huge fan of EA’s MVP Baseball 2004 I really do wish ASB 2005 had their system of PIP viewing windows that show any runners currently on base. ASB uses a 2D map with dots, which is so low-tech it’s laughable. Otherwise, the main camera works most of the time with the exception of the primitive replay system. You have absolutely no control over how to view, edit, or save these replays.
Graphically, ASB is all over the place. The characters look great standing still but when they start moving a lot of their animation is stiff and artificial, plus the transitional animations between the mo-capped moves are missing. You can see each individual move like running, jumping, diving, or assuming a “ready” posture, but when these moves string together there are noticeable gaps in the sequences where players will jerk into new positions.
The entire game has a certain artistic feel to it, almost like a cel-shaded version of the sport rather than a crisp CG recreation. The stadiums are the highlight of the game and you can take a narrated tour of all the major parks. During the game you will see animated video textures of real fans in the stands. These textures are large enough so you don’t see a huge repeating pattern of that same guy in the white shirt unless you look for it. Other details like giant video screens, perfectly manicured lawns, fresh chalk lines, textured dirt, and all the banners and ads that give each stadium its own identity add to the authenticity of each stadium.
I’m still a huge fan of the 3-man commentary found in ASB 2003, but ASB had decided to follow the footsteps of ASB 2004 and continue with only a pair of commentators. Steve Lyons and Thom Brennamen are excellent and offer a surprisingly diverse amount of dialog. Lyons comes up with some color commentary that is informative and often amusing. For those interested in a cultural experience or just wanting to brush up on your Spanish, check out the bilingual commentary from Oscar Soria. This feature was first introduced in last year’s game and it seems to have caught on.
Sound effects are all pretty standard stuff and as accurate as they need to be. I was impressed that you would hear the actual player names announced over the ballpark's PA system as they took the field. The crowd noises really fit with the action down on the field and help to enhance the gameplay experience. ASB 2005 finally got their act together and offers custom soundtracks, arguably, not a huge deal for this particular genre but somebody is probably going to appreciate it.
The Xbox version features a Dolby Digital mix that delivers an excellent spatial quality with positional sounds and reverbs that bring the massive stadiums and the game to life. Even the subtlest sounds, like the crack of the bat or an angry fan shouting an insult to the umpire could be heard during the most intense portions of the game.
As with any sports game, you are likely to play it indefinitely or at least until next year’s edition arrives. ASB 2005 enhances its core offering with a wonderful trivia package plus the “what if” scenarios in the challenge mode.
Of course the big draw this year is the online support for actual multiplayer. Nothing can quite stack up to testing your playing skills or your managerial skills in creating a custom team and competing with another human online.
All-Star Baseball 2005 keeps stacking on the new features and tweaking the gameplay. I often ask myself just how much further these developers can take their sports franchises and year after year they keep showing me.
While most of the new features for this year’s edition are minor tweaks, a few of them like the pitching and fielder cam will actually change and perhaps enhance the way you play baseball on your Xbox. I’m sure a lot of people are going to have trouble with the fielder cam and I’m surprised Acclaim didn’t make this an option you could toggle, but with a little practice you’ll grow to love it and find all other baseball games just a bit more primitive without it.
Of course the true star of ASB 2005 (no, it’s not Derek Jeter) is the Franchise mode, perhaps the most comprehensive simulation of what it takes to actually own and operate your own ball club. For those who like to manage rather than play, you might just find yourself having more fun off the field than on.
It’s this reason alone that I must reiterate; ASB 2005 is for serious baseball enthusiasts only. Those looking for a casual day at the ballpark should probably check out the titles from EA, 989, or ESPN. Now, PLAY BALL!