Game Review - by James Allen
I hate baseball. At this point, you may be asking, "Why, then, are you reviewing a baseball game?" The fact is that many sports are much more fun to play than watch: golf, basketball, the XFL. This boils over to computer games as well, and baseball is a prime example. High Heat 2002 continues the proud tradition of the most realistic simulation of baseball for the PC. Will the newest iteration of the series live up to the high expectations, or be sent to the minors?
High Heat 2002 has extensive features, to say the least. Almost everything you could imagine in a baseball game is present here. Each game can be customized to your specific preferences, setting the game pace, weather effects, errors, variable umpires, injuries, mound visits, and guess pitch, where you can increase your chances of getting a hit by predicting the pitcher's lob. A very nice feature is the computer control options. You can have the game take over any of the actions during the game, including fielding, base running, throwing, or defensive alignment. This is a great option for rookie players, as you can ease yourself into High Heat 2002.
You can play in exhibition games, seasons, custom leagues, the MLB playoffs, home run derby, a practice session, or over the Internet, in all the newest fields and stadiums in Major League Baseball (plus some old favorites). However, the home team for each stadium is not indicated when you choose a field of play, causing casual observers like myself to scratch their heads (PNC Park?). Seasons can be fully customized (see a trend forming?). One option I really like is choosing the exact length of your season: too many games have just short, medium, and long season options, rather than letting the user specify a certain length. The difference between a season and custom league is that you can spell out the divisions and teams with the latter option. Why the distinction is needed is beyond me, as you could just merge them both into a general season mode. Before a season begins, you can choose to draft all of the players from a pool to make an unlimited number of teams. All of the statistics are present in season mode, and you can even manage your minor league affiliates. The season mode is so diverse, it would take quite a long time to try all of the options that are available to you.
If you can't wait through a whole season, you can enter the playoffs with your favorite team. Another addition to High Heat 2002 is the fan favorite, home run derby. Nothing really innovative is found here, just your general smack ‘em contest between the league's best hitters. If you need to hone your skills, batting and pitching practice is available, and even these modes can be tailored to your needs. Internet play is present, and you can engage in anything from an exhibition game to a full-fledged season. Sadly, most Internet play is very laggy, and you're restricted to manage-only if your connection isn't up to snuff. The only option that is scrapped is configuring your controller, which is a baffling oversight. Nevertheless, the features and customization options present in High Heat 2002 really shine.
There is not enough variation in the sound to make it anything more than ancillary. The play-by-play gets repetitive much too quickly; it's lucky that much more isn't said during a game. The hecklers and vendors in the stands are a nice touch, and are really the highlight of the sound. One thing I enjoy is the non-exaggerated sound when you hit a long ball. This directly results from the realism angle the developers took in making High Heat 2002. The sound is definitely something you won't write home about, but doesn't take anything away from the game either.
High Heat 2002 is real baseball. The game really focuses on the pitcher/batter confrontations, and this is reflected in a great pitching and batting interface. Each pitch and swing can be aimed towards the nine areas of the strike zone, which adds a level of realism that is usually neglected in other games. Every player plays like his real-life counterparts (for the most part), thanks to the vast rating and statistical database. The games play very realistically as well, and you'll typically encounter results comparable to actual MLB games. High Heat 2002 is not a home run contest, like some other PC baseball games. Strategy is present, and if used correctly, will usually lead your team to victory. I've found that bunts will advance the runner nine times out of ten, and the ease of bunting slightly blemishes the game experience.
The AI is shaky, but is usually a good challenge. They are not perfect robots, and strikeouts are possible with a good pitcher and an array of different throws. Sometimes base running is a little suspect, as the computer is reluctant to run on a sacrifice fly unless it's a sure thing. Chances are something that the computer doesn't take too often, which remove a humanistic aspect of your opponent. I was impressed with the gameplay, but my limited knowledge of baseball may hinder my ability to scrutinize small errors in the game.
High Heat 2002 has some bug issues. I have not seen the volume of bugs reported by others, and most of them do not hinder gameplay in any way. The weirdest bug is the Wrigley Pop BugTM. When you pop the ball up at the Cubs home stadium, the ball goes up but never comes down, triggering the user to press the three most favorite keys to Windows users the world over: Ctrl+Alt+Del. Other than this, I haven't found any other major bugs in the game, and hopefully, they will be fixed in patches.
The graphics are a mixed bag. The player models are well done, not considering the holey neck. The fields are also nice to look at, but the stands are populated with "people" from Blockville. With all of the graphical enhancements in recent years, you would think High Heat 2002 could spend some more time rendering beings that actually resemble people. There are a few instances of clipping problems, such as players in the stands or in the elevated mound, but you really won't notice these most of the time. The athletes do react too quickly, like intermittent frames are not present for such actions as checking your swing or some pitcher's wind-ups. Generally, the graphics do a competent job of displaying High Heat's world of baseball.
High Heat 2002 is a very good baseball game. With a wealth of features and true to life gameplay, there is no rational reason to skip playing this year's version if you are a fan of baseball. Don't let the bugs scare you off: the aspects of High Heat 2002 that do work more than make up for the shortcomings of an early release.